I’ve recently returned from a lovely month long trip to Italy. It was stunning, beautiful, and absolutely delicious. Upon returning home, I’ve noticed a number of friends off of Facebook visiting Italy the same time as I was, just got there, or heading there in a few days. I found myself recommending restaurants after restaurants that I’ve visited to them and decided, why not just write about it in a one all stop shop…
As you are probably well aware, Italian food is divine. No, it doesn’t taste like the Olive Garden, and Pizza is not from a Hut. Yes you eat pasta, and no you don’t have to eat it everyday, Although I did.
Italian cuisine is regionale, although in many touristic locations, you can find dishes from different regions, because many people don’t visit all of Italy. However, nothing tastes as great as fresh regional food.
I will try my best to teach you how to eat, what to eat, when to eat, and of course, Where to eat ( or at least my favorite places) While I haven’t visited every region, I have been to the mains, and have learned through trial and fattening error, how to eat and what to order. I’ll keep this simple, ie. no massive history behind each dish and/ or its’ people.
When to Eat:
It has been my experience, that Italians have a very interesting way of eating in comparison to the USA. In fact, I believe their timing for eating is why many are so thin and healthy.
Breakfast: whenever you get up I suppose. But typically you can find them grabbing a quick bite to eat and a coffee between 7 – 10 am.
Lunch: The most important meal of the day is traditionally served between the hours of 12- 2 pm
Snack & Cocktail: 5-7 pm
Dinner: Earliest around 9:00pm ( typically the elderly) with some last seatings at 11:30pm
How to eat:
Breakfast: Coffee of your choice and a pastry dish. Very simple and light. Some even add a fresh juice to their mix.
Lunch: Heaviest meal of the day and typically when you order a pasta dish. Pasta is typically consumed during lunch because you have the rest of the day to work it off. Carbs! I learned this lesson the hard way as I was ordering pasta for Lunch and Dinner and wondering why even with the miles and miles of walking, I kept getting heavier.
Snack & Cocktails: Of course one could have a cocktail at any time of the day, but lets just stick to the simple schedule here. For those who want an early turn in or just want to eat small dishes , this is the time they would have their dinner. In Venice and Florence I found many Cicchetti bars. Ci what? Cicchetti ( pronounced Chee Kay Tee) is similar to what you find in Spain: A tapas of beautiful people and landscapes It’s like ordering Tapas… small dishes , that you can share with a friend. I love this time, if I know I have a huge day ahead of me tomorrow, I’ll opt for Cicchetti and a nice Apperol or Campari Spritz, Prosecco or a nice glass of wine. You can actually fill up on cicchetti.. If dining early like that is not in your plan, or if you have already made dinner reservations ( highly recommended in Italy) then some bars offer you a little snack to munch on while you enjoy your drink.
Dinner: This is when you probably should avoid the pasta , unless you are totally hungry and are on a short journey. Typically this is the time when Italians order a protein dish and maybe a nice Teramisu for Desert. Your body has an easier time processing protein late at night, over pasta.
What To Eat:
As I mentioned earlier, Italy is broken up into regions, and each region has their delicacies and staples. Think Southern Food in the South, Mexican in the border states, and Hawaiian Food in well, Hawaii, where I’m from.
In Venice, it is an absolute must that you try their fresh seafood. Surrounded by sea water ( don’t worry your fish dish won’t come from the canals) , Venice offers all sorts of delights from under the sea. But Venice also has amazing pasta. One in particular , I kept eating on the daily.
Here are some must eat dishes: Sorry if I don’t have pictures of all of them
Risotto al Nero Di Seppia: Squid Ink Rice
Risi e Bisi: Rice with Peas
Pasta with Clams ( Spaghetti alle Vongole) : One of the most famous dishes in Venezia…. The salt of the clams mixed with the oil from the Olive and lemon is just like heaven.
Bigoli in Salsa: Bigoli is a long thick Wheat pasta , and absolutely delicious. It resembles Spaghetti and has a onion and cured fish sauce.
Fritto Misto: Mixed fried battered calamari, fish balls and other delicacies
Tagliatelle: While Tagliatelle really truly comes from the Bologna Area, I found this everywhere, and ate it almost everyday. This Flat thin long pasta is best in butter and cheese with fresh truffles on top. OMG !
Granseola: Spider crab dish with huge king size shell. Omg it is divine.
Florence And Tuscany:
( Florence,Pisa,Lucca, Siena and Montalcino )
Firenze is well known for their heavy stews, and lots of Meat. Which is probably why they have thriving leather shops everywhere. Florentines, and Tuscans in general use the entire cow as nothing goes to waste. I have also included two dishes that I enjoyed while in Siena, another absolutely beautiful Tuscan Town.Some friends in the south love to tell me that the food is too heavy. Well I didn’t really find that much “heaviness ” there but it was yummmm. A mixture of local and Tuscan cuisines, Firenze proved to be a very delicious place.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina: Of course the most famous is… Florentine Steak, a large T-bone steak cut that typically is served between the 2- 4 pound range. But be cautious when ordering as you pay by the Kilo… Although I haven’t tried it, many people were ordering it and sharing the dish.
Ossabucco : My travel partner Debra loved this hearty meat dish with special sauce.
Papardelle al Cinghiale: Large flat noodles usually served with a Ragu sauce and wild boar, or wild hare.
Tagliatelle Funghi Porcini e Tartufo: Of course my absolute favorite, and what I usually ate every single day. Like Venice, I loved eating Tagliatelle in Firenze too. But with fresh graded truffles and Porcini Mushrooms. OMG deadly. I can still smell it now. Every region in Italy boasts that they have the absolute best Gelato, while I did eat a considerable number of scoops during my stay, I must say that Venice had better and cheaper Gelato than anywhere else. Don’t pay more than 3 Euros anywhere … Just walk away and look for a smaller shop that is not on the tourist track.
Crostini: (Antipasto Toscana): Perfectly toasted bruschetta with fresh ( I mean fresh and delicious) tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. Definitely a great and light appetizer .
Ribollita: Literally it means to re-boil. While I did eat it here in Firenze, I also enjoyed it in the sister Tuscan city of Siena. Reboiled stale bread, beans, and vegetables, this hearty stew like dish is a welcomed delicacy when it was raining and cold outside.
Pici alla Ragu di Cinta Senese: Pici is a thick hand rolled spaghetti type pasta with a similar ragu to that of the Ribollita. The pasta is a bit chewy and really delicious. We were on the hunt for it while in Siena, when we were told that it is the pasta and dish to eat. It did not disappoint at all!
Tagliere: Be cautious when ordering this as an appetizer, make sure you are hungry. Prosciutto, salami, and a Florentine salami, Finnochiona (made with pieces of fennel for a different flavour and consistency than traditional salami) usually feature, plus different types of pecorino cheeses (sheep’s milk cheese). Bigger platters have grilled vegetables, slices of Tuscan bread, and sometimes a marmalade or honey.
Burrata Salad: Buffalo Cheese salads are sooooooo yummy. Hearty, yet so light and healthy .. sounds like a contradiction, but the salad that accompanies it is always leafy and light with a drizzle of Olive Oil.
And now my favorite part, Wine:
When you think of Italian wines, most people mention wines that come from the Tuscan region, and for good reason. They are delicious. I have found however, throughout Italy, that ordering the restaurants House Wine: Vinho Dela Casa, is the absolute best way to enjoy wine, as the house wine is typically phenomenal and cheaper, but you can ofcourse request others by the cup ( cuppa) 1/ 2 Liter, Liter, or bottle.
Chianti: Of course most people are well aware of Chianti wine, which comes you guessed it, from the Chianti region. Typically a red, they are bold, fruity, and can be thick.
Chianti Classico: An even richer grape of Chianti
Chianti Classico Reserva: The vineyards reserved line of excellent chianti wine.
Brunello: Found in the foot hills of beautiful Montalcino, Brunello wine have found their way into the cellars of international wine connoisseurs. Made with the famous Sangiovese grapes, to become a true Brunello, it must sit in their oaks for a minimum of 6 years. I visited 3 vineyards while visiting Montalcino, and although they are great, I still prefer Chianti Classico over Brunello, while my travel partner Debra loved her some brunello.
Nobles: Noble , rich, and very sought after, the Nobles wines are the direct competitor to the Brunello
Rome ( Lazio):
Roman cuisine is known for being very flavorable and is pretty much based off of poor man’s food. Have a millennia and more to cultivate their tastes, the Capital really knows how to dish out a fierce …. Dish. Sadly I did not take many pictures of my dishes…. So use your imagination.
Fiori de Zucca: Oh gosh how I love this appetizer . The flower of the zucchini is stuffed with soft ricotta cheese and is a delight in your mouth.
Carcciofo ala Romana: The Roman jewish artichoke is famous. It is huge, and it is amazing. Braised, stuffed with herbs, and sprinkled with lemon juice until its so buttery, it melts in your mouth.
Carbonara: Thick buttery noodles is covered with an egg based sauce and cured pork with a healthy dash of pepper. I unfortunately had a bad experience with one at a shady restaurant i had no choice but to eat at, but I made up for it later at a different restaurant , where a symphony of flavors danced in my mouth. Romans do love their salt.
Parigiana di Melanzane ( Eggplant Parmigiana ): Of course what italian experinece wouldn’t be complete without Eggplant Parmigiana. Stuffed eggplant with tomato sauce and topped with melted parmigiana cheese, baked to perfection.
Tartufo: An amazing ice cream dish located at the famous Scalini store front in Piazza Navona. So famous is this dish that many a celebrity has chewed down on this refreshing delicacy.
Teramisu: An Absolute must ofcourse. The best fluffy thick desert you can get your hands on.
Fondue: I know a bit out of the ordinary, but you will see why later, when I list my Where to eat section. I had amazing vegetable Fondue with a mound of fresh graded Truffles. I’ve sent many friends to this restaurant, intact includes ourselves many of them have returned more than once.
Wines: I found the local wines from the Lazio ( Rome area) area to be exquisite. I would just ask for Vinho Dela Casa Lazio and enjoy local wines. If you try this , you will never be disappointed and will enjoy the local wines of every region.
Are you noticing something I’ve missed? Starts with Spagh and ends with etti. Well, spaghetti is not an Italian dish, but rather a Italian- American dish. Spaghetti bolognese is a take on the Tagliatelle Ragu dish from Bologna …. Sadly I didn’t eat any fake spaghetti … or rather fortunately I didn’t.
The Southern Region of Italy: Naples, Sorrento, Amalfi, and Capri
If someone was to ask me what is the best region with absolutely delicious food, I would have to choose Campania. You have fresh seafood, farm to table livestock , fresh volcanic soil vegetables , fantastic olive oil, and amazing wine and liquors .
Naples: ( And the surrounding regions of Sorrento, Amalfi, and Capri)
Pizza: There is NOWHERE on earth that does Pizza like the Napolitanos do. Yes people can replicate, but there is something in their soil and air that adds to the flavor of their pizza. After all, they are the inventors of Pizza! Have a full pie to yourself ( I’ve seen skinny girls much a whole pizza down) or go for a thick slice wrapped up in paper and eat on the streets like many a local do. There are ofcourse a plethora or styles, but I always went for the original and traditional Margherita … Oh My Gosh. I have to tell you that I had a pizza every single day I was in Naples because I knew I’ll never have it this good again.
Sfogliatella: A traditional breakfast dish, the pastry dish is filled with Ricotta cheese, candied peels and spices. Its a bit hearty but perfect. You can find them at all breakfast bars and street food vendors.
Gnocchi: That gorgeous potato based pasta is filling, buttery and you know…. Yum…. I had an excellent dish in Capri, The Island of Golden Dreams
Parmigiana di Melanzane: Yes Eggplant parmigiana again, but it is not done as well in any other region , as it is masterfully done in Naples and Campania
Fish: Yes simple or not so simple Fish. As Naples is a coastal town, you can expect amazing fresh fish and you must order.
Coffee: The Naplolitanos know how to make a great cup of coffee. Whether it be espresso, Cappuccino or however else you want your Americano… , Naples and coffee is like Laverne to Shirley, they go hand in hand.
Wine: oooooooh the wine honey! Campania’s volcanic soil must really be something fierce because the vineyards and styles of wine that comes out of this region is fabulous.
Falanghina: An ancient wine grape probably introduced during Greek occupation 2 thousand years ago, this absolutely crisp, somewhat fruity and light white will freshen up any gorgeous fish or pasta dish you may have.
Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio: Simply known as Christ’s tears, you can have it as a red, a rose, or a white. Full bodied and delicious.
Limoncello: That aphrodisiac of the South. Lemon liquor that tops of any meal you’ll ever have. The best place to have it, is where they make it, Sorrento.
Where to Eat
Knowing where to eat is sometimes the most important as you can have all the knowledge in the world about What to eat, but if you find a place that doesn’t do it to perfection, then your what to eat turns into why did I eat.
I used an app called The Fork constantly while in Italy. It is Europe’s version of Open Table. Through the site and Trip Advisor, I was able to read reviews, look at the menu, and book a table. Sometimes 5 minutes before I arrived. It can save you time especially at prime dining hours where most restaurants are booked. I researched places to eat and fired up The fork sometimes weeks in advance to secure a table. The great thing is that it also comes sometimes, with discounts. And you earn points towards free meals. You can download the app or go online to their website. Android and iPhone compatible .
I also emailed and called restaurants that were too fierce to accept a Fork Reservation. Most restaurants speak basic English to my Basic Italian, and making reservations are easy and an Absolute Necessity! Italians love eating out.
But seriously, where to eat? With all sorts of names foreign to most people, its hard to distinguish what each type of restaurant means. ie. Trattoria versus Osteria.
Osteria: Small bar like restaurant with only 1 or two tables. Most people stand at the bar enjoying a limited menu.
Trattoria: A bit larger than an Osteria, a Trattoria is a local style family restaurant. This resemble a more traditional sense of a Restaurant, and has a larger menu.
Ristorante: It literally means, Restaurant, and comes with all the bells and whistles one would associate with sit down dining.
Bar: Besides selling alcohol, it is also a breakfast establishment serving coffee and pastries and in the afternoons and early evenings even small dishes.
Enoteca: Wine bar and some with Cicchetti.
Al BoCon Di Vino : Dorsoduro 2978, Campo Santa Margherita, 30123 Venezia VE, Italy
Cheap eats and a perfect place to try some Cicchetti in Campo Santa magharita in Dodsorduro.
Al Theatro: San Marco 1916, Campo San Fantin, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy
Located directly next to the La Fenice Theater, it is an excellent pre theater cocktail place sitting outside, and a post theater dinner venue. Try the Tagliatelle and their amazing Teramisu. Their wine selection is extensive. Finish off with a shot of Lemoncello on the house of course.
Bar Ai Artisti : Calle Lunga S. Barnaba, 2771, 30123 Venezia VE, Italy
My daily morning ritual of Cappuccino and pastry. Friendly staff , full of locals, and an excellent place for an afternoon spritz and snacks sitting outside in the Campo staring at the amazing
Osteria Al Vecio Forno: Fondamenta de Dona Onesta, 3924, 30123 Venezia VE, Italy
Fabulous restaurant in an old bakery. Excellent local and modern food fusion. Wine selection of death.
I haven’t really mentioned what to eat in Verona, as we only did a day trip and basically found a drop dead gorgeous restaurant by happenstance where we had the most exquisite 6 course drop your jaws meal.
Ristorante La Canonica:Vicolo San Matteo, 337121 Verona | Italy
t: 045 4732625
Why they are not Michelin Starred is beyond me. The food was drop dead gorgeous, the service was superb , and the ambience relaxing and beautiful. Order the 6 course menu. Do yourself this favor.
La Cucina del Garga: Via San Zanobi 33-R 50129 Firenze
An absolute must try at least once. Located in a locals only area, this funky restaurant with creative dishes will leave a lasting memory on your mind… Call, Email, or fire up the Fork for reservations ( highly recommended )
Osteria De’ Cicalini: Via Delle Oche 15 rosso, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Beautiful contemporary Restaurant close to the Duomo. Order the Polenta gnocchi with red cows pargegiana . Reservations available on The Fork
Trattoria L’Oriuolo: Via dell’ Oriuolo, 58r, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Warm family run restaurant with hearty food . Must try the Ossobucco , and the Ribollita maybe start with an cheese and meat place. Very meaty.
Trattoria Nerone: Via Faenza, 95/97R, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
Super qwurky and somewhat chic local style trattoria . Must try their Tagliatelle with Truffles.
Campagnia dei Vinattaneri: Via delle Terme, 79 Via dei Pittori, 1 Siena PIVA 01182920528
Absolutely fabulous restaurant located in the basement level of the building. Must eat Pici Pasta and local house wine. Reservations necessary .
Taverna Lucifero : Via del Pellegrino 51, 00186 Rome, Italy
One of my favorite restaurants during my stay in Italy. I liked it so much, that I came back for my last meal in Rome. I’ve sent numerous friends here and all have boasted how delicious the food was and some even returned for a second helping. Located close to Campo dei Fiori and all the cool little boutique shops on Calle Pellegrino.
Must eat: Fondue with Truffles and local Lazio Wine
Call for reservations.
Casa Bleve: Via del Teatro Valle, 48-49, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
Located in an ancient Nobles home, this gastronomic restaurant is upscale and really good. Please note, resort wear is not advisable. Men should where jackets.
La Buvette: Via Vittoria, 44, 00187 Roma RM, Italy
Located in the very fashionable side of Vitorria and close to the Spanish Steps, lie one of my favorite local hang outs. A very chic and upscale restaurant is the place to be. This awesome spot is where I spent 3 days in a row, relaxing, drinking spritz and other amazing cocktails, and enjoying their fabulous menu.
Le Felizianerie: Via Candia, 71, 00192 Roma RM, Italy
Visiting the Vatican Basilica ? Need a break before hitting the Vatican Museum? Look no further than Le Flizianerie. Small family own restaurant with excellent foods and wine with a reasonable priced menu.