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Eating all of Italy: The do's, don’ts and epic eats

Published September 21st, 2018

Pizza. The Colosseum. Cheap Tuscan wine. Arancini. Michelangelo’s David… Italy is as much about the food as the history, the sights, and all the other stuff you can’t put in your mouth.

Think it’s all pizza, pasta and gelato? While that would be 100% okay, it’s not. There are so many foods. So many flavours. So many ways.

And with the food being super localised, some things are best tried in particular areas. Here’s the go-to on what to eat (+ where) along with all the handy dos and don’ts for your Italy eating extravaganza. Because we all know that’s what Italy is REALLY about.

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Eat:

Gelato

The key to a great holiday in Italy is to eat gelato. Every. Single. Day. And it’s everywhere, whether you’re at the beach, at a historic site or in the middle of Milan – from pistachio flavour to traditional faves like choc chip (aka stracciatella). For the best gelato around, look for signs that say ‘produzione propria’ and ‘artigianale’ which means it’s made the traditional way on-site with natural ingredients.

Where to get it? Everywhere.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Like steak? Try the steak in Florence, where they serve it huge and rare – a whole kilogram of steak on your plate kind of huge. It really varies anywhere from 800g to 1.2kg. Can’t handle it alone? Well, that’s what travel friends are for!

THE place to do bistecca alla Fiorentina? Florence.

Orecchiette alle cime de rapa

The world orecchiette literally means “little ears”, and while this type of pasta may look odd, there’ll be none left to ‘look’ at in no time. This dish is a traditional choice, served w a sauce of turnip tops (cime de rapa) plus onions, anchovies and chilli. Trust us: it tastes ridiculously good. 

Where to try orecchiette alle cime de rapa? Puglia.

Margherita pizza

At home it’s easy to get carried away overloading your pizza order. In Italy, the trick is to keep it simple. It’s all about the thin chewy base and letting those fresh local ingredients shine through. What better than a Margherita to test the theory? Tomatoes + mozzarella de bufala. It’s all your salty, creamy, cheesy cravings covered in one.

Where’s the real Margherita pizza? Naples.

Arancini

Leftovers never sounded so good. Arancini is literally leftover risotto – plus cheese, and sometimes other fillings like mince or peas – that’s crumbed and deep-friend. Need we say more?

The best arancini? Sicily

Spaghetti carbonara

Spaghetti carbonara is the headliner of Roman pasta dishes. No trip to Rome would be complete without this creamy, peppery mix of eggs, pecorino cheese and crispy guanciale (cured pigs cheek) stirred through spaghetti pasta that’s cooked perfectly al dente.

Where to get spag carb? Rome.

Some dos and don’ts of eating in Italy

Don’t: Expect a buffet come breakfast.

Italians aren’t big breakky-eaters. A coffee and a cornetto (croissant) is pretty standard.

Don’t: Rush.

Stop. Chill. And savour it. Meal time can go for hours in Italy.

Do: Unpack a picnic.

Think somewhere pretty with local olives, cheese, fresh bread and cheap Italian wines (as little as two euro!). Cheap + scenic.

Don’t: Think you’ll be eating dinner early.

Restaurants don’t typically open for cena (dinner) ‘til more like 7.30/8pm.

Do: Avoid the tourist menus

And places where there’s someone outside trying to haggle you in for that matter. For authentic local food, go to authentic local places.

Don’t: Choose soft drink over wine.

It’s not cheaper. They cost about the same. And if the menu only says it has bottles of wine, you can still order just a glass – or else, un quarto (a quarter litre jug).

Do: Eat all the cheeses.

All the Parmigiano-Reggiano, mozzarella, asiago, gorgonzola, marscapone, pecorino, ricotta, scamorza, burrata and taleggio. Plus all the rest.

Don’t: Sit for coffee.

If you want your coffee cheap, drink it standing at the bar. Sitting = dine-in price.

Do: Try a local cooking class.

So you can recreate it all once you get home!

Don’t: Be surprised by an extra little charge on your bill.

Restaurants usually charge from €1-2.50 per person for pane e coperto (which basically means bread and cover charge).

Don’t: Order water.

Unless you want to pay for it. It’s not tap water – it’ll either be natural mineral water (natural) or fizzy soda water (frizzante) on offer.

Do: Pick a primo (first course) off the menu if you’re vegetarian.

Primo is usually a safe bet – typically pasta, risotto or soup. The secondo (second course) however is almost always meat!

Do: Eat the pizza with your bare hands.

tijanaaaaaa

Tijana Jaksic

After some hardcore scrimping and saving, Tijana’s first backpacking trip confirmed she was onto something good. She hasn’t stopped since. Fave memories to date include dancing with locals in the streets of Havana, bartering for too many scarves in the markets of India, getting lost in the bustle of Hong Kong, sipping cocktails in the Greek Islands and jumping off waterfalls in Croatia. Now she gets to write about travel for a living – the best way to satiate the wanderlust between adventures.