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Travel bucket list ideas:

Last updated: 20 July, 2023

From tortellini to truffles, pizza to pesto, we asked Italy specialist Nicky Swallow to select the best traditional Italian foods and flavours you must try while you’re in Italy.

Table of Contents
Nduja, a spicy spreadable sausage from the south of Italy
Experience

‘Nduja, Calabria

Italy

A soft, spicy, spreadable pork salami made with fiery Calabrian chilies and used to spice up pizza, pasta dishes, stews and soups or simply spread on toast.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Arancini coned rice bowls on a market stall
Experience

Arancini, Sicily

Sicily, Italy

These deep-fried rice-based cones that are found all over Sicily. There are dozens of variations, but the most common versions are stuffed with meat ragu, chopped ham or cheese.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Arista
Experience

Arista, Tuscany

Tuscany, Italy

Arista is one of Tuscany’s most common meat dishes; roast pork loin generously slathered with rosemary and garlic and often served with roast potatoes and sautéed greens or spinach.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Bistecca Fiorentina on hot plate
Experience

Bistecca alla Fiorentina, Florence

Italy

A vast T-bone steak, priced according to weight, cut super-thick, ideally grilled over olive wood and served rare, is often big enough to be divided between two, three of even four people and dressed simply with salt, pepper and a slick of olive oil. Just don’t ask for it ‘well done’.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Bottarga slices
Experience

Bottarga, Sardinia

Italy

This preserved mullet (or tuna) roe is a highly-prized delicacy from southern Italy, but the best arguably comes from Cabras on the west coast of Sardinia. Grate it over a plate of steaming, oily spaghetti.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Bruschetta tomatoes on crusty bread
Experience

Bruschetta, Tuscany

Italy

Known as fettunta (‘oily slice’) in Tuscany, bruschetta in the rest of Italy, there is no dish more evocative of autumn than toasted bread, a scraping of garlic and a swirl of newly-pressed Extra-Virgin.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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White bean cannellini salad
Experience

Cannellini white beans

Italy

Tuscans are known as mangia fagioli or bean-eaters, and white cannellini beans are served with just about everything, simply dressed with a grinding of black pepper and a swirl of pungent olive oil.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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several Cannoli on a plate
Experience

Cannoli alla Siciliana, Sicily

Italy

Sicilian cakes and desserts are not for the faint-hearted. These deep-fried cylinders of batter are stuffed with a mix of ricotta, candied peel, dark chocolate drops and orange flower water.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Caponata in a bowl
Experience

Caponata, Sicily

Italy

Sicily’s famous sweet and sour summer vegetable dish is usually made with aubergines, onions, celery, tomatoes and capers with a hit of sugar and vinegar, but each Sicilian family has its own recipe.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Caprese Salad
Experience

Caprese Salad, Capri

Italy

This ubiquitous tomato, mozzarella and basil salad features on menus throughout the world, but originated on the island of Capri. It is best made with buffalo mozzarella from Battipaglia, near Naples.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Cicchetti
Experience

Cichetti, Venice

Italy

The Venetian equivalent of tapas is usually served in bacaro wine bars where counters groan with nibbles ranging from sweet and sour sardines and creamed salt cod to boiled eggs with artichokes.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Close up on liver and onion
Experience

Fegato alla Veneziana, Venice

Italy

This seductive combo of slow-cooked, thinly-sliced onions and calves’ liver is one of Venice’s few indigenous meat dishes and is served year-round throughout the Veneto region and beyond.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Focaccia on bread board
Experience

Focaccia, Genoa

Italy

Thin, salty, oily and golden, focaccia bread is made all over Italy, but some of the best comes from Genoa where it is even eaten for breakfast.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Gelato close up in Florence
Experience

Gelato, Florence

Italy

The history of ‘modern’ gelato goes back to Renaissance Florence and the Medici court, but fabulous ice cream is made all over Italy. Avoid dayglow colours and always buy from somewhere saying ‘produzione propria’.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Gnocchi con Sugo di Carne in small bowl
Experience

Gnocchi alla Romana, Rome

Italy

Believed to have originated in the cooking of Ancient Rome and made with a mix of semolino, milk, eggs and nutmeg, these soft discs are most often served simply with melted butter and parmesan and baked in the oven.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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almond granita shaved ice in glass
Experience

Granita, Sicily

Italy

There is nothing more refreshing on a boiling hot day than a bowl of slushy granita or water ice; try mandorla (almond), limone or caffè. Sicilians eat it for breakfast.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Lasagne slice
Experience

Lasagne, Emilia-Romagna

Italy

One of Italy’s most famous exports, this hefty oven-baked dish of pasta sheets, meat ragu and bechamel sauce is a by-product of the tradition of opulent, rich cuisine of Emilia Romagna which features meat, eggs, butter and cheese.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Parmigiana dish from above with cheese and aubergines
Experience

Melanzane alla Parmigiana, Naples

Italy

A wonderful dish which is found all over central and southern Italy; layers of sliced, fried aubergine, tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese are piled into a baking dish, topped with grated parmesan and baked.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Mozzarella di Bufala
Experience

Mozzarella di Bufala, Campania

Italy

Once you’ve tried the real deal made with water buffalo milk from Campania (the best is from Battipaglia), you will never buy those insipid little balls in their soggy bags again.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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slices of Panettone Christmas cake
Experience

Panettone, Milan

Italy

Studded with candied peel and sultanas, the sweet, dome-shaped yeast-leavened ‘panettone’ (almost more bread that cake) is synonymous with Christmas in Italy and often comes packed in a pretty box.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Sliced Parmigiano Reggiano wheel on wooden cutting board
Experience

Parmigiano Reggiano, Parma

Italy

Supposedly invented by Benedictine monks in the Parma area in the 13th century, highly-prized parmesan is used as a salty, savoury condiment on pasta and other dishes, but also eaten in chunks. The best cheese is aged at least 36 months.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Pecorino cheeses on a shelf in a cheesemonger
Experience

Pecorino Cheese, Tuscany

Italy

Salty ewe’s cheese or pecorino is found in different regions of Italy, but is synonymous with Pienza in Tuscany. Available from soft, mild milky-white ‘fresco’ versions to the aged, hard much stronger ‘stagionato’ varieties.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Aerial view of a bowl of fresh green pesto
Experience

Pesto alla Genovese, Genoa and Liguria

Italy

The magical combo of fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan and olive oil originated in Genoa on the Ligurian coast; locally, green beans and sliced potato are added to the linguine pasta as it cooks.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Invented in honor of the first queen of Italy, the Margherita pizza is the triumph of Neapolitan cuisine in the world.
Experience

Pizza, Naples

Italy

Pizza – along with gelato Italy’s most successful food export – was invented in Naples; the original version was the ‘margherita’ (with tomato, mozzarella and basil) in honour of Queen Margherita of Savoy.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Prosciutto slices
Experience

Prosciutto di Parma, Parma

Italy

Authentic Parma ham is produced in a limited area near Parma in Reggio-Emilia; with a delicate, sweet flavour and finely sliced from a whole pig thigh, it must be aged for a minimum of 12 months.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Close Up Photo Of Bolognese Sauce With Basil.
Experience

Ragu alla Bolognese, Bologna

Italy

This intense, rich, slow-simmered meat sauce (minced beef, sausage, tomatoes, carrots, celery, onions and red wine) became popular in Bologna in the early 19th century and is traditionally served on egg tagliatelle. NB: You will never find the dish ‘Spaghetti Bolognese’ on an Italian menu.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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bowl of Tuscan Ribollita
Experience

Ribollita, Tuscany

Italy

This hearty, ubiquitous soup typifies Tuscan rustic country cooking. Really a cold-weather dish, it’s made with stale bread, white beans and ‘cavolo nero’ (black cabbage) and served with a swizzle of local olive oil.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Delicious Italian risotto with saffron and mint (Risotto alla milanese) closeup on a plate. horizontal view
Experience

Risotto alla Milanese, Milan

Italy

The immense, humid, flat Po valley is the source of much of Italy’s rice; this unctuous, rich yellow risotto made with precious saffron and bone marrow is sophisticated yet simple and typical of Milanese cooking.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Saltimbocca veal fillets in a dish
Experience

Saltimbocca alla Romana, Rome

Italy

Wafer-thin slices of veal are lined with prosciutto, topped with a sage leaves and secured with tooth-picks, before being flash-fried in oil and finished off with a slosh of white wine.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Carbonara with parmesan cheese
Experience

Spaghetti alla Carbonara, Rome

Italy

In this celebrated dish, guanciale (cured meat from the pig’s cheek) is fried in olive oil then tossed together with spaghetti, raw eggs, pecorino Romano and lots of black pepper. Some say the dish originated with the Allied liberation of Rome in 1944 when the GIs brought their bacon and eggs to the local chefs to enhance the pasta dishes.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Traditional foods you must try in Italy - Spaghetti alla puttanesca. italian pasta dish with tomatoes, olives, capers and parsley. Light background.
Experience

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca, Naples

Italy

Allegedly invented in one of Naples’ once-numerous bordellos (brothels), ‘whore’s spaghetti’ is made with a punchy, tomato-based sauce that also has capers, anchovies, black olives and a subtle hit of chilli.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Closeup of delicious tortellini with butter, Italian food
Experience

Tortellini, Emilia-Romagna

Italy

These meaty little pasta parcels are one of Bologna’s most famous exports and are usually served floating in a rich, meat-based ‘brodo’ or stock. For a double meat hit, order them with ‘ragu’.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Still life of Alba's white truffle on the traditional canvas
Experience

Truffles Tartufo, Piedmont

Italy

Truffles grow all over Italy, but the most highly-prized (and highly-priced) are the white truffles from Alba in Piedmont, best grated generously over buttery pasta or eggs. Also found in Tuscany, Umbria and Abruzzo.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Veal Milanese with salad
Experience

Veal Milanese, Milan

Italy

Invented in the 12th century in Milan, this thin, tender, breaded veal chop, deep-fried and eaten sizzling hot with a squirt of lemon juice is one of the city’s most famous dishes.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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