So, you are planning a trip to Italy and Italian food is your passion?
This guide covers dishes and drinks that you will come across in Italy and that you will need to try if you love food!
You will also learn everything you need to know to get around with your taste buds.
No matter where you are in Italy, food is always awesome!
Yet, sometimes it can get confusing because of language barriers, differences between authentic Italian food and the stuff we get abroad and because every region can be quiet different.
We traveled countless times to Italy (because we live next to the border), we have family roots there, we lived with Italians and we worked and prepared Italian food commercially.
Italian food is natural to us!
What to eat when in Italy?
Food in Italy is not just pizza and pasta, there is more to it! (but you can't miss it either because it's AMAZING).
Look out for the following foods:
Who doesn't like pizza right? I LOVE PIZZA!
A classic Italian pizza is a thin crust yeast dough pizza.
An Italian Pizza is not evenly round-shaped, it can be wavey and wobbly and that's how you know that it's perfect as it is!
You can get a regular pizza or a calzone, which is a folded over "pocket-like" pizza filled with either meat (carne), ricotta (cheese) or pancetta ham.
Depending on where you are in Italy, look out for the following Pizza:
- Margherita - a gorgeous classic. Sometimes less is more with tomato sauce and buffalo mozzarella.
- Quattro Formaggi - 4 cheese pizza
- Frutti di Mare - with shrimp, squid and mussels
- Napoletana or Romana or Siciliana - with anchovies, capers and mozzarella (and olives)
- Capricciosa - with artichokes, mushroom, mozzarella, olives
Hawaii Pizza on the other hand is not Italian and you won't find that on menus in Italy.
Pasta is a big thing in Italy!
There are countless pasta shapes and varieties and many have gone extinct already.
Here are some pasta varieties that I recommend that you try when in Italy:
- Gnocchi - can be potato or ricotta
- Ravioli - stuffed flat pasta
- Tortellini - stuffed roundish pasta (my favorite!)
If you want to learn to make different pasta shapes at home, I recommend you check out the Pasta Grannies on youtube. This channel is gold!
There are also countless pasta dishes. Here are some pasta dishes to look out for:
- Bolognese - tomato ground beef meat sauce (from Bologna)
- Carbonara - with egg, cheese, and cured pork
- Pesto - Genoa style with basil, olive oil, parmesan and pine nuts
- Salsa al Limono - Lemon cream sauce
- Tartufo salsa - Truffle sauce (my favorite in Florence!)
- Lasagna - a layered pasta meat dish
Know that most pastas contain eggs. The south however, is known to make pastas without eggs.
Antipasti and Snacks
Antipasti are dishes before the main course meal. Those can be little healthy bites, like appetizers or simple things like olives or a salad.
Sometimes we end up just eating antipasti because they are so good.
Here are some of our favorites:
- Olives - they come unpitted in green or black. They are all awesome!
- Caprese Salad - the ultimate Italian salad consisting of fresh buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, basil leaves, olive oil, and salt.
- Crostini - they come with various toppings
- Cured meat and cheese platter (depends on the region)
- Burrata - Mozzarella with a creamy core. Best served with prosciutto or tomatoes
- Carpaccio - a specialty from Venice with thinly sliced faw fish or meat
Rice & Polenta
Rice is big in Italy too. They mainly used risotto rice which is a short grian rice variety.
Risotto comes in various flavors depending on the region. You get colorful saffron risotto too or even black risotto die seppie from Venice.
Another rice dish that you might enjoy is Risi e Bisi. It's a flavorful rice and pea dish.
Polenta is very Italian too! It's kind of like grits but it's more yellow.
There are dedicated dishes prepared with polenta and sometimes it's just a side dish with the main course meal.
Italians love their fish and seafood.
Scampi, sardines (sarde), anchovies, mackerel, calamari (squid), eel (anguilla), and mussels are all commonly found on Italian restaurant menus.
Look out for dishes such as Fritto Misto de Pesce ( mixed fried seafood platter), stuffed sardines, brodetta or buridda (fish stew).
You will also find risottos, pizza and pasta prepared with seafood and those are some of our favorites on the list!
Meat is called carne on menu cards.
Steaks and flattened meat cuts called scaloppini are a common sight on menu cards. They come in many forms.
Some resemble Austrian and German unbreaded Schnitzel prepared with wine and mushrooms (Cacciatore style) and others are breaded such as the veal Milanese.
Veal meat is a delicious and very common cut of meat in Italy (just as in neighboring France and Austria).
I recommend you check out some traditional regional veal dishes such as the Osso Buco and Saltimbocca alla Romana.
Cold cuts are big too! That includes Mortadella, Prosciutto and Salame to just name a few.
Sandwiches are the unsung Italian street food heroes.
They are not just budget-friendly, but in fact a real treat!
You will come across fresh and cold sandwiches with mortadella, sandwiches with artichoke hearts and tomato mozzarella sandwiches.
Sandwiches prepared with puff pastries and stuffed with a creamy mushroom sauce and turkey meat.
You will also come across panini filled with various meat cuts and of course cheese.
A favorite of mine (and total insider tip) is the Mozzarella in Carrozza. It's a fried cheese sandwich. Kind of like a cheese and ham toast just that it's fried.
But the best sandwiches that we ever had was in Florence at Cucciolo. Those are just to die for! You need to go there! The owners make them from scratch and serve you too!
Paul had the biggest sweet tooth so he is the expert in Italian sweets.
Bomboloni are custard-filled doughnuts. Those are totally underrated. They are more common in winter. We saw them a lot in Tuscany.
Classic Tiramisu and Panna Cotta are both classics that you ought to have eaten in Italy. That way you will know the real deal.
Gelato are popular Italian Ice creams. They are soft and super creamy in texture. The best flavors are always Hazelnut (nocciola), Stracciatella or Fior di Latte (milk ice cream), Amarena (cherry) and Amaretto (almond).
Biscotti are Italian cookies. You get them all year round but they are actually Christmas cookies.
Crostata is a pie. You get those in certain areas and you also get small pies and tarts which are to die for.
What to drink when in Italy?
Italian coffee is strong. Espressos are the base line and they are not just small but kick a punch.
If you order a coffee, you get an espresso.
If you want something like a filter coffee, ask for a Cafe Americano or a stretched out coffee (in south Tyrol a Verlängerter).
Capuccino and latte macchiatto are made with milk foam and a shot of espresso. Capuccino is smaller, the macchiatto is larger.
Italian people drink an espresso in the morning at the bar standing. They don't even sit down. It's like a straight shot of coffein.
Wine and beer are the obvious choice for anyone in Italy.
Tuscan wine, such as chianti, are known all over the world and when in Italy, you ought to drink wine.
Italian beer has it's charm too! We recommend birra moretti and peroni.
Aperol Spritz is another very popular classic in Italy. It's Venice's signature drink.
Similar refreshing cocktail-like drinks like the Aperol spritz are the Campari spritz, limoncello spritz and negroni.
Limoncello itself is a creamy liqueur. You cna't miss this when in Italy!
Cost of Food and Drinks
If you visit the main tourist hubs in Italy, you will have to be ready to spend a good deal more on food and drink.
Yet, even if you take your round in Venice, Florence or Rome, you will come across great food ROI places.
Food is more expensive in North Italy and the souther you go the less things will cost you.
Prices in South Tyrol and Trentino are higher. Foods cost the same as in Austria.
Here are some foods and their national average in more touristy places:
- Pizza € 8-10
- Pasta € 10
- Caprese salad € 7-8
- Main course meal with meat or fish € 13-16
- Espresso coffee € 1-8
- Aperol Spritz € 4,50
- Sandwich € 4,50
- Mini Crostata € 2,50
Word of caution about espresso... Some places situated in touristy locations charge € 8, but the more local places won't charge you more then € 1. I know, it's ridiculous.
Also, they don't always disclose it all on their menu boards.
Shady places will even tell you that they can't give you a menu card due to social distancing times but will inflate the price of the coffee on the bill.
Restaurant Tips (social distancing era)
Most places are straight forward. You enter the restaurant, the waiters take you to a lovely table, you order your food, you frolic on your food and you pay.
During social distancing times, you need to enter with a mask but you can remove your mask when you are seated on your table.
Most places keep distance between you and other guests by keeping empty tables and the waiters have all masks on, so this is pretty great in Italy.
When ordering a dish like Caprese salad, keep in mind that they will also serve up bread, salt, pepper, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.
Those extras are called coperto on your bill and they will cost you about € 4. You can't opt-out of that, it's just how things are in Italy. It's not a tip!
You can tip in Italy. It's not like in the US but more like "I'm going to tip because I really liked the service" situation.
People get paid decently with social security in Europe BUT having worked in the tourism industry, I can only say that tips can make your day if you are a hard-working person.
Bringing back Food gifts from Italy
If you eat great in Italy, you want to bring that back as well.
That way you can enjoy it with your family and friends or gift it to them so that they can experience the taste of your travels.
Here are some foods and drink ingredients that you can get from Italy:
- Parmigiana Reggiano - The real deal parmesan cheese
- Pecorino - Sheep-milks cheese
- Prosciutto - Italian cured ham
- Balsamic Vinegar from Modena (Ponti is great)
- Mortadella - cured deli sausage (the ones with pistachios is awesome)
- Salami - more cured deli meat
- Bresaola - cured beef deli meat
- Speck (bacon/lard from South Tyrol)
- Tartufo Truffles
- Olive Oils
- Aperol and Campari
- Espresso Maker