Wondering what to eat in Italy? This Italian food list will get you started and give you all the knowledge you need to eat your way through the country.
If you’re going to Italy there are many important things you’ll need to know, but there is possibly nothing more important than knowing what to eat in Italy.
What to Eat in Italy
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What we'll be talking about
- What to Eat in Italy
- 1. Pizza
- 2. Pesto
- 3. Tiramisu
- 4. Suppli or Arancini
- 5. Ciambelle
- 6. Artichokes
- 7. Fried Zucchini Flowers
- 8. Lasagna
- 9. Ribollita
- 10. Real Balsamic Vinegar
- 11. Authentic Olive Oil
- 12. Gelato
- 13. Prosciutto e Melone
- 14. Spaghetti Carbonara
- 15. Bread
- 16. Calamari
- 17. Fresh Fish
- 18. Gnocchi
- 19. Panzanella
- 20. Bruschetta
- 21. Polenta
- 22. Cheese
- 23. Risotto
- 24. Panini
- 25. Ossobuco
- 26. Caprese Salad
- 27. Torrone
- 28. Tagliatelle al Ragu
- 29. Caponata
- 30. Cacio e Pepe
- 31. Truffles
- 32. Cannoli
- 33. Panna Cotta
- 34. Panettone
- 35. Pasta
With so many famous Italian dishes that have made their way to various parts of the world, it’s easy to think that you’ve tried them all. But be prepared to be surprised by this list of Italian dishes that will delight your curiosity and your tastebuds!
The range of traditional Italian food is very wide due to the fact that Italy is actually a relatively new country. It previously consisted of many small, separate independent states each with their own language and also cuisine, resulting in a variety of dishes that utilize the local produce and wildlife.
Italy food culture is an important part of national pride in the country. We’ve rounded up the best food to eat in Italy on this list so you can eat your way through it!
Let’s get this one out of the way. Possibly the world’s favorite food, and the most popular food in Italy and abroad, is pizza! This delectable flatbread smothered in sauce, cheese, meat, and vegetables has truly evolved over the ages into something that looks a little different than the original pizza.
First invented in 1889 by a chef from Naples who added Italian flag colored toppings onto a flat piece of bread in honor of the Italian Queen Margherita di Savoia. Hence the term “Margherita Pizza.”
Where to find it Pizza
You can find pizza literally all over Italy. Almost every restaurant will have its own version which will vary in different regions and even from the restaurant next door!
If you’d like to try what has been called “the best pizza in the world,” visit Da Michele in Naples, Italy. While there are only two choices: Margherita and Marinara, you will not be disappointed, but be prepared to get in line for a whole pie of goodness!
Learn to Make Pizza
Making pizza is surprisingly easy and fun. There are pizza making classes you can take all over Italy, but this one in Rome is awesome.
Another fan favorite that has made it all around the world, Pesto is a delicious and fresh-tasting green sauce or paste made from basil, garlic, sea salt, Parmesan, pine nuts and olive oil. Pesto can be added to any almost anything to make it better: pasta, pizza, tomatoes. It tastes even better in Italy, mostly because it’s often made fresh or in-house with fresh ingredients! The word pesto comes from the Italian pestare, meaning to grind or crush, which is exactly how it’s made.
Where to find Pesto
This is another delicacy that can be found all over Italy, but it is particularly popular in the port city of Genoa where it originated. Genoa is located in the region of Liguria, where the UNESCO site of Cinque Terre lies and can be found in abundance there.
Learn how to make Pesto
Take a Pesto making class in the beautiful Cinque Terre and learn how to grind your own pesto from a generations-old family recipe.
Tiramisu is probably the most famous Italian dessert, along with gelato of course. It is made by combining espresso, cocoa, sugar, ladyfingers, and mascarpone cheese. There are many varying ways to make Tiramisu, but all of them delicious!
Where to find Tiramisu
Tiramisu can be found all throughout Italy. Many regions of the country claim to be the inventor of Tiramisu, but wherever you eat it, you’ll love it.
Learn how to make Tiramisu
If you’re visiting Rome you can learn how to make Tiramisu for yourself. We took this amazing cooking class where we learned how to make pasta from scratch as well as tiramisu. It was fun and delicious!
4. Suppli or Arancini
You’ll find these little fried balls of rice all over Italy going by different names, but they are essentially rice with some type of filling (usually cheese), breaded and then fried. They taste as delicious and unhealthy as they sound.
Where to find Suppli or Arancini
If you can find a restaurant to fry you up a fresh one, I find I like those ones better than the prefried ones that sit in a shop window for hours. The rice balls will go by the name of “suppli” in and around Rome and Arancini in most of Italy.
Known as the doughnut’s Italian cousin, or maybe ancestor, ciambelle are made from flour and potatoes fried in oil. then coated with sugar. Often eaten for breakfast with coffee.
Where to find Ciambelle
You can find Ciambelle in most cafes in Italy.
Artichokes have played a large role in the history of Italy. Carciofo alla giudia, or Jewish-style artichoke, got its start in the Jewish Ghetto more than 5 centuries ago. This dish, that is essentially an edible thistle, was sold by Jewish vendors in Rome during the 1500s who were highly restricted in their employment but could work as food vendors.
Where to find Artichokes
This often undersold item found many uses in Jewish cooking and is now symbol and specialty in the Jewish community in Rome that can be found being sold in the outdoor markets of Rome and also at Jewish restaurants like Ba’Ghetto. This is some of the best Jewish Italian food I’ve had. This dish is mostly found in Rome, but I’ve seen it in other regions of Italy as well.
7. Fried Zucchini Flowers
This little treat is a real Italian classic. The plant of the zucchini has long yellow flowers that are commonly eaten fried or filled with cheese in Italy.
Where to find Zucchini Flowers
You can find these almost all over Italy. They are commonly served as an appetizer at restaurants and you can buy them fresh at almost any Italian grocery store.
This famous Italian food is another classic that has made its way around the globe and is often cooked in many homes. It consists of wide flat noodles baked in layers, sandwiched between cheese, meat, and sauce for a delicious dish. It is often served with very little tomato sauce, which is different than what we’re used to in the US.
Where to find Lasagna
Lasagna can be found all over Italy, but it supposedly originated in the Emilia-Romagna region.
Ribollita, which means “reboiled” in Italian gets its roots from the peasant population in old Italy and is a hearty, meatless vegetable stew with added stale bread. Like so many dishes, this one came about out of necessity but has stuck around for hundreds of years. It’s chock full of healthy vegetables, but the bread makes it very filling.
Where to find Ribollita
This soup can be found all over Italy, but originates in the Tuscan countryside.
10. Real Balsamic Vinegar
For people who think they don’t like balsamic vinegar, they haven’t tried real balsamic vinegar. The runny imposter we buy in the US doesn’t hold a candle to the real deal and is usually just flavored vinegar. Real balsamic vinegar is aged in barrels, just like wine, and is sweet, thick, and amazing!
Where to find Balsamic Vinegar
You can find real balsamic vinegar all over Itay. My best tip is to find a local market and purchase some from a vineyard or balsamic vinegar maker directly. And ask to taste it before you buy, this is totally normal. Balsamic vinegar makes for great souvenirs for Italy lovers! You can also take a market tour in most cities where a guide will walk you through how to pick the best oils and vinegar.
11. Authentic Olive Oil
Along with real balsamic vinegar, you’ll also want to sample authentic olive oil, which somehow tastes more amazing in Italy than by the time it gets to wherever you live.
Where to find Authentic Olive Oil
The same rules apply for the vinegar. Go to a local market and find the grower directly. Having a guide really helps you with this. You can also go straight to olive orchards and do oil tastings there. It’s a great experience.
Of course, you cannot go to Italy without having gelato at least once…a day…in my opinion at least! Gelato may be the greatest thing Italy has ever brought us…oh yeah, and the Renaissance. I guess that was good too. Gelato is like ice cream, but differs in the way it is made, giving it less air and a lower fat content, which allows you to taste the flavors of the gelato better than with ice cream!
Where to find Gelato
There is a whole gelato culture you should know about before visiting Italy. I suggest you read this guide to finding the best gelato in Italy, which includes tips on how to make sure you are eating the best gelato and a list of the best gelaterias in Italy by city.
13. Prosciutto e Melone
This delectable combination of thinly sliced cured ham and slices of cantaloupe is very popular all throughout Italy.
Where to find Prosciutto e Melone
This dish is usually served as an appetizer and can be found all over Europe. It’s especially popular during the warmer months.
14. Spaghetti Carbonara
This popular Italian food is made with spaghetti pasta and tossed with an indulgent sauce made from eggs, pecorino romano cheese, and pancetta. It’s heavy, filling and delicious!
Where to find Spaghetti Carbonara
Spaghetti Carbonara originated in Rome, but can generally be found all over the country and is what of the best things to eat in Italy if you’re looking for a hearty dish.
One cannot talk about classic Italian food without mentioning the bread! From Ciabatta to Taralli, different types of bread can be found all over Italy. Most traditional Italian meals will include bread. Here are some of our favorite Italian breads:
- Ciabatta: Literally “slipper” in Italian is a round bread commonly used on sandwiches.
- Filoncino: A long soft, white bread topped with sesame seeds. It’s similar to a French baguette.
- Focaccia: This flatbread is somewhere between pizza and bread. It’s often topped with yummy toppings or they’re cooked into the bread. You can find this most often in the Liguria region of Italy.
- Freselle: This is a biscuit found in the southern regions of Italy, Campania, Apulia, and Basilicata, and can be found topped with fresh tomatoes and cheese.
- Grissini: Small, long tiny baguettes often seasoned with sesame seeds or rosemary. These originated in Turin, but can be found boxed or bagged in any shop or grocer in Italy.
- Piadina: A traditional Italian bread made with wheat flour, olive oil, and lard. It’s often eaten filled with ham and cheese.
- Pane Cafone: This soft, white, wheat bread is from the Campania region.
- Taralli: This is less of a bread and more of a cracker, but is made with dough and twisted into a ring shape.
Where to find bread in Italy
Bread can be found at almost any restaurant or quick lunch spot, filled with meats and cheeses. If you want to try fresh bread in Italy, stop by a Forno, or bakery.
Calamari is deliciously deep fried squid often eaten with a lemon squeezed over the top.
Where to find Calamari
It is sold anywhere near the sea. It is especially popular in the Cinque Terre. Buy it in a paper cone as a snack while you wander the streets.
17. Fresh Fish
Fresh fish cooked all sorts of ways in Italy. Fried, grilled, baked. It’s all delicious, especially when caught fresh on the coast.
Where to find Fresh Fish
Anywhere by the sea. Venice is popular for its seafood. Be sure to visit a seafood market. It’s fun to look at the many varieties of fish available.
Gnocchi are a type of Italian pasta made with potato mash. They are hearty and filling and can be found offered with several different sauces.
Where to find Gnocchi
Gnocchi can be found all over Italy. The sauce generally depends on the region in Italy.
Panzanella is a salad made by combining pieces of soaked stale bread, tomatoes, fresh vegetables, onions, basil, olive oil, and vinegar.
Where to find Panzanella
Panzanella can be found readily in Tuscany as a popular summertime salad or appetizer.
Bruschetta is toasted rounds of bread topped with tomato, basil, and olive oil. A great appetizer and best made fresh!
Where to find Bruschetta
Bruschetta can be found all over Italy as an appetizer or a snack if you’re not up for another pizza or bowl of pasta!
Polenta is made from ground cornmeal and is similar to grits. Polenta can be used as a side to meat dishes or made into fritters.
Where to find Polenta
Polenta actually used to be the staple of Northern Italy, rather than pasta and is still used widely. You can find it almost anywhere in Italy, even pre-made in grocery stores.
You can’t go to Italy without trying the many different varieties of cheese!
Types of cheese in Italy
- Gorgonzola: originates in Lombardy & Piedmont it tastes similar to blue cheese.
- Parmigiano-Reggiano: Originates in Emilia-Romagna and is probably the most widely known Italian cheese in the US.
- Mascarpone: a soft mild cheese that is frequently used in desserts like tiramisu and cannoli.
- Asagio: from Veneto, a semi soft savory cheese
- Provolone: found all over Italy
- Ricotta: very soft, popular cheese found all over Italy,
- Burrata: from Puglia, melt in your mouth cheese consisting of mozerella on the outside and cream on the inside. In my opinion, this is the best Italian cheese.
- Mozerella: semi-soft cheese found all over Italy
- Grana Padano: hard strong cheese similar to parmesan.
- Pecorino: A strong cheese made from sheep’s milk
- Scamorza: a southern Italian cheese made from stretched curds
- Buffalo Mozerella: Mozerella made from buffalo milk
- Casu Marzu: an adventurous cheese made in Sardinia from sheep’s milk containing insect larvae. Taste at your own risk!
As popular as pasta is in Italy, Risotto is not to be forgotten! This boiled rice soaks in the flavor of whatever it is cooked in.
Where to find Risotto
Risotto can be found almost anywhere in Italy. One of the most traditional Italian dishes using Risotto is Risotto Alla Milanese, first created in Milan during the 16th century.
A panini is essentially a sandwich. Italian bread filled with meats, cheese, vegetables, and sauce, then toasted.
Where to find Panini
You can easily find panini all around Italy. It makes a great lunch on the go while you’re out sightseeing.
This is a delicacy made from veal shanks cooked in white wine with vegetables.
Where to find Ossobuco
Ossobuco originates in the Lombard region of Italy and you can also find it with the local Risotto alla Milanese.
26. Caprese Salad
A light and fresh salad made from fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, often topped with balsamic vinegar.
Where to find Caprese Salad
Literally meaning “salad of Capri,” you can, of course, find this popular salad on Capri, but also along the Amalfi coast and usually all over Italy!
Torrone is a white nougat candy with nuts throughout. It’s made with sugar, honey, egg whites, and toasted nuts.
Where to find Torrone
Torrone is found all over Italy on the shelves of sweet shops. It’s purchased mostly at Christmas time.
Speaking of Christmas, discover the best places to spend Christmas in Italy
28. Tagliatelle al Ragu
Tagliatelle is a flat ribboned pasta. It is topped with a sauce containing ground meat, onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, and wine or milk. It’s then topped with beautiful Italian cheese!
Where to find Tagliatelle al Ragu
This is actually the national food of Italy! It is a specialty of Bologna but can be found in most regions of Italy.
Caponata is a warm cooked vegetable salad containing eggplant and, vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, peppers, celery, and olives doused with a sauce and served an appetizer or side dish.
Where to find Caponata
Caponata is a specialty of Sicily but is also popular in the south of Italy.
30. Cacio e Pepe
Cacio e Pepe is possibly the simplest food to eat in Italy. This is one of my favorite Italian dishes and is surprisingly so easy to make. It’s one of the simplest dishes in Italy consisting of cheese, pepper, and pasta! Even its name means “cheese and pepper.” Italian food names tend to be very descriptive and this is no different.
Where to find Cacio e Pepe
You’ll find this simple dish all over Italy, but especially in Rome.
Truffles are fungi that grow underground and are very difficult to find and harvest. Truffles are one of the most expensive delicacies in Italy and are the base for many Italian main dishes, including sauces and oils.
Where to find Truffles
Truffles are popular all over Italy, but especially in the central part of the country. I love them thinly sliced atop burrata cheese!
When you talk about authentic Italian food, it doesn’t get better than true Cannoli! It’s a crunchy pipe shape pastry filled with sweet ricotta.
Where to find Cannoli
You can find these Italian pastries all over Italy, but they first originated on the island of Sicily.
33. Panna Cotta
This Italian dessert made from sweetened cream and thickened with gelatin can be topped with many different sauces and flavors.
Where to find Panna Cotta
You can find Panna Cotta all over Italy, but it originated in the Piedmont region.
Panettone is a white cake filled with candied fruit.
Where to find Panettone
This is a typical holiday cake that can be readily found in shops during Christmas and Easter holidays. It originated in Milan but can be found all over Italy.
Of course, this list of what to eat in Italy could not be complete without listing some of the most popular pasta dishes in Italy. Most authentic Italian dishes will include at least one type of pasta:
- Capelli d’angelo
Phew! That is a lot of pasta. They are each unique in ingredient, method, and shape, and all an essential part of Italian food culture. Try at least 5 different types of pasta when you visit Italy.
Did I miss anything? I hope this Italian food list has helped you get some ideas for your visit and you’ll know exactly what to eat in Italy. You’ll now be ready to tackle almost any menu! Buon appetito!