What did you do last night?
Well, we binge watched (again) Stanley Tucci’s food series Searching for Italy.
There’s something about his love for food that feels authentic and relaxed, rather than pretentious. Tucci’s enthusiasm is no doubt infectious, making viewers want to dive in to the diverse, divergent cultures and cuisines of Italy as he explores. So, that’s how we got here; writing about the best foodie destinations in Italy that we’ve explored…
Unless you’ve recently suffered amnesia from being hit with a loaf of stale Tuscan bread, then you’ll know that Italy is known as one of the gastronomic epicentres of the planet and has long been a coveted destination for food lovers, owing to its distinct and versatile regional culinary cultures.
Each region in Italy, from Lombardy in the north to Sicily in the south, offers its own unique culinary treasures that are steeped in centuries-old traditions, offering a true treat to the palates of food lovers worldwide.
What Defines The Different Regions’ Cuisines?
When you’re in northern Italy, regions like Piedmont and Lombardy showcase a rich repertoire of hearty, meat-centric fare, replete with creamy risottos, cheeses and exquisite, full-bodied wines. The northeastern regions like Veneto feature seafood prominently on their platters due to their proximity to the Adriatic Sea. Here, one can savour the sublime flavours of dishes like Bigoli in Salsa, a pasta dish with onions and anchovies.
The central regions like Tuscany and Umbria have a cuisine that is characterised by its simplicity, yet it is immensely satisfying. Tuscan treasures like Pappa al Pomodoro and Bistecca alla Fiorentina offer rich, deep but straightforward flavours that are a true homage to the fertile lands of this region.
In the sun-kissed regions of the south like Campania, Puglia, and Calabria, the food is a vivacious blend of locally procured fresh produce, phenomenal cheeses, olives, and seafood. The Pizza of Naples, Orecchiette of Puglia and Nduja of Calabria speak volumes about the area’s gastronomic landscape.
Then there’s island regions like Sicily and Sardinia, which offer an exotic blend of seafood, land produce, and unique influences from historical invasions. Caponata from Sicily or Pane Carasau from Sardinia are major highlights here.
Italy is indeed a food paradise, where every region narrates its culinary story through its food, offering a myriad of dishes with heaps of personality and history. Whether you’re a certified gourmand, a culinary enthusiast, or simply someone who appreciates great food, Italy is the ideal destination to satiate your food desires. Today, we’re going to take a gourmet tour of our favourite foodie destinations in Italy. Care to join us?
Ideal for pizza and seafood lovers…
We had to start here, in Naples, the vibrant southern Italian city and exquisite gourmet destination that every food lover should experience at least one in their life. It’s the birthplace of pizza, sure, but this culinary utopia has far more to offer than just those fabled slices.
That said, the absolute must-try is, of course, Naples’s signature dish, Neapolitan pizza. This creation is revered globally so strongly that it even earned UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage Status in 2017. The perfectly charred crust, tangy San Marzano tomatoes, creamy buffalo mozzarella and aromatic basil bursts into an unforgettable symphony of flavours, each and every time. Pizzeria Da Michele and Pizzeria Sorbillo offer perhaps the most authentic versions of this culinary masterpiece in the city.
Seafood is also a prominent element of Neapolitan cuisine due to its coatal location. Positioned on Italy’s southwestern coast, Naples has easy access to fresh seafood and, as such, is home to a distinctive coastal cuisine. Indulge in fresh mussels, clams and shrimp at the traditional ‘pescherie’ seafood stalls at Mercato di Porta Nolana.
The classic Spaghetti alle Vongole – spaghetti with clams – is a highlight at acclaimed restaurants like Trattoria Da Nennella. This simple pasta dish, made with spaghetti tossed with clams that have been cooked in white wine, garlic and olive oil, is representative of the region, with fresh seafood and simple produce being the stars.
For those with a sweet tooth, Sfogliatella, a delicacy that originated in a Neapolitan monastery, is an irresistible, flaky pastry filled with sweet ricotta. Pintauro, the city’s oldest pasticceria, is the ideal place to indulge in this treat.
Lastly, no trip to Naples is complete without exploring the street food. The rough, ready and beautiful Pignasecca market stalls offering deep-fried calamari, whitebait, and even anchovies, are an iconic emblem of this beautiful city. The Cuoppo, a paper cone filled with a mix of fried seafood, is a trademark of Naples’ vibrant street food culture best enjoyed at spots like Friggitoria Vomero.
From street corners to family-run trattorias, every bite in Naples is deeply rooted in tradition and flavour. Its culinary delights tell a tale of the city’s rich cultural heritage, making it one of the world’s ultimate culinary paradises.
Ideal for its iconic four traditional pastas and an awful lot of offal…
Rome, the Eternal City, is a gastronomic paradise. With a rich culinary history that intertwines with its millennia-old culture, the Italian capital is brimming with tantalising flavours and age-old recipes passed through generations.
Rome boasts four iconic pasta dishes renowned globally, making the city a paradise for food enthusiasts. Firstly, we have Carbonara, a creamy delight concocted from eggs, pecorino cheese, guanciale, and a twist of black pepper. Trattoria da Danilo is famed for its delicious Carbonara whilst Roscioli offers one of the best versions in the city, too.
Then there’s Cacio e Pepe, a deceptively simple yet flavour-filled dish made with pecorino cheese and black pepper. To taste the best, again visit Roscioli or try it at Trattoria Da Danilo, where they serve it in a crisp Parmesan bowl for an extra cheesy touch.
Completing the line up, both Amatriciana and Gricia also originate from Rome, using guanciale, tomatoes (only in Amatriciana), pecorino cheese, and pepper. Armando al Pantheon offers an outstanding version of the former dish, with a rich tomatoey base that you just want to swim through. Or, you know, eat…
For a bonus Roman pasta dish, the lesser-known but equally satisfying Pasta alla Papalina, an adaptation of Carbonara,which uses prosciutto instead of guanciale, is served with aplomb at Dal Bolognese in Piazza del Popolo.
While pasta is the main draw for many, no foodie visit is complete without tasting a traditional Roman pizza at Pizzeria Ai Marmi. Known for its crispy thin crust and high-quality toppings, it’s a must-try and a must-visit. For a unique Roman twist, sample Pizza Bianca, a type of fluffy focaccia seasoned with olive oil and salt, with a brilliant version served at Antico Forno Roscioli.
Our friends at Tour Italy, who offer gourmet tours in the country, tell us that the bohemian Trastevere neighbourhood is especially renowned is for its culinary (and aperitif) scene. They recommend trying Pizza al Taglio, which is often folded up like a sandwich. They also tell us that the Testaccio food market, with its hundreds of stalls, will give you a true culinary taste of cucina Romana.
Speaking of the ‘true” cucina Romana, next up there’s an offal lot of offal in Roman cuisine (sorry we had to). Back in the day, slaughterhouse workers in Rome would be given the “quinto quarto” or “fifth quarter” as a perk of their job. This was basically all the parts of the animal that no one else wanted such as intestines, tails, organs and other innards. As a result, many quinto quarto recipes were developed and a new part of Roman cuisine was born. Indeed, some say you haven’t eaten properly in Rome until you’ve enjoyed some offal from a paper envelope whilst leaning against a lamp post.
Finally, you can’t leave Rome without first satisfying your sweet tooth with the classic Tiramisu at Bar Pompi, known by some as the King of Tiramisu. It’s the perfect balance of coffee, mascarpone and cocoa, and will leave you craving more, however full you find yourself.
Ideal for T-bone steak and wild boar pasta…
The cradle of the Renaissance, Florence offers Tuscan cuisine known for its paired back, respectful use of high-quality local ingredients. If you fancy yourself a food connoisseur, then you’ll be captivated by the simplicity of Florentine cuisine, where quality ingredients shine. Olive oil, beans, and quality meats are among the stars of the local gastronomy, and the proximity to the Chianti region ensures an abundant supply of excellent wines to accompany meals.
One cannot visit Florence without trying the iconic Bistecca alla Fiorentina. This giant T-bone steak, aged to perfection and cooked rare over a wood or charcoal fire, offers a true taste of Tuscan cuisine.
Another must-try is Lampredotto. Not for the faint of heart, it’s a dish made from the fourth and final stomach of a cow. It’s usually served in a bread roll as a sandwich, with a spicy red or green sauce.
The region also boasts some of the world’s best soups. Ribollita, a wholesome thick broth that warms the belly, made from cannellini beans, black cabbage and stale Tuscan bread, is a staple of Tuscan peasant cooking and totally, utterly delicious. Then there’s Pappa al Pomodoro – a thick, hearty soup made with tomatoes, bread, olive oil, garlic, and basil. It’s a great example of how the Tuscan kitchen wastes nothing in their pursuit of fine flavour.
For the cheese lovers, Pecorino Toscano is a must. It’s a sheep milk cheese with a delicate yet distinctive taste that can be enjoyed fresh or aged. Don’t miss the chance to indulge in a plate of Pappardelle al Cinghiale, a wide, flat pasta served with a hearty slow cooked wild boar sauce – a creature that roams freely in the Tuscan countryside, incidentally. Oh, and if you’ve got a sweet tooth, then do not miss out on Cantucci e Vin Santo. Cantucci are almond cookies, and are often served with a sweet wine called Vin Santo for dipping. It’s heaven!
Florence’s love of simple yet exquisite food, and the city’s commitment to preserving its culinary heritage, make it an ideal destination for food lovers. The city provides a gastronomical journey that transforms dining into an art form – a ritual of savouring each bite, appreciating the flavours, and enjoying the moment.
Ideal for rich ragù and filled pasta in broth…
Known affectionately as “La Grassa” (The Fat One) owing to its rich food tradition, and also as the “gastronomic capital” of Italy, Bologna is a haven for food lovers. Located in the Emilia-Romagna region, the birthplace of Italian gastronomic wonders such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma and balsamic vinegar, this region itself offers a culinary experience that transcends the ordinary.
The city is of course famed for its eponymous ‘Bolognese’ sauce, known more accurately locally as Ragù alla Bolognese. Best served with tagliatelle, it’s a dish which truly sings the song of the city, with its delicate ribbons of pasta generously coated in the rich, robust sauce that has been slowly simmered to perfection. Head to the Trattoria Serghei for some of the best.
Another must-try dish in Bologna is the Tortellini en Brodo. These small, stuffed pasta filled with a mix of meats and served in a warming broth exemplify Bologna’s ability to transform simple ingredients into a mouthwatering symphony of flavours. Visit the Trattoria dalla Amelia in Bologna for their exemplary version.
No culinary journey through Bologna is complete without tasting the succulent mortadella, a large Italian sausage made from finely hashed or ground, heat-cured pork flavoured with aromatic spices.
Bologna’s food scene is not only about indulging in these iconic dishes, but also about the joy of exploring local markets like Mercato di Mezzo, where the city’s love for fresh, flavourful ingredients shines. Of course, you could do both while you’re here!
Ideal for squid ink risotto…
Venice, the enchanting Italian city defined by its canals and gondolas, has always been a paradise for art and architecture lovers. Sensational as this floating city is, it is not just the visual aesthetics that bewitch travellers; it is also the culinary delights that make Venice a captivating destination for foodies. Embracing a rich culture and history, Venetian cuisine stands as a testament to the city’s centuries-old trading ties, embodying a perfect blend of distinct flavours and the true essence of Italy.
From its humble trattorias to its elegant osterias, food in Venice is a celebration in itself. Exploring Venetian cuisine will no doubt lead you to try Risotto al Nero di Seppia, a creamy concoction of Arborio rice and squid ink, reflecting a deep connection with the lagoon city’s seafood heritage.
Another must-try dish is Sarde in Saor, a delectable example of Venice’s Jewish influence, featuring sardines marinated in onions, pine nuts, and raisins, offering a brilliant juxtaposition of sweet and sour flavours.
No food journey in Venice is complete without indulging in Fegato alla Veneziana, a traditional Venetian dish featuring thinly sliced liver cooked with onions, or the iconic Tiramisu, a well-loved dessert whose roots trace back to Veneto, the region in which Venice resides.
Indeed, the city’s culinary aspects, coupled with its romantic flair, make Venice a gastronomic paradise, bound to tantalise and satisfy the palates of food enthusiasts from around the world.
Ideal for warm anchovy dips and truffle…
Nestled in the heart of Italy’s Piedmont region, Turin is yet another gastronomic paradise in Italy. Famed for its generous Piedmontese dishes, this little corner of the world is the Slow Food movement’s birthplace. As such, the city is also home to Eataly, a globally recognised slow food supermarket where you can sample and buy high-quality, artisanal Italian fare.
Foodies visiting the city should not miss out on Bagna Cauda, a warm dip made from garlic, anchovies and olive oil, served with vegetables. Another must-try is Tajarin, Turin’s version of thin, egg-rich pasta typically served with delicate sauces.
But that’s not all; Turin stands out for its chocolate-making tradition as well. The city is known as the birthplace of gianduja, a sweet chocolate combined with hazelnut paste. Try the renowned Gianduiotti, small, boat-shaped chocolates, for a taste of Turin’s rich, chocolatey past.
World-class wines, such as Barolo and Barbaresco, from the surrounding vineyards of Piedmont region, complement Turin’s gastronomic delights. Pair these with the famous white truffle of Alba or the delicately veined Castelmagno cheese to experience the true essence of Turin cuisine.
Indeed, Turin and the surrounding Piedmont region are renowned for their truffles, particularly the revered white ‘Alba’ truffles. The area is known for its truffle fairs and markets, most notably the Alba White Truffle Fair, which attracts visitors from all over the world. Indeed, you can’t come to Turin without visiting nearby Alba which is known as the white truffle capital of the world. Here you have to try Tajarin al Tartufo, a ribbon-like pasta served with a buttery truffle sauce which is a symphony of decadent flavours and textures.
Ideal for seafood and arancini…
Sicily, a sun-kissed island in Southern Italy, and in particular Palermo, its capital, is another must-visit Italian destination This magnificent city offers a rich combination of Mediterranean cuisines, with influences from the Greeks, Arabs, Normans, and Spaniards, making it a true epicurean delight.
One of the must-try dishes in Sicily is Arancini, delicious fried rice balls stuffed with meat, cheese, or vegetables. These can be found at just about any local street food vendor, but a visit to Palermo’s Ke Palle will offer an impressive variety, allowing you to sample different versions of this quintessential Sicilian delicacy.
The summer-friendly sweet and sour eggplant stew of Caponata is another example of Sicily’s gastronomic diversity. This is perhaps best enjoyed in a traditional Sicilian family-run restaurant such as Trattoria da Santino in Taormina, where the dish is prepared using a secret recipe that’s been passed down through generations.
For seafood lovers, the Spaghetti alle Vongole e Bottarga (spaghetti with clams and cured fish roe) in Ristorante al Porticciolo in Capomulini is a must-try. This dish encapsulates the taste of the Mediterranean in one mouthful, providing a culinary experience that’s simply extraordinary.
Lastly, you can’t leave Sicily without tasting cannoli, a crunchy tube of pastry filled with sweet ricotta. Pasticceria Maria Grammatico in Erice is famed for its heavenly rendition.
Ideal for its aperitif culture, risotto and roast veal…
Milan, the fashion and business capital of Italy, is also a paradise for gastronomic explorers. Known for its rich, generous food, Milan is one of our favourite places to eat in the world.
The most iconic Milanese dish is the Risotto alla Milanese. It’s a creamy, saffron-infused rice dish best sampled at Ratanà, a restaurant in Isola district that revives traditional recipes with a modern twist.
Another must-try is Cotoletta, a breaded, bone-in veal chop. Trattoria Milanese in Navigli district serves a sublime rendition, fried to crisp perfection in foaming butter. Oh, and you can’t leave Milan without getting stuck in to some Vitello Tonnato, which sees cold, sliced veal covered with a creamy, mayonnaise-like tuna sauce.
For lovers of the sweet life, Panettone is a treat not to be missed. This fluffy, fruit-filled Christmas bread can be sampled at Pasticceria Marchesi, one of the city’s oldest bakeries.
Milan is also famous for its aperitif culture, a social ritual of enjoying pre-dinner drinks and snacks at a leisurely, languid pace. Originating in the city, it’s an embodiment of Milanese sophistication. Known as ‘Aperitivo’, it includes exquisite cocktails, most notably Negroni Sbagliato and sparkling Prosecco, accompanied with irresistible small bites, encapsulating Milan’s vibrant culinary scene.
For a taste of everything, head to Mercato Centrale Milano. In the central train station and spread over two floors, you’ll find dozens of eateries here. It’s the ideal spot for both a pre-departure snack or a full blown meal. Or both; in Milan, you can have it all…
Ideal for little-eared pasta…
Charming Puglia, nestled in the heel of Italy’s boot, is blessed with abundant sunshine and fertile soils, with the region renowned for its fresh, high-quality produce, vegetable-led pastas, and rich olive oils. From rustic trattorias to fine dining establishments, Puglia offers a culinary journey that is as diverse as it is delectable.
A must-try in Puglia is the traditional Orecchiette con le Cime di Rapa – ear-shaped pasta with turnip tops. This simple dish encapsulates Puglia’s rustic cooking and can be enjoyed at places like Trattoria Terra Madre in Alberobello. Another regional speciality is Bombette, pork rolls filled with cheese and herbs, often enjoyed at local butchers which double up as casual dining spots.
For seafood lovers, the coastal town of Gallipoli offers an unforgettable culinary experience. Its Cozze Ripiene – stuffed mussels – are a true delight. Savour these at Trattoria La Puritate’, which has an unpretentious ambiance and a stunning view of the Ionian Sea.
If you have a sweet tooth, don’t miss the Pasticciotto, a custard-filled pastry that’s a popular a breakfast staple in the city of Lecce. Pasticceria Ascalone has been making these since the 1700s – it doesn’t get any more authentic than that!
Puglia’s food is a reflection of its land, full of flavour, authenticity and tradition – an unbeatable combination, we think.
Ideal for arguably the world’s most beloved cheese and ham…
Parma is an gastronomic paradise, home to iconic ingredients like Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma. It boasts prestigious D.O.P. quality certificates, a testament to the region’s commitment to quality and tradition. Food lovers should visit the Caseificio San Pier Damiani for a guided tour to witness Parmigiano Reggiano’s making process.
Must-try dishes include Tortelli d’Erbetta, a traditional stuffed pasta usually served with melted butter and Parmigiano Reggiano. Discover this at Ristorante Angiol d’Or, offering classic Parmesan cuisine in a rustic setting.
A visit to Parma is incomplete without Prosciutto di Parma. Try it at the Pasticceria Torino, alongside other regional specialties. If you enjoyed that, then you’ll find much to love about Culatello di Zibello, too, a refined version of prosciutto. Enjoy this delicacy at Antica Corte Pallavicina, an inn boasting an impressive Culatello ageing cellar.
Finally, don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy Lambrusco, a lightly sparkling, slightly sweet red wine, in local wine bars.
The Bottom Line
If you now want to sip aperitivos in Milan, pick the petals from an artichoke in Rome or slurp clams by the sea, then that means we’ve done our job. We’ve earned an Aperol. Buon Appetito!