Italian cuisine is something that is pretty well-known and popular around the world, and it is quite hard to find a person unable to name at least several national Italian dishes, isn’t it? Interestingly, authentic Italian food isn’t just about pizza and pasta, it’s really diverse and the traditions of cooking differ from one region to another. In this piece, you can learn more about Italian cuisine as well as jot down some dishes and beverages for your must-taste list as you travel Italy.
A brief outline of the history + Italian cuisine basics
It goes without saying that food is one of the defining features of Italian culture and history. No matter how the times change, Italians will never give up the tradition to get together at the family table and to savor the taste of life along with good food.
Italian cuisine has evolved over the centuries, having incorporated the best traditions of each epoch. The Roman Empire was famous for frequent feasts with a huge variety of dishes, especially meat ones. So it was the time when Italian meat cooking tradition appeared. Even now, when Italians cook meat stew, they do not cut the meat in small pieces, but roast the whole piece at once.
The Middle Ages, made Italian cuisine more refined and diverse with the usage of various seafood like crabs, shrimp, and lobsters. The epoch of Renaissance elevated cooking to the rank of art and was marked with opening the first culinary schools.
Italian food bases on pretty simple ingredients, including dough, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, pepper, carrots, onions, potatoes, asparagus, greens, and lots of cheese.
One more popular item is rice, which is often served with different types of meat, seafood, and mushrooms. In addition, Italy is the birthplace of delicious authentic parmesan, gorgonzola, mozzarella, and mascarpone.
Interesting fact: Italians avoid using sunflower oil. However, particularly no dish can do without olive oil, thus it is used for both, frying and dressing.
Another popular sauce is made from tomatoes. It is usually cooked for a long time on low heat and then spiced up by such seasonings as basil and marjoram. In general, Italians use quite a lot of various spices: rosemary, oregano, caraway, and others due to which the dishes get their unparalleled tastes.
Regional differences and must-taste dishes
Here we have already got to the most interesting part of our review and now let’s have a closer look at specialties that are typical for certain parts of gorgeous Italy. Each of the 20 regions has its own gastronomic secrets and tricks, passed down through generations, which means that both the north and the south have something in store to surprise you.
Pasta takes the leading place among the most popular Italian dishes that has gained strong popularity around the whole world.
Interesting to know that an average Italian eats about 20-25 kg of pasta a year. These are long "spaghetti", thick "bucatini", thin "vermicelli", flat “fettuccine” and a long-long list of other bizarre forms of this beloved Italian dish. A real pasta is made from durum wheat and dressed with yummy Italian sauces. Impossible to resist, for sure!
Another typical Italian delicacy is “ravioli”. These small Italian dumplings are not tied to the cuisine of any region of Italy and eaten throughout the country. The filling varies from meat and fish to vegetables and mushrooms. However, the most popular one is chicken with parmesan and spinach.
If visiting such northern regions as Lombardy and Piedmont is on your agenda, you’ll be pleased by the wide choice of “risotto”, meat and fish, while in Liguria you’ll get a chance to try the classic sauce “pesto”. Staying in Emilia-Romagna, you should definitely taste local parmesan, Parma ham, and mortadella.
The central region of Lazio with the capital in Rome is known for the wide use of veal and lamb. The regions of Molise and Abruzzo boast amazing cheese and smoked meat products while all seafood fans should head to Calabria and Puglia.
If you’re looking for high-quality olive oil or such an exquisite delicacy as black truffles, don’t forget to visit Umbria.
Of course, we can’t skip the motherland of the world-famous Italian pizza, the capital of Campania, Naples. The region has the most award-winning pizzerias in the country, followed by Tuscany and Lazio.
Various nourishing soups and splendid fruit desserts have also gained popularity in Campania as well.
It will be unfair not to mention the exceptional cuisine of the two Italian islands - Sardinia and Sicily. The leading place in Sardinian cuisine is occupied by seafood, mainly tuna and lobsters.
Moreover, Sardinia is the birthplace of many high-quality products: from sheep cheese “pecorino” and “fiore sardo”, and artichokes “spinoso” to typical Sardinian pasta “fregola” and “malloreddus”.
The dishes of sun-kissed Sicily experience the influence of Italian, Arabic, Greek and Spanish cuisines that’s why locals adore spices and add them abundantly to their meals. In general, Sicilian cuisine can be described in three words: pasta, fish, and sweets. If you want to treat yourself with something sweet and special in Sicily, make sure to taste a hot fresh-baked bun with a delicious ice-cream filling, “brioche siciliana”.
Favorite Italian beverages
An indispensable attribute of any Italian meal is wine. As huge territories of the country are planted with vineyards, Italian winemaking traditions are almost endless.
White and red, sweet and dry, desert and sparkling - the choice is yours! You can read more on Italian wines in our Italian wine guide.
To continue the list of traditional Italian beverages, we should mention the most famous Italian liqueur, Limoncello which is mainly produced in southern regions.
Italians also prefer to have a light aperitif drink before a meal, and the most common Italian aperitivo is the herbal liqueur Campari. Other widespread Italian alcoholic drinks include Aperol, Martini, Cinzano, and Grappa.
Italians stand among the biggest coffee lovers in the world and the culture of coffee-drinking plays a special role in the everyday life of locals. If you are a passionate fan of cappuccino and latte, remember that these are considered to be morning drinks in Italy.
After noon, Italians prefer black coffee or coffee flavored with a small amount of cream. In the evening locals usually order "caffe normale" or espresso, which they drink sugar-free, so as not to spoil the bright scent and noble sourness. Probably the most famous Italian coffee brand is Lavazza, so don’t miss your chance to have a cup during your Italy vacation.
Endless dolce vita
It’s common that desserts, once born in Italy, often become loved and famous in many countries, that’s why going to Italy will be a real pleasure for your taste buds.
Tiramisu with Mascarpone, Panna cotta, Ricotta cake, Parfait, and Caprese Cake… Italy has it all!
What is more, Italian confectioners are famous around the world, boasting some delicious sweets. The most popular ones are Italian "gianduiotti" which perfectly match with sparkling pink or dessert wine, colorful "confetto", almonds covered with sugar, often used for family celebrations, and "baci", a mixture of crushed hazelnut and chocolate.
But if you want to experience la dolce vita completely, you can’t leave the country without tasting famous Italian ice-cream, Gelato. The assortment of this divine dessert is so impressive that, coming to any gelateria, you’ll stand puzzled for several minutes trying to make up your mind on what flavor you want to try first. But be sure, no one can be mistaken in case of gelato, as it’s too delicious to ignore. Just take any and enjoy!
All in all, Italian cuisine simply can’t disappoint anyone, having so many amazing dishes in store. So we hope that this piece about Italian food will become some kind of a guide to help you make a list of Italian specialties you can’t miss while in Italy, apart from the obvious pizza and pasta.