10 Traditional Italian Foods You Must Try
As one of the world’s most traveled to countries, it’s important to slow down, and take in the delicious Italian culture one bite at a time.
Since ancient times, tourists from around the world have been flocking to Rome and throughout the Italian Peninsula. With twenty different provinces, almost fifty UNESCO World heritage sites like the infamous Colosseum and the ruins of Pompeii, it’s no wonder that Italy has hosted 46 million tourists in the past five years! Though it’s easy to be attracted by the country’s beauty, the culture clearly thrives and bases itself around food and drink. So leave your Little Caesar’s pizza at home; Italy offers a foodie paradise with some of the finest cuisine in the world.
1. Osso Buco
A Milanese specialty, Osso buco is a delicious traditional dish that dates back to the nineteenth century. Originally, tender veal shanks (the meal’s name, which means “bone with a hole” in English, comes from the the way the meat is cut) are cooked with cinnamon, bay leaf, white wine or broth, and an herb mixture called gremolata. More recently, tomatoes have been added to the mix. Combine it with risotto alla milanese and your taste buds will be singing sweet praises louder than A.C. Milan’s fans on game night!
2. Oca in Onto
When thinking about Italian food, most people imagine big platter of spaghetti and meatballs, thin crust pizzas and maybe some gelato. In this 500 year old Venetian dish, you won’t be finding anything like that. Oca in Onto is simply known as ‘goose in a pot.’ While today the goose is left in a brine for a day, traditionally this was about a week long process. The wait was worth it though: the meat could be kept for months, and would often be a major source of food during the cold winter. Slow cooked until the goose meat simply falls off the bones, this delightfully rich dish is not to be passed on. It may not be what you expected of the ever changing cuisine, but that makes it all the more part of your adventure.
3. Casu Marzu
Though many may flock to Italy for their variety of dairy products, this sheep’s milk cheese is not for the weak stomached. This traditional Sardinian delicacy is also known as “rotten cheese.” Unfortunately, it’s not named this for a sour smell, but rather, because of a special fermentation process it goes under. Artisanal cheese makers place live maggots inside, and allow them to eat the cheese. By the time the cheese is ready, it may contain thousands of these little creatures! So be warned, the larvae may still be alive when you’re trying to spread this now softened cheese onto your bread! Though it does require a bit more courage than most food to try, at the end of the day it’ll make quite the story.
Unlike many other areas of Italy, Tuscany is not heavy on the pastas. Coming from humble, peasant traditions, here the food is more rustic. Beans are fairly common throughout dishes, and most are paired with thick, hearty bread. That bread is sometime mixed with vegetables to make this famous Tuscan soup, the ribollita. The region is has also garnered fame as home to the Chianti. A glass of this red wine, a steaming hot bowl of soup…sounds like the makings of a wonderful winter’s night!
5. Torta pasqualina
This pie-esque treat comes with many names, of which one of them should simply be delicious. Some more sweet, and some more savory, this Easter cake always has a few key ingredients. Thin layers of pasta are stuffed with vegetables like artichokes and peas, bread crumbs and cheese, and expertly crafted with an air pocket inside. This is later filled with a whole egg, and it allows for the yolk to remain intact. The Genoese have been enjoying the green cake since the sixteenth century, and as it could be enjoyed for any meal, it’s high time you gave it a taste as well.
There are few simple pleasures in life that are unexplainably enjoyable. Grilling and eating food off a stick both fit into this category. Also filling both of these roles is arrosticini. Similar to a lamb kebab, this delectable is seemingly simple, but requires great care. Cubes of mutton meat are skewered are cooked over an open flame. Don’t worry about poor table manners, as these are traditionally eaten with your hands.
7. Spaghetti alle vongole
Neapolitan cuisine takes on a life of its own, relying heavily on the surrounding gulf for vibrant seafood dishes. The regional soil gives produce a unique taste to due to its volcanic origins, and the Campania region is one of the largest producers (and consumers!) of pasta. All of these unique aspects combine into the very flavorful spaghetti alle vongole. In rosso is a popular way to prepare this feast, utilizing fresh tomatoes and herbs, garlic, white wine, clams and pasta. While very light, it certainly does not lack in flavor.
8. Tonno alla palermitana
Sicily, though mostly Italian in culture, has had its fair share of external influences. These are seen pretty easily throughout Sicilian cuisine, like couscous based dishes or the use of saffron. Another region particularly shaped by the sea, tonno alla palermitana will make you never want to look at a tuna salad sandwich again. Broiled with white wine, sardines, lemon and herbs, this fish is particularly enjoyed in the summer months while fish are more plentiful in the Mediterranean.
9. Calabrese pizza
Though pizza can easily be enjoyed throughout Italy, this particular style stands out amongst the rest. Yes, it has the standard style of thing crust, a tomato sauce and cheese. But what’s really special is the introduction of spice. Tasty additions such as soppressata and capicola (hot salamis) and spicy peppers mix in with the mozzarella to really pack a punch. This pizza style is becoming increasingly popular, and is starting to pop up on Italian menus in other parts of the world. However, it’s definitely worth it to try to original before introducing it to your friends when you go back home!
10. Saltimbocca alla Romana
Despite being packed with many cities all deserving of their own visit, Rome is the crown jewel of Italy. No trip would be complete without a stop in the capital. With its two and half thousand years worth of history, it’s safe to assume the Lazuria regions has developed some of it’s own culinary flair. Arrabbiata, a spicy tomato sauce, often makes an appearance in the cuisine here.
One of the most notable fares is a beef dish. Veal, rolled together with prosciutto, and cooked in a sauce of Marsala wine and butter concocts the saltimbocca alla Romana. A favorite in this country and others such as Switzerland, with a name that translates to jumps into the mouth, it’s not hard to figure out why.
Italy’s food and culture is so unique and so varied, it could take a lifetime to truly appreciate all of its culinary treasures. If the country itself doesn’t make you fall in love, the cuisine surely will. Though these meals are each treats in their own right, don’t forget to indulge in the incredible desserts and unsurpassed coffee as well! Enjoy anything and everything, and don’t be afraid to take a risk. After all, as Audrey Hepburn said, “Each, in its own way, was unforgettable.”