20 Foods You have to try in Italy: The Best Italian Cuisine
Updated: Nov 16, 2022
Italy has a rich history when it comes to food. The country's cuisine has been influenced by a variety of factors over the centuries, including its geography and the cultures of its many invaders and settlers. This diversity is reflected in the wide range of dishes that are now considered to be part of Italian cuisine.
During my time in Italy, I had the opportunity to try a lot of different foods. And I was also able to learn a lot about the culture and food history of Italy from local chefs, restaurant owners, and foodies. Italian food is more than just pizza and pasta. The country's cuisine includes a wide variety of different dishes, each with its own unique flavor.
Common Italian Food Myths
While I was in Italy, I learned how to cook pasta from scratch, make tiramisu, and even make a few authentic Italian sauces. But I also learned that there are a lot of myths about Italian food. These common types of food are found all over the place in American Italian restaurants, but they warned us that they are not traditional Italian foods and that if you find these dishes in any restaurants in Italy, you've most likely walked into a tourist trap.
This is one of the most popular Italian dishes in the United States. But this creamy pasta dish is not something you'll find on a menu in Italy. The dish was actually created in the early 1900's by a chef working in a Roman restaurant, but a man by the name of Alfredo brought a version over to America and was deemed the "creator" of the dish.
Another popular Italian food is garlic bread. This dish is also not something you'll find in Italy. Garlic bread was actually created in America by Italian immigrants who were looking for a way to use up leftover bread.
Mac and Cheese
Mac and cheese is another popular Italian dish that you won't find in Italy. This dish was actually created in America by a woman named Mrs. Grunion.
This is a popular dish that is found in Italy, but it's not something that you'll find on a menu in Italy. Chicken parmigiana was actually created in America by Italian immigrants. The original dish is only found using eggplant, but Americans didn't think that constituted a whole meal, so they added protein to it.
Italy is a country with rich food history and there are endless dishes to try. While you may be familiar with some of the more popular dishes, there are many other lesser-known but equally delicious foods to discover. Now that you know a few of the dishes to look out for, here are 20 of the best foods you have to try when you're in Italy!
Tuscan Wild Boar Ragu
Wild boars are a common sight in the Tuscan countryside, so it's no surprise that this dish is a staple of the region. This traditional dish is made with wild boar meat that is slow-cooked in a red wine tomato sauce. It's typically served over pappardelle, a type of wide pasta noodle. The sauce is hearty and rich, making it the perfect winter dish. I was able to try it while I was visiting Siena at a restaurant called Zest, but they used pici pasta instead, which I loved.
Florence is known for its steak, which is usually served rare with a simple seasoning of salt, pepper, and olive oil. The steak is then cooked over high heat until it's nicely seared on the outside but still juicy on the inside. This dish is typically served with a side of roasted potatoes or greens. Typically this steak is made with the Chianina beef breed, which is a local breed of cattle found in Tuscany.
Pizza is one of Italy's most famous dishes and it originated in Naples. The pizza here is made with a thin and crispy dough, topped with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. It's then cooked in a wood-fired oven, which gives it a unique flavor. If you're looking for an authentic pizza experience, you have to try it in Naples! With the difference in eating times in Italy, you can actually have pizza for breakfast here.
Ossobuco alla Milanese
Ossobuco is a traditional Milanese dish made with veal shanks braised in wine and vegetable broth. It's typically served with risotto alla milanese, a type of rice dish cooked with broth and flavored with saffron. This dish is hearty and filling, making it the perfect winter meal.
Bruschetta is a popular Italian appetizer made with grilled bread that is rubbed with garlic and topped with olive oil and tomatoes. It's a simple dish, but it's so flavorful and refreshing. This dish is typically served as an antipasto, or starter, but I've also seen it served as a side dish. I had it at a few different places throughout Italy, and each time it was slightly different.
Risotto alla Parmigiana
Risotto alla parmigiana is a popular Italian dish made with rice, cheese, and tomato sauce. It's named after the city of Parma, where it originated. This dish is typically made with parmesan cheese, but other types of cheese can be used as well.
Coda alla Vaccinara
Coda alla vaccinara is a traditional Roman dish made with oxtail that is slow-cooked in a tomato and wine sauce. It's a hearty and flavorful dish that is typically served with pasta or polenta. I had this at La Taverna Romana in Rome, and it was probably one of my favorite dishes that I had. The texture of the oxtail is similar to stewed beef brisket, but its so much more flavorful because of the bone.
Lasagna is a popular Italian dish made with layers of pasta, meat, and cheese. It's typically served with a tomato-based sauce and can be made with different types of meat, including beef, pork, or chicken. Vegetarian versions of lasagna are also common.
Cacio e Pepe
Cacio e Pepe is a simple but flavorful dish made with pasta, cheese, and pepper. It's a popular Roman dish that originates from the Lazio region. This dish is typically made with spaghetti, but any type of pasta can be used.
Amatriciana is a traditional Italian pasta dish made with tomatoes, pancetta, and onions. It originates from the town of Amatrice in the Lazio region. This dish is typically made with bucatini, a type of pasta that is similar to spaghetti but has a hole running through the center. This was one of my favorite sauces, and I thought it tasted like a unique version of marinara with a little bit of a kick and pancetta. I was able to have it at two different restaraunts, one with spaghetti and the other with rigatoni. If you're in Rome, I recommend going to La Taverna Romana to try their Amatriciana.
Carbonara is a popular Italian pasta dish made with eggs, cheese, and bacon. It originates from the city of Rome in the Lazio region. This dish is typically made with spaghetti, but any type of pasta can be used.
Trippa alla Romana
Trippa alla romana is a traditional Roman dish made with tripe, which is the stomach of an animal. It's slow-cooked in a tomato sauce and typically served with pasta or polenta. While it might not sound appetizing, trippa alla romana is actually a delicious and hearty dish that's perfect for a winter meal.
Bottarga is a type of cured fish roe that is typically served as an appetizer or added to pasta dishes. It originates from the island of Sardinia, but it's also popular in other parts of Italy. This dish is made with grey mullet or tuna roe that is cured in salt and then air-dried. The result is a hard, salty, and slightly fishy-tasting roe that can be shaved or grated over dishes.
Porchetta is a roasted pork dish that originates from the central Italy region of Umbria. The pork is seasoned with salt, pepper, and other herbs, then slow-roasted until it's tender and juicy. It's typically served on a sandwich with greens and a drizzle of olive oil.
Arancini are fried rice balls that are popular in Sicily. They're typically made with risotto that is mixed with meat or vegetables, then shaped into balls and fried. They can be served as a starter or main dish.
Ribollita is a Tuscan soup made with vegetables, beans, and bread. It's typically made with leftover bread that is soaked in broth overnight, then mixed with vegetables and beans the next day. This soup is hearty and filling, making it the perfect winter meal.
Limoncello is an Italian liqueur that is made with lemon peel, alcohol, and sugar. It originates from the region of Campania, and it's typically served as an after-dinner digestif. This liqueur can be made at home or purchased at a store. When we visited the Amalfi coast, we had tons of limoncello, either in the form of shots or in limoncello spritz drinks.
Tiramisu is a popular Italian dessert that consists of layers of coffee-soaked ladyfingers, mascarpone cream, and cocoa powder. It originates from the city of Treviso in the Veneto region. Tiramisu is a rich and decadent dessert that is perfect for sharing.
Cannoli are traditional Italian pastries that consist of a fried dough shell filled with ricotta cheese and chocolate chips. They originate from the island of Sicily, and they're one of the most popular Italian desserts. Cannoli are typically served as part of a dessert platter, but they can also be eaten on their own.
Gelato is Italy's version of ice cream and it's made with milk, cream, and sugar. It's typically lower in fat than other types of ice cream because it contains less air. Gelato is available in a wide variety of flavors, but some of the most popular ones are chocolate, pistachio, strawberry, and vanilla. My favorite flavors that I usually get are stracciatella, which is a chocolate chip flavor, and giandua, which is a hazelnut flavor.