It’s no secret that Italians are passionate about food – but with good reason. Inarguably one of Europe’s top foodie destinations (if not the spiritual home for continental gastronauts), Italy is generally credited with the creation of pasta, pizza and a whopping 138 food and drink products with protected designation of origin. It’s safe to say that food plays a colossal role in the lives of many Italians, and while recipes and customs tend to differ throughout the 20 various regions, the unifying sense of good taste is impossible to overlook. From Lombardy to Lazio, our guide to the best regional Italian foods highlights some of Italy’s best dishes and where to eat them. Dig in.
Ossobuco in Bergamo
The small city of Bergamo is also located in the region of Lombardy, just over 30 miles from Milan. As such, the cities share many specialties, including a focus on locally-grown rice and pricey meats such as veal. While ossobuco is also synonymous with Milan (typically served with a saffron-hued risotto alla Milanese), the dish is also popular in Bergamo, where it’s most commonly served with polenta – another specialty of the town and its surrounding area. Literally meaning “bone with a hole”, ossobuco is cut from the veal shank, slow-braised with a pearl of soft bone marrow acting as the jewel in the dish’s proverbial crown.
Where to eat it:
Close to the cathedral and main square, Piazza Vecchia, this cosy restaurant specialises in Bergamo cuisine. Polenta is a particular focus here – it's slapped onto many dishes, including (of course) the rich, slow-cooked ossobuco.
Via Bartolomeo Colleoni, 8, Bergamo
Baretto di San Vigilio
more reminiscent of a French bistro than an Italian trattoria, Baretto di San Vigilio’s menu features ossobuco served with creamy mashed potato, plus a zesty gremolata which cuts through the richness of the braised veal shank.
Via al Castello, 1, Bergamo
Mortadella in Bologna
The region of Emilia-Romagna is home to a staggering 44 products with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status under European law. These include the likes of Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar di Modena and prosciutto di Parma. At the heart of the region affectionally known as the ‘Food Valley’, Bologna’s most best known PGI product is mortadella. Often (and erroneously!) described as luncheon meat, it's a large sausage of ground pork marbled with cubes of sweet pork fat, peppercorns and pistachio in many instances. It’s generally sliced thin and best enjoyed in sandwiches, or eaten on its own.
Where to eat it:
A renowned Bologna sandwich shop, Pigro has just three things on its menu: beer, wine and mortadella sandwiches. The latter aren’t customisable, but considering the quality of both the mortadella and the bread, there’s absolutely no need for additional toppings.
Via de' Pignattari, 1b, Bologna
Polpette e Crescentine
In the Mercato delle Erbe, Polpette e Crescentine specialises in meatballs and crescentine fritte – a light, pillowy puff of fried dough, which pairs perfectly with traditional mortadella, the light crunch of the latter a dreamy contrast to the softness of the meat.
Via S. Gervasio, 3, Bologna
Enoteca Storica Faccioli
Alongside a good selection of natty bottles, this wine bar excels with its charcuterie plates. Local artisan cheeses and cured meats are showcased, including mortadella from Pasquini – one of the area’s last fully artisanal producers.
Via Altabella, 15/B, Bologna
‘Nduja in Calabria
Synonymous with Calabria, ‘nduja is a spicy, spreadable salami made with a high concentration of Calabrian chillies. It’s widely believed that ‘nduja was first produced in the small village of Spilinga, where an official ‘Nduja Festival takes place each August, offering a chance to taste the piquant produce in various ways, accompanied by folk music and local entertainment. Like mortadella in Bologna, ‘nduja isn’t a dish in its own right – per se – but it’s used in a wide variety of dishes given its versatility and unique flavour, which brings plenty of depth to pasta dishes as well as typically being spread on bread and served with cheeses.
Where to eat it:
A high end restaurant in Catanzaro, Ristorante Abbruzzino showcases fine dining spins on traditional Calabrian dishes. The pasta with sea urchins, cooked in ‘nduja water, is a must try.
Via Fiume Savuto, Cava-Cuculera Nobile, Catanzaro
A Michelin-starred restaurant on a biodynamic farm, Dattilo is run by chef Caterina Ceraudo – who also tends to the on-site vineyard, protecting endangered Calabrian grape varieties from extinction. As for the food, the menu features refined dishes such as tiny buttons of pasta filled with ‘nduja and creamy almonds, all lulling in a bath of potato broth.
Farm Ceraudo, Strongoli, Crotone
Ligurian focaccia in Genoa
Although a flat bread called ‘panis focacius’ was enjoyed in Ancient Rome, today focaccia is widely associated with the region of Liguria, and specifically the city of Genoa. While various iterations of the recipe are prepared throughout Italy, focaccia Genoese is the most popular, studded with finger sized holes and brushed with olive oil before its final rise. Some consider focaccia to be a type of pizza, which is a fair comparison, but it’s left to rise after being flattened, whereas pizza is often baked immediately. In Genoa, the bread is also typically eaten for breakfast, customarily dipped in milk or cappuccino.
Where to eat it:
Near Brignole train station, Panifico Mario is a historic, family-run bakery showcasing traditional focaccia that’s baked throughout the day.
Via S. Vincenzo, 61r, Genova
Antico Forno della Casana
This Genovese bakery is one of the city’s most famous, baking focaccia from opening time until close. They use organic whole grains, stone ground flours and mother yeast to produce classic slabs of the good stuff, and also hawk other local specialties such as Ligurian vegetable pies and almond panettone.
Vico della Casana 17R, Genova
A modern focacceria, Il Focaccino offers Ligurian focaccia embellished with toppings such as aubergine and Parmigiano cheese, sausage and leek, or figs and salami. Classic focaccia is also served alongside focaccia di Recco stuffed with cheese.
Via Trebisonda, 23, Genova
Veal Milanese in Milan
Although Milan has become a dining destination only in relatively recent years, the veal Milanese is believed to date back to the Roman heyday of the 1st century BC. (Some Italians also suggest the Austrian wiener schnitzel is derived from the classic Milanese cutlet.) While olive oil rules the south, clarified butter is used heavily in Lombardy cuisine, in which the best veal Milanese are often fried. The veal is generally pounded but kept slightly thicker than schnitzel and cooked on the bone, producing a succulent cutlet that needs little more than a pinch of salt and absolutely no sauce to accompany.
Where to eat it:
At this modern restaurant, chef Cesare Battisti serves thick, bone-in veal cutlets cloaked with breadcrumbs then plunged into seething hot butter. The lurid yellow risotto alla Milanese is also a must-try.
Via Gaetano de Castillia, 28, Milan
Run by the same family since 1959, the restaurant’s meat supplier hasn’t changed in over 40 years. Here the veal Milanese is aged for 40 days, cut almost two-inches thick and served either on or off the bone. The bone-in cutlet is superior.
Via Cesare Lombroso, 20, Milan
Pizza in Naples
In Naples, the art of pizza making is taken extremely seriously, and even governed by stringent rules. Established in 1984, the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association (AVPN) campaigns to implement laws in place to make sure traditional Neapolitan pizza is respected. For pizza to be considered truly Neapolitan, it must be cooked in a wood-fired oven, adhere to a certain depth, shape and diameter, and must have precise toppings sourced from specific areas. The cheese and oil (if using) even need to be distributed in a particular format. Dough should be rested for at least six hours, rolling pins are outlawed, and unconventional toppings are strictly prohibited. Purists argue only three types of Neapolitan pizza exist: marinara, simply topped with tomato sauce, garlic and oregano; margherita, made with basil, tomatoes and mozzarella from the southern Apennine mountains; and – best of all – the ‘extra margherita’, crowned with buffalo mozzarella from Campania.
Where to eat it:
L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele
When searching for L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, look for the queue that almost always stretches out of the door. Don’t let the sprawl put you off, however – the pizzas are exemplary, inexpensive, and absolutely worth the wait.
Via Cesare Sersale, 1, Naples
Believed to be the oldest pizzeria in Naples, Pizzeria Brandi opened in 1780. The restaurant is also said to have invented the margherita in honour of Queen Margherita’s visit. Today, Pizzeria Brandi doesn’t necessarily serve the best pizza in Naples, but its historical significance makes a visit near-essential
Salita Sant’Anna di Palazzo, 1/2, Naples
A little further out of the city centre, 50 Kalò is worth making a special trip for. A relative newcomer to the city’s pizza scene, having opened in 2014, 50 Kalò defies convention with some of its toppings, but the dough is made to a precise recipe using exceptional ingredients. Simply sublime.
Piazza Sannazaro, 201/B, Naples
Burrata in Puglia
The southern region of Puglia is home to many great dishes and ingredients, but few have garnered the international appeal of burrata. Believed to have been invented during the 1920s, in the city of Andria, burrata was first made as a way of utilising waste left over in the cheesemaking process. The 'pouch' part of the cheese – filled with creamy strands of stracciatella and cream – was also made by blowing inside a mozzarella ball; a technique which has since become uncommon due to improved food hygiene standards. The result, however, is an inexplicably creamy cheese that’s as versatile as it is delicious. While burrata isn’t strictly a dish in its own right, the cheese is incorporated into many plates throughout the region.
Where to eat it:
A modern restaurant in the town of Trani, Casa Sgarra is run by three brothers. Here the cuisine is typically Puglian, with ingredients such as burrata lovingly showcased across the menu, featuring in antipasti, mains and even sweet desserts. Anyone for burrata and tomato ice cream?
Lungomare Cristoforo Colombo, 114, Trani
Established in 1888, Trattoria Pugliese also champions the region’s traditional cuisine and ingredients. The burrata ravioli with borage, anchovies and sun-dried tomatoes is a no-brainer.
Via Concezione, 9, Gioia del Colle
‘The Four Pastas of Rome’ in Rome
With a gastronomic history stretching over 2,000 years, Roman cuisine has a commendably thrifty nature. Known for using all edible portions of both animals and plants, some sensational vegetable and offal dishes are on offer, though today the city is most internationally renowned for its four classic pastas. By far the most famous, spaghetti alla Carbonara has a rich sauce featuring an emulsification of eggs, Pecorino Romano cheese, black pepper and rendered guanciale (cured pig’s cheek). Pasta alla Gricia is made similarly, but without the eggs, as is pasta all’Amatriciana, which substitutes egg for tomatoes and just a whisper of chilli. Cacio e pepe, on the other hand, comprises a silky mess of melted Pecorino Romano and mounds of black pepper.
Where to eat them:
A modern trattoria in Rome’s Appio-Latino quarter, Santo Palato is a 20 minute drive from the city centre. Roman peasant classics are celebrated with exceptional attention to detail, with the likes of exemplary Carbonara and Amatriciana joined by soft ribbons of trippa alla Romana enlivened with mint, and sweet dishes such as maritozzo – a cream-filled bun made with grano arso flour and green pepper.
Piazza Tarquinia, 4a/b, Rome
Felice a Testaccio
The famous cacio e pepe at Felice in Rome’s Testaccio district is mixed tableside, marrying al dente tonnarelli with Pecorino Romano cheese and a bold helping of pepper. Spaghetti alla Carbonara, bucatini all’Amatricana and mezzemaniche alla Gricia are also available and worth ordering.
Via Mastro Giorgio, 29, Rome
Malloreddus in Sardinia
The island of Sardinia is home to plenty of interesting regional specialties, including casu marzu (a cheese containing maggots that's as delicious as it is eldritch), pane carasau flatbread, culurgiones – a deep-fried cousin to ravioli – and malloreddus. The most prepared traditional dish in Sardinia, malloreddus has been on local menus since ancient times. With similarities to gnocchi, it's typically made with semolina flour and water, while just a pinch of saffron gives the dough its yellow hue. The pasta is also ridged with a fairly open groove, which collects plenty of sauce when used in dishes such as malloreddus alla campidanese, featuring a sauce of tomato and Sardinian sausage.
Where to eat it:
Pani e Casu
Offering outstanding views from its terrace, Pani e Casu serves an exemplary version of the classic malloreddus alla campidanese. Additional highlights include culurgiones and porcheddu (suckling pig).
Via Santa Croce, 51, Cagliari
Close to Cagliari city centre, Corso Dodici celebrates Sardinian classics. Here the malloreddus dish substitutes sausage and tomato for basil pesto and green beans, served alongside tuna tartare.
Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 12, Cagliari