Italy is known for many things—rich culture, breathtaking views, and above all else, mouthwatering cuisine. Italy’s cuisine is like nothing else, from traditional Italian food to more recent classics. The country’s regional diversity means there’s an endless variety of delicious specialties to indulge in. Although many dishes were originated in specific towns, it’s easy to find different takes across the country. Any selection you make is guaranteed to please your taste buds, but with so many options it can be hard to choose. Keep reading for our list of the best food in Italy!
Bistecca alla Fiorentina
You’ll want to work up an appetite before dining on this succulent steak! Traditionally, this recipe calls for very specific guidelines. An authentic Florentine steak is from the loin of a Chianina cow from Tuscany. Nowadays, some chefs’ guidelines are less rigid, and other breeds of cow are used. Bistecca alla Fiorentina is cut thick, then cooked 5-7 minutes on each side. An ideal steak will be cooked on the outside, but still quite rare on the inside. In Florence, higher cuts of meat are used, while lower cuts are popular elsewhere in the region. For a true taste of this famous dish, only order it in Tuscany (either Florence or the countryside). And don’t let the size of the steak deter you—it’s meant to be shared.
We can’t talk about traditional Italian food without mentioning ribollita. Another Tuscan classic, this hearty soup was invented by impoverished peasants, but has since become a beloved staple. Ribollita means “reboiled,” and it was created by adding leftover vegetables and stale bread to the previous day’s minestrone. Ribollita is thickened with bread, not meat, but you’d never guess. It’s bursting with savory flavor, and this tasty dish is so good that it’s become one of Tuscany’s top meals.
When deciding what food to eat in Italy, risotto is one of the more obvious choices. It’s made by mixing rice with stock, and it’s stirred until it creates a thick, creamy consistency. One of the best things about risotto is that it goes with everything, perfectly complementing the other ingredients. Some famous variations include risotto alla Milanese (the most famous risotto dish that’s infused with saffron, giving it a golden hue), risotto al nero di seppia (with squid ink), and risi e bisi (with pancetta and peas).
Tortellini en Brodo
Chances are you’ve never eaten tortellini like this before! This filling pasta is usually served in a heavy cream sauce, but this Bologna specialty doesn’t use sauce at all. This delicious dish is simply made with tortellini and homemade chicken broth, often topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese. A favorite during the winter but available in restaurants year-round, tortellini en brodo is a staple among households in northern Italy.
Of all the food to eat in Italy, sample this region-specific pasta dish. Orecchiette is a hard, chewy pasta that features in many traditional Puglia dishes. In fact, it’s uncommon to find it outside of the region. Its name means “little ears,” based on the shape, and it’s most commonly served with broccoli (although turnip greens are another popular choice). This meal is best during the fall harvest, when the vegetables are fresh and flavorful.
These Sicilian fried balls of rice are so popular that you can find them anywhere—from restaurants to bars to market vendors. Leftover risotto is mixed with cheese and other fillings (such as peas, meat, or mushrooms), coated in bread crumbs, and fried to golden perfection. There’s even a Roman adaptation: suppli.
Ossobuco alla Milanese
For more traditional Italian food, try ossobuco alla Milanese—a Milan classic that’s considered a top choice among the best food in Italy. This tender veal dish is slow-roasted in a broth of white wine, vegetables, and meat stock, and it’s served with gremolata on the side (lemon zest, garlic, and parsley). Although it’s a popular meal, many restaurants don’t serve it because it takes hours to cook. Ossobuco translates to “hollow bone”; don’t forget to scoop out the bone marrow—an adventurous but yummy delicacy.
This world famous bread hails from Liguria, and there are so many ways to enjoy it. Authentic focaccia is topped with salt and olive oil, but it can also be eaten as a sandwich or open-faced with ingredients such as rosemary, cheese, olives, and zucchini. A much loved variation is focaccia di Recco, originated in Recco (a comune in Liguria’s capital city of Genoa). Along the lines of a grilled cheese, creamy crescenza cheese is spread between two slices of focaccia. This heavenly dish is a must-try if you’re in the area!
Pesto alla Genovese
Pesto can be found just about anywhere in the world, but nothing beats tasting this freshly-made sauce in Italy. The people of Genoa have perfected this simple spread. The ingredients include basil, pine nuts, garlic, sea salt, olive oil, and cheese—an easy enough recipe for a sauce that’s bursting with mouthwatering flavor.
This sweet treat is Italy’s most loved dessert. Unlike many of the other dishes on this list, Tiramisu was only created in the 1960s—but it became an instant classic. The no-bake parfait is made by soaking ladyfingers in espresso and alternating them with layers of mascarpone. The best tiramisu will only use the highest quality ingredients. There are different takes on the dessert, with some substituting ladyfingers with other kinds of cookies or cakes and others adding egg whites and cream to lighten up the mascarpone. The flavors of rich coffee, sweet mascarpone, and velvety chocolate will make your taste buds sing. While you can indulge in tiramisu all over the world, you just can’t compare to an authentic taste in Italy.