Walking the streets of Naples, smells of freshly baked pizza will hit you in the face. Mosey by pasta shops in Florence and you’ll see grandmothers rolling out freshly made pasta dough each and every day. Italian culture has long been routed around food and many traditions have arose from this foodie culture.
From fresh seafood along the coastal towns, to little cookies intended to cleanse a palate between meals, Italy is full of delectable morsels it’s hard to decide where to start. The decision to visit Italy is an easy one but deciding what to eat in Italy in a short period can be daunting.
Use these tips to decide what to eat and where to eat it in the land of Italian cooking.
First of all skip anything from back home. If you’re craving a cheeseburger, don’t do it. It will probably be ok, but you will endure judgmental looks from Italians passing by and will be wasting a perfectly good meal opportunity on a less than perfect dish. Italian food isn’t all pizza and pasta, but it is all about the quality of their ingredients and the culture surrounding their meals.
Meals in Italy can last for hours. Lunchtime is typically a 2+ hour ordeal and a way for families to get together mid-day and for friends to bond into the late afternoon hours. Dinners are typically smaller bites and are just to tide you over until breakfast.
Eat gelato every time you pass it and in every city you visit. Look for signs saying the gelato is home made or made in house (produzione propria and artigianale in gelaterias) because that ensures you are getting the real thing with natural ingredients. Flavors vary from plain milk or vanilla to rum raisin or cherry biscotti.
For breakfast, skip the eggs and bacon. The Italians prefer to sip on a strong espresso with a sweet homemade pastry. Every town will have a bakery that opens in the early hours selling both of these concoctions. Skip the American way of takeaway and sit down and relax while you sip your caffeine and munch on your pastry. Italians savor every bite of their food; it’s more than just the food itself, the culture revolves around savoring the flavors and enjoying each bite.
Don’t miss out on Arancini. These are fried balls of risotto that have regional differences. Some areas of Italy will have peas inside while others top theirs with a creamy sauce instead of marinara.
If you’re a meat lover absolutely try a veal osso bucco somewhere in your Italian travels. The veal is braised extremely slowly and melts in your mouth once it is tossed with only the freshest tomatoes and herbs. Enjoy it over a bed of homemade fettuccini and don’t forget to scoop out the marrow from the veal bones, a delicacy!
Prosciutto is an ingredient that you must try in many different forms. This dry-cured ham is easily enjoyed as a part of a tagliere or meat and cheese platter or on top of a freshly baked pizza.
In Venice, don’t miss the opportunity to eat as much seafood as possible. Italians savor simple flavors and work to bring out the natural flavors of each ingredient which transforms the taste of seafood. Mussels will be dressed in a simple white wine sauce or try a salted sea bass that is prepared whole and brought to the table that way. (You can ask your waiter to de-bone it for you after they present it.) A white clam sauce or spicy seafood pasta is a great way to get the best of both the seafood and pasta worlds in Italy.
Whatever you do, stick with Italian classics when eating in Italy. It is far more than just a pizza and pasta destination; venture out to find steaks beautifully seasoned or whole fish that have been slow roasted. Vegetables are marinated in high-grade olive oils and the mozzarella is almost always home made. Try a little bit of everything and remember that each region has its own way of cooking and own set of ingredients so a risotto from one place will taste different at the next town.