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21 Best Local & Traditional Italian Food you must try

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Folks associate Italy with stunning cities filled with art and architecture, sun-kissed coastal towns and more. What makes a trip to this delightful country even more special is the traditional Italian food. You simply cannot experience Italy without indulging in its cuisine. So I have compiled the Best Local Italian Food with the help of travel experts you to try! This post makes it easy for you to figure the best Italian dishes to order while visiting this delightful country. If I have to go back for my 2 week Italy itinerary with Amalfi coast, I would make sure to try out these traditional Italian food dishes.

Italian cuisine has moved beyond the country’s borders, so these traditional Italian dishes could give you an idea on what to order without traveling to Italy as well. An Italy subscription box on a monthly or quarterly basis could even bring in local ingredients right at your doorstep for you to try making some of the dishes.

Best Savoury Italian dishes to order

Arancini

Italy may be known for having the best cuisine in the world, but its island region of Sicily in the south has some of the tastiest dishes of them all. One of them is the casual and delicious snack called Arancini. Found in hot table bars, service stations, pizzerias and restaurants all over Sicily, these breaded “rice balls” are one of Sicily’s most famous foods.

Delicious snack!

Arancini date back to the 10th-century when the island was under Arab rule.

Traditionally, arancino comes in a pear shaped form, is rolled in bread crumbs and slowly fried. Inside you’ll find tomato beef ragu meat sauce with mozzarella, saffron infused rice and peas. While there are other varieties depending on the area of Sicily you visit, this is the most common recipe. They can be eaten as a stand alone meal or a quick snack. You can also perfectly pair this local Italian food with a salad for a larger more substantial meal in the evening. If you visit Sicily, it’s a must-try local Italian food dish!

Contributed by Samantha of The Wandering Wanderluster

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Carciofo alla Romana

It is hard to think of a side dish amidst the traditional Italian food that exceeds in simplicity and flavor than the Roman style artichoke. Do not confuse Carciofo alla Romana with Carciofo alla Giudia, another typical dish from Rome, although the quality of artichoke used is the same.

Few ingredients are needed to make this dish. The “carciofo romanesco” or the “king of the garden” is a quality of artichoke with a spherical top and a soft heart. This type of artichoke is native to Latium coast and has been transplanted all over Italy. It is harvested from January to May.

The dish is irresistible.

The preparation of this side dish is rather easy but it is not successful if you do not have local ingredients. After removing the outer and harder leaves of the artichoke, cook over low heat together with olive oil, water, garlic and Roman mint leaves for 30 minutes.
The result is a vegetable side dish with an intense, fresh, aromatic aroma and a texture that “melts in your mouth”. Rather than accompanying a first or second course, this tasty side dish, if cooked in the right way, eclipses them.

Contributed by Lisa of Travel Connect Experience

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Charcuterie

Earmark this tip for your Rome itinerary! When in Rome, don’t miss Pane e Salame near the Trevi Fountain for some of the best Italian food dishes to order. This was the absolute best meal I had in Italy! Their charcuterie boards are spectacular, filled with different kinds of meat, cheeses, olives, peppers, artichokes, as well as local honey, jams, and chutneys. You’ll also be able to taste their delicious spreads like black olive and pesto, served on a slice of fresh baked bread.

Charcuterie board

Another pan of Italian bread pieces is served alongside everything else. Paired with a local beer, this was the best hour I spent in Rome! What’s more, the prices were inexpensive. They will help you order per person to share a board like this. But we were so hungry and seeing the boards pass you by makes you want to order everything! I only wished we had been able to take the leftovers with us as there was quite a bit. You just can’t go to Rome and not eat at this fabulous restaurant.

Contributed by Kelly of Food, Fun & Faraway Places

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Cicchetti

Cicchetti are a popular kind of food in Venice, and some of the tastiest dishes in Italy!  This traditional Italian food is often compared to Spanish tapas, as you get small dishes of tasty food, or individual pieces of bread with a delicious topping.

The bar displays various kinds of cicchetti, where you can choose dishes such as deep-fried olives stuffed with meat, shrimp skewers or bacalao mantecato cod paste spread generously on chunks of bread.  

Traditionally, cicchetti are enjoyed with a pre-dinner aperitivo at one of the many bacari bars in Venice. 

Choose what you fancy from the display, and order a sombra – a small glass of local wine – to go with it.  You can eat as many or as few cicchetti as you like, moving from bar to bar to sample their ranges of snacks before moving to the next. 

A cicchetti bar crawl can make for a fun and relatively cheap dinner, with the price of cicchetti ranging from €1 up to around €3 per dish.  

There are several excellent bacari close to the Rialto Market in Venice where they get their fresh ingredients; try Cantina do Mori or Cantina do Spade.  Alternatively, in the Dorsoduro district, try Osteria al Squero which faces one of the few remaining gondola makers in Venice, or Cantine del Vino gia Schiavi a little further up the street.

Contributed by Claire of Tales of a Backpacker

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Mortadella

One of the quintessential Italian cold meats, mortadella is a must on many charcuterie and antipasto boards. Made of cured pork, mortadella has a relatively high fat content (15%) and is studded with spices and pistachio nuts. Mortadella originates in Bologna, and do not confuse it with American bologna processed meat, which has a consistent texture and often bland taste. 

Mortadella is usually enjoyed as cold cuts or on a sandwich.

Dating from the Renaissance, mortadella has a long history in Italy and is part of the gastronomic tradition of Bologna. Mortadella is long associated with the rich and powerful, as its spices made it a rather expensive meat. This cold meat was apparently presented as a wedding gift to the noblewoman Lucrezia Borgia when she married the Duke of Este. Mortadella is best bought in the markets in northern or central Italy. Of course, the Emilia Romagna is great for buying it! You can also add mortadella to pasta, as a pizza topping or in a stuffing for poultry.

Contributed by Roxanne of Faraway Worlds

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Neapolitan pizza

Nothing says ‘Best Local Italian food’ like a classic pizza. Not the pizza-shop version with cheese toppings stacked high. But the kind that’s simple, paired-back, and shines a light on fresh produce.

It’s all about the dough, and this is where Naples sets itself apart.

The Holy Grail of Italian pizza is the city of Naples, that practices the art of ‘Neapolitan Pizzaiuolo’.

So beloved is this time-honoured food tradition, it’s even recognised by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. A classic Neapolitan pizza has only a handful of ingredients: Fresh tomatoes, basil, mozzarella cheese, and olive oil. Pizzaiuolo involves a four-stage preparation process before the finished pizza is wood-fired.

There are only around 3,000 master Pizzaiuolo living in Naples and the Campania Region. If you’re lucky to eat an authentic pie prepared by one of them, then will you truly understand what a pizza should taste like. L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele is one of the oldest and by far the most popular pizzeria in Naples. The queue here always spills out into the street, but it’s more than worth the wait.

Contributed by Emily of Wander-Lush

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Panzanella

Panzannella is a Tuscan salad. But it’s not a regular salad. The name contains the word “pane”, which is Italian for bread and the main ingredient in the dish. Originally panzanella was made with onions, vinegar, and toasted bread. The first reference to the dish dates back to the 16th century and is a traditional Italian food dish. But in the 20thcentury, the recipe evolved to favor tomatoes.

Panzanella is a prime example of the Tuscan “cucina povera” (poor mans cooking), as it utilizes stale bread and leftover vegetables. It usually consists of bread, red onion, tomatoes, cucumber, olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and basil. Many people add a variety of other vegetables and ingredients like tuna or mozzarella, but Florentine panzanella purists would scoff at that.

Panzanella tastes even better after a night in the fridge, and it is a great way to reduce food waste.

What makes panzanella so delicious is how the bread soaks up all the juices and dressing, while the vegetables keep it light and fresh. The first time I had it was at a lunch with Tuscan friends, and I think it’s one of the best dishes to try in Tuscany. Although you can find it in restaurants all over Italy.

Contributed by Sophie of Just Heading Out

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Best Italian Pasta Dishes to Try

Bucatini all’Amatriciana

One of the best Italian dishes to order in Rome is Bucatini all’Amatriciana. The original recipe of the dish actually comes from Amatrice. This is a small town in the area of Rieti, which is about 2 hours drive from Rome. But with time the dish became one of the best known pasta dishes in Roman cuisine. 

Bucatini all’Amatriciana is made with tomato sauce, guanciale (a very peppery cured meat prepared from pork jowl or cheeks), and a drop of white wine. Top it off with lots of pecorino romano cheese!

It’s actually quite easy to make at home too! 

Amatriciana is served in any good restaurant or trattoria in Rome. One of the best is definitely Trattoria Vecchia Roma, one of Rome’s most popular and historical trattorie. It is located a bit outside of the main tourist area but definitely worth a visit. Should you decide to go, make sure to make reservations as it can get extremely busy!

Contributed by Claudia Tavani of Strictly Rome

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Cacio e Pepe

My must try Italian dish is the remarkably simple, yet utterly delicious, Cacio e Pepe – ‘cheese and pepper’. This mouth-watering dish is traditionally made from pecorino cheese, ground black pepper, and either spaghetti (my personal preference) or bucatini. 

Like with so many traditional Italian food dishes, every Italian chef has their own recipe. So there’s some debate about how you should make the dish, as well as its origins. Everyone thinks their own recipe is the best, but what isn’t up for debate is how well-loved Cacio e Pepe is across Italy. 

It would be criminal to visit Italy without experiencing the delight of this dish.

I first experienced the tasty dish in Rome in an authentic Roman restaurant after a very tiresome journey. I ordered the Cacio e Pepe and not only did it excite my tastebuds for the trip to come, it earned a place in my culinary soul forevermore. Any Rome travel guide simply wouldn’t be complete with a mention of the wondrous Cacio e Pepe.

Contributed by Jessie Moore of Pocket Wanderings

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Carbonara

Carbonara is one of those traditional Italian food dishes that is loved by almost everybody. It’s usually made with spaghetti and the sauce contains eggs, cheese (Pecorino Romano or parmesan), pancetta (or bacon), garlic and black pepper.

Typically, the recipe uses raw eggs beaten into the mixture over the stovetop which creates thin ribbons in the sauce rather than the eggs forming clumps. The heat from the pan is hot enough to cook the egg but not enough to cause the egg to scramble. Other, less traditional versions of carbonara may include cream or white wine in the sauce. Either way, it’s delicious, but if you’re in Italy, I recommend you to try the traditional egg version.

Universally loved dish.

In areas where the dish is most popular, such as Rome, carbonara is sometimes served as a primo piatto (a first course) rather than a second course. It’s considered too rich and heavy to be severed as a “secondo piatto (a main course).

Contributed by Alice of Adventures of Alice

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Fileja alla Tropeana

I first tasted the fileja alla tropeana at a restaurant called ‘Salutami a Sorita’ in the city centre of Tropea, one of the most well-known touristic spots in Calabria. There are many restaurants serving this traditional dish in the city and all around the Vibo Valentia province area, where this unique type of pasta called filej originally came from. 

The filej is made from two simple ingredients: durum wheat flour and water which is then cut into tubes of about 10/12 centimetres. It is then rolled by the way of skilful hand movements on a thin stick, usually obtained from the woody part of the esparto stems (a typical plant of the Mediterranean area).

Filej is rolled by the way of skilful hand movements.

To make the magic happen, and get the traditional fileja alla tropeana dish, a homemade tomato sauce with red onion of Tropea and ‘nduja (the famous spicy salami spread from this region), needs to prepared and added to the pasta.

This is a delicious pasta dish made from the finest fresh and local ingredients that is not missed when visiting this part of South of Italy.

Contributed by Daniel of Urban Abroad

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Freula cun Cocciulas

Known in Italian as “Fregola con Arselle“, Freula con Cocciulas (freula pasta with clams) is one of the best dishes of the Sardinian tradition, typically eaten in the area of Cagliari and its surroundings. While you will commonly find freula quoted among the pasta dishes in local restaurants, this is actually more similar to a rough kind of cous cous. The process of making it is quite similar! 

You will typically find Freula con Cocciulas served in all the best traditional restaurants in Cagliari.

The dish is incredibly tasty and has just a hint of chili to make it even more interesting. Many restaurants in Cagliari will serve variations of it, but if you want to try the best original version, head to Sa Cardiga e Su Schironi, in Capoterra (a small town about 20 minutes drive from the center of Cagliari). It’s worth the trip!

Contributed by Claudia Tavani of Strictly Sardinia

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Orecchiette pasta

Puglia is located in the most Southerly point of Italy and is often fondly referred to as the ‘heel of the boot’ of Italy. Home to medieval towns, a windswept coastline, and plenty of history, there’s plenty to keep even the most discerning of travellers occupied. 

But perhaps one of the best things to do in Puglia (known as Apulia in English) is to enjoy all of the local food on offer, particularly the pasta. The most famous of pasta shapes to originate from Puglia is that of Orecchiette pasta, one of the best Italian dishes to order here. 

‘Little ears’ pasta.

This pasta derives its name ‘little ears’ on account of the fact that it’s shaped like small ears.

Traditionally, most Apulian dishes are vegetable heavy and most Orecchiette dishes are no exception. Typically, the ‘little ears pasta’ is served in a tomato sauce or together with turnip tops (known locally as cime di rape). I personally enjoyed orecchiette in Lecce, the Baroque city of Italy. Though you can find the typical Italian dish all over the region of Puglia.

Contributed by Sophie Nadeau of Solo Sophie

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Pici pasta

Pici is a thick, delicious, hand-rolled pasta that originated in the Siena province of Tuscany. No trip to the area is complete without sampling some. In its truest sense, the pasta is made only with flour and water, finding its roots in the every-day cooking of Siena’s peasants. This technique of making and rolling pasta is an ancient one, dating all the way back to the Etruscans. 

Part of pici’s charm is that the various strands of pasta are irregular in both thickness and length. It is also extremely satisfying to sink your teeth into! Popular sauces served with pici include aglione (a spicy, garlic tomato sauce), cacio e pepe (cheese and black pepper) and ragù (a meat-based sauce).

Pici pasta is much thicker than spaghetti and is a great pasta for coating sauces with.

One of my most vivid memories of Tuscany includes eating pici pasta from the outdoor terrace of a homely trattoria that sits on the walls of Montepulciano. I don’t think there’s any place better than sampling something from the source. Coupled with the incredible views of the rolling hills of the Val d’Orcia, this meal made for a truly unforgettable experience. Tuscany can be explored as a day trip from Florence but best to spend more time here.

Contributed by Isabelle of Issy’s Escapades

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Puttanesca pasta

The Amalfi Coast is an impressionist canvas painted turquoise, jade and sky blue. Dive into its depths as you look down the mountain at the pastel homes perched on a ledge. Smell the sea salt air. Hear the breeze ripple through the lemon trees nestled in families’ tiny backyards.

And here you find the perfect meal that is a marriage of sea and sand—Pasta Puttanesca – one of the best Italian dishes to order in this region. The ingredients are simple: petite diced tomatoes, fresh garlic, canned anchovies, capers and briny olives. Simmer in olive oil for 20 minutes.

I ate this meal at a small café near a cathedral on the Amalfi Coast.

The taste is of the seashore—little anchovies captured in a bubbly tomato sauce that percolates in the pan. Heap crushed flaked red peppers to turn up the heat. Green olives bob on top like rafts. Garlic perfumes the Italian sauce. Sprinkle vinegary capers on top. Pour this over a bed of linguine or spaghetti until steam rises like a cloud. Then dust with Parmesan cheese over the heaping plate. Serve with garlic bread or a warm loaf of Italian bread.

Contributed by Terri of Female Solo Trek

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Spaghetti alle Vongole

Spaghetti alle Vongole, which is spaghetti with clams, is a popular pasta dish throughout Italy and is also known beyond the country’s borders. This dish is particularly tasty and fresh in the coastal regions amongst all local Italian food. The occurrence of clams is rich, especially on the sandy beaches of the Northern Adriatic Sea, and in the lagoon of Venice. There they are collected and served on the spot in the restaurants.

Very tasty is to try a young Italian white wine like Soave or Pinot Grigio with this amazing Italian dish.

For the preparation, only the fresh, smaller clams are used.

Other types of mussels do not belong in the original dish. Traditional style involves cooking he clams with white wine, olive oil, lots of garlic and parsley, and often with tomatoes and until the shells of the mussels have opened. Interestingly, the mussels are mixed together with the shells under the pasta!

Tip: The spaghetti alle vongole is delicious at the Rossopomodoro Venezia San Marco in Venice.

Contributed by Martina of PlacesofJuma

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Tagliatelle

Tagliatelle al Ragù is the signature dish of Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna, one of the richest gastronomical regions of Italy. The meat sauce that gave the name to the dish was invented in the 18th century by Alberto Alvisi, master chef of Pope Pius VII. This traditional Italian food dish is made with minced beef. In addition, the “secret” recipe contains smoked pancetta, tomatoes, dry wine and a mixture of onion, celery and carrots, that give it even more flavor.

One might already be familiar with this kind of sauce and say: “Oh, this is the same as in spaghetti bolognese!” Big mistake.

Nowhere in Bologna will you ever be served this sauce next to spaghetti. Italians just don’t think it is the right combination. But it works great with fresh flat pasta, topped with cream and sprinkled with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Even if Tagliatelle al Ragù already contains some wine, a glass of it will successfully accompany the dish.

Contributed by Raluca of Travel With A Spin

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Wild Boar Ragù 

The wild boar meat is a delicacy, cherished all over Tuscany. It is even celebrated in Florence that we explored in a day. Florence has a statue dedicated to the “Porcellino” that is said to bring good luck if you touch its nose. Wild boar ragu, or in Italian ragu’ di cinghiale, is a speciality of Tuscany that you must try amongst all the traditional Italian food when you visit the region. 

This dish is best enjoyed with a glass of wine.

To make the wild boar ragu, the meat is slowly simmered in a mixture of red wine, tomatoes, herbs, and juniper berries, for at least 4 hours. The result is a thick, extremely flavoursome sauce that is served by the local restaurants over pasta or gnocchi. 

You can find wild boar ragu in good restaurants in the north of Italy as well. I have tried the wild board ragu gnocchi in a fantastic restaurant in Trento, Ristorante al Duomo, overlooking the cathedral. It was served with grated pecorino cheese and crusty bread.

Contributed by Joanna of The World In My Pocket

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Best Local Italian Desserts

Cannoli

Cannoli is besides tiramisu one of the most typical and known Sicilian desserts. Its name comes from the word canna, which means the river reeds that were used to shape the dough in a tube. It is believed the creation of this dessert took place in Caltanisseta.

It is definitely one of the best Italian dishes to order for your sweet tooth!

The pastry is deep fried to have a crispy touch and is usually stuffed with a cream of sheep ricotta. The feeling is than enriched and decorated with different toppings, such as chopped pistachios, candid fruit, or chocolate drops. There are different sizes, from small finer sized variations known as “cannulicchi” to really big ones.

Not only known for the sweet and delicious taste, cannoli are a representation of all the different cultures that have through the centuries shaped Sicily.

This is why you will find slightly modified versions of cannoli depending to which Sicilian province you travel

Contributed by Tjasa of The Travel Momento

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Gelato

One of the most iconic Italian foods to try while you’re travelling in Italy is Gelato. Many people often think that Gelato is just the Italian word for ice cream. In fact, the Italian Gelato is slightly denser, has a softer texture and a lower fat content than other frozen desserts. What’s more, this delicious dessert or snack comes in a variety of flavours which can be combined within a sugar cone or eaten from a tub. 

You will find authentic gelato across all regions in Italy and it is often enjoyed as a refreshing snack.

My first taste of this delightful, sweet dish was while on a day trip from Sorrento to Capri Island. If you’re visiting this area, try the lemon flavour which is popular within the region. Some other popular flavours are pistachio, chocolate, and raspberry. However, there is something for everyone and you will probably enjoy more than Gelato during your Amalfi coast itinerary

Contributed by Kerry Hanson of VeggTravel

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Gianduiotto

Many people don’t know that the history of chocolate in Italy started in Turin in1959. Hot cocoa was served for the first time at an event organized by Emanuele Felisberto of Savoy from the royal family. Since then, chocolate has become a staple ingredient at the Royal Palace of Turin. In 1678 the city had its first chocolate store opened. Patisseries and chefs started experimenting with other ingredients like fruits and nuts, as cocoa wasn’t so easy to be purchased and was costly. That’s how the Turin chocolate tradition started, and the first Gianduiotto was created in 1865 by Caffarel Chocolatier.

Gianduiotto, also known as Turin chocolate, is the city’s symbol, and it’s easy to understand why.

Once you feel it melting in your mouth, it’s hard only to eat one or two. It’s elegant and exciting but with no frills, just like Turin. Gianduiotto is a mix of intense chocolate and hazelnut paste. The quality of the ingredients is what makes it so unique and flavourful. The Gianduiotto traditional recipe uses high-quality chocolate and only hazelnuts produced in Langhe, a region in Piedmont.

This sweet treat has an ingot shape, little pieces of haven wrapped in golden, silver, or brow foil.

You will find them in any café, bakery, chocolate, and souvenir stores in Turin. You might think the taste of Gianduiotto will be similar to Nutella (also from the Piedmont region), but don’t be fooled. This little chocolate is way more intense. And if you buy it from one of Turin’s artisanal chocolatiers, you will understand why some people might say it’s the best chocolate in Italy. Nowadays, Gianduiotto has new flavors and exciting variations like extra dark chocolate or creamy filling. All of them are worth trying, trust me!

Contributed by Natalie of The Best of Turin

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Which is your favourite sweet or savoury Italian dish? Share in the comments below.

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