Whether you’re in Italy for its scenery, for business, your honeymoon, an art tour, for outdoor adventures or gambling, you can’t ignore the food. Travelers are drawn to Italy for its gastronomic delights that go beyond pizzas, gelato and spaghetti. Many famous traditional dishes, both savory and sweet, are rooted in local culture and are often old recipes passed down through generations and still enjoyed today with authentic flavors.
Italy’s cuisine is divided by twenty different regions. Here is a look at some of the must-try regional specialties and flavorful Italian food that you’ll find in Italy and in many truly authentic Italian restaurants around the world.
Bigoli, Veneto region
Spaghetti has become popular all over the world, but the Veneto region’s Bigoli is a signature dish that you’ll want to keep eating again and again. Bigoli uses thick tubular noodles that are coarse, unlike the smooth spaghetti. The buckwheat flour pasta is served with a simple and delicious sauce of vegetables, red wine and roast duck, which is perfect for the coarse noodles. The dish is further flavored with Parmesan and parsley.
Ribollita is a hearty Tuscan soup that clearly has its origins at the poor man’s table, but is today a delicacy on its own. The soup is made of vegetables and bread boiled together to make a rich, creamy soup that is thickened by the bread. The dish was traditionally made by servants who collected the leftover breads, cannellini beans and a variety of other inexpensive vegetables like onion, cabbage, carrot, chard, kale etc.
Another Tuscan specialty, Gnudi (meaning 'naked’) is simply a type of ravioli filling minus the pasta sheets that enclose them. This is a traditional Tuscan food made of ricotta cheese (made from sheep’s milk), egg, flour, spinach and a dressing of pecorino cheese, sage and olive oil. Clearly a farmer’s specialty, Gnudi is simple to prepare but delicious, especially when paired with Tuscan red wine.
Osso buco alla Milanese, Milanese
The Milanese invented osso buco, and this meat dish is deeply rooted in the city’s culture. You’re likely to find it in high-end Italian restaurants around the world, but the most authentic osso buco alla Milanese is a melting and creamy braised preparation of tender veal shanks in white wine. The veal is served with vegetables and aromatics like garlic, lemon zest and parsley. Another highlight of the dish is the creamy veal bone marrow that you scoop out at the end of your meal.
Risi e bisi, Venice
Risi e bisi is simply rice with peas. But this Venetian dish is more than the simple fare it sounds like. The dish is full of flavors, even though it only contains rice and peas cooked with seasoning and stock. It is prepared in much the same way as risotto, except that it is soupier. The final dish, when prepared in the traditional way, is a clean and delicious dish with an excellent balance of flavors.
Pasta con le Sarde, Sicily
This pasta dish with sardines is popular in Sicily, and its sweet and salty flavors borrow strong influences from Arab cuisine. This is not surprising, given that Sicily has been invaded by numerous foreign Mediterranean navies for thousands of years. The dish is usually prepared with the hollow pasta bucatini, done al dente and served with sardines. It also includes pine nuts and raisins, and gets its herbed flavors from saffron and wild fennel.