Read about my experience trying the foods and wines of the regional cuisines in Italy, and get recommendations on what to try on your next Italy trip.
Lately, I’ve been feeling the need to have a little taste of Europe in my life. It’s been a month since I returned to Canada from my 2-month adventure around Europe and I’m already feeling “Europe sick” (homesick, but Europe). To satisfy my craving for Europe, I decided to enjoy a Margherita pizza, Nutella cannoli, and San Pellegrino at a local Italian restaurant. The experience of an authentic Italian meal brought me back to my food and wine adventure in Italy.
In May, I went to Italy for 2 weeks, going across the country from Venice to Florence to Rome. It was my first time in Italy and my gosh, was it a foodie's paradise. A colleague told me that food in Italy would be nothing like I’ve ever tasted and he was absolutely right about that. Italy was the tastiest, most pleasurable cuisine experience I’ve had! I’ve never loved food and wine so much till I went to Italy. I felt like I needed 2 stomachs to be able to eat and drink all the tiramisu, pizza, limoncello, gelato, pasta, and chianti.
One of the reasons their food is so good in my opinion is that premium quality ingredients are easily accessible, super fresh, and locally sourced. Visiting the mercados, it was obvious that this country relied a lot on their local farmers to produce their own food rather than import food from other countries. One of the best parts of this journey was experiencing all the various local cuisines and wines of each region, which I'm going to share with you in this blog. If you have an Italy trip in the books (or in your mind), keep reading. I have some things you can add to your itinerary.
Venice - A Seafood Lover's Paradise
Venice is a city on water, so naturally, Venetian cuisine is known for seafood. Spaghetti alla vongole (Spaghetti with clams), spaghetti al nero de sepia (spaghetti with cuttlefish in squid ink), spaghetti alla busara (spaghetti with scampi “busara” style), and risotto di mare (seafood risotto) are just a few dishes that are commonly found in Venetian cuisine. I tried all of them and they're all so delicious - in part because the seafood is very fresh! For drinks, Aperol Spritz is king because Venice is where the infamous cocktail originates from. For wines, Prosecco is the most widely known Venetian wine and is also part of the recipe for making Aperol Spritz!
The baked culinary experience didn’t disappoint too. There were bakeries along Rio Terà de la Maddalena had huge cannolis and croissants displayed behind their windows. The most memorable place for me was the bakery near my Airbnb with Pistachio and Nutella cream-filled croissants. Nothing beat having their croissants and an espresso in the morning smelling the crisp, sea-scented air. If you're dropping by Venice, here are a couple of restaurants I'd recommend:
1000 coffee & bakery – the best selection of cream-filled croissants.
Vino Vero – wine bar with aperitivos you can enjoy along the canal.
Bacaro del Gelato – best gelato in Venice. Also, it's beside Vino Vero, so you can enjoy some gelato before or after your aperitvo.
Spicy Puppa – Venetian restaurant with great service and affordable prices. I had a delicious spaghetti alla busara here.
Osteria Poggi – authentic, homey Venetian restaurant. I enjoyed their spaghetti alla vongole here.
Florence - For Rich Meat And Red Wine Lovers
Central Italy, where the rolling hills and warmth of Tuscany lie are where you’re going to find a cuisine fit for rich meat and red wine lovers. Sangiovese and Montepulciano, 2 of Italy’s most well-known red wine varietals are grown in this region. These bold, robust, tannic wines thrive in the sunny, warm climate here. They pair well with fatty meats like wild boar and beef, which are common in Tuscan cuisine. I tried a wild boar dish - pappardelle al ragù di cinghiale (Ribbon Pasta with Wild Boar sauce) paired with a Chianti Classico at a small, homey restaurant close to Ponte Vecchio. It was so delicious and I'd highly recommend any visitors to try this food and wine pairing.
Trippe alla Fiorentina (Florentine-style tripe) is also a staple dish that is worth trying. I found it at the Mercato Centrale, which is a fantastic spot if you’re looking for a food court with a variety of food and wine options. There was a wine bar there, where I had an Italian white wine varietal called Vermentino made in Sardinia, which is similar to Sauvignon Blanc. Notably, my favourite dish in Florence was the ravioli burro e salvia (stuffed pasta with ricotta cheese, spinach, butter, and sage sauce) at a restaurant in a student area. I was never a big fan of ravioli till I tried that one. Now, I’m sure you're interested to know what restaurants I went to, so here they are:
Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco – the wild boar restaurant. This is a must-try.
Mercato Centrale – Food court with lots of variety. I had the Trippe alla Fiorentina and Vermentino here. Both were solid choices.
Gusto Leo – affordable restaurant with good variety. I had the delicious ravioli burro e salvia here.
Venchi – chocolate and gelato shop. Definitely make a stop here.
Fratelli di Mare - fried seafood stand. Enjoyed delicious eep fried calamari here.
Rome - A Versatile Compilation Of Italian Cuisines
The food scene in Rome was quite versatile, like a compilation of all the regional Italian cuisines. With the infinite amount of restaurants here, it's easy to find all the Italian staples like bruschetta, all types of pasta like cacio e pepe (pecorino cheese and black pepper pasta), carbonara (linguine with Pork cheek, cheese, egg yolk), and all’amatriciana (pork cheek, tomato, cheese, and pepper pasta), and of course pizza. It's also common to find dishes with ingredients like truffle and porcini mushrooms, which are unique and worth trying.
As well, you’ll find tons of desserts with pistachios and drinks with limoncello. I had the best pistachio gelato at a place called Giolitti, which my friend recommended. Limoncello is the main event here as it’s common to have it after a meal to help with digestion. Fun fact - Italian lemons are large and sweet, which is different in contrast to the small and sour lemons you find in Canada, and are what makes Limoncello so good. One of the best drinks I had with limoncello was the Granita al limonata con limoncello (lemon slush with limoncello) - it was so refreshing. My favourite experience in Rome was the pasta-making class my sister and I attended. People from the US, England, and even Kelowna joined the class, as well. Surprisingly, pasta is easier to make than you think - it’s just flour and egg. Most of the work is in the technique, which is important in giving the noodles their shape and texture. All in all, here are all the restaurants I went to in Rome:
Giolitti – best gelato shop in town. There’s typically a lineup outside the door, which shows you how good they are.
Limon'è- lemon store where I got my Granita al limonata con lemoncello.
Salvatore Di Matteo Le Gourmet - Great local pizzeria, not in the city center.
Ristorante Tucci – lovely patio and ambiance. This is where I had the pasta-making class.
Mercato Hostaria Roma – I indulged in a delicious charcuterie board and chianti here.
I hope this blog helps you with your Italy itinerary! Let me know in the comments if you try any of the restaurants listed here. Ciao!