A Foodies Guide to Italy
Tue Mar 2014
Italy is a foodie’s paradise, boasting phenomenal cuisine and regional signature dishes. Whilst traditional Italian staples pizza and pasta are regular features on any restaurant menu up and down the country, there’s no accounting for the wild variation of flavours and local delicacies that differ between provinces.
Needless to say, food is big in Italy. An Italian’s evening meal is their opportunity for the whole family to gather together and spend hours catching up as they enjoy course after course of irresistible dishes. There’s so much to be enjoyed and discovered in Italian cuisine that even snacks and dishes that might seem somewhat ordinary are an absolute taste sensation.
If you’re a foodie in search of the best places in Italy to indulge in the fine cuisine and tease your palate with rich new flavours, here are some foodie gems you might like to discover for yourself.
Located in the ‘heel’ of Italy, Puglia is home to miles and miles of gorgeous sandy beaches and outstanding Italian cuisine. The region offers a range of fresh produce owing to its microclimate which offers consistently sunny weather throughout the year. Over recent years the region has slowly been discovered as something of a haven for foodies.
Aside from the exquisite cuisine you’ll enjoy in the restaurants here, Puglia offers other gourmet treasures with its irresistible food fairs and festivals. There are foodie events running throughout the year with at least one event taking place every month.
Inspired by age-old farmers markets where local produce was sold in the town, Puglia’s contemporary fairs continue that tradition where you can sample local and seasonal produce. The region is also renowned for producing most of Italy’s finest olive oil as well as being the sixth biggest wine-making region in the world.
Famed for its cuisine, it should come as no surprise that Tuscany should win a place in this list. Located amongst miles of rolling hills, fields of olives and long stretches of vineyards, Tuscany is a hub for some of the finest wines and cuisine that the country has to offer.
The Chianti region is considered the wine-making capital of Tuscany, producing three of Italy’s most famous wines: Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Wine-tasting and winery tours are, of course, in abundance here. Those fancying themselves as a wine connoisseur could easily tour the entire region, sampling its finest offerings.
Tuscan cuisine reflects the regional way of life, adopting the mantra of taking it slowly. Slow-cooked food and slow-paced dining are the norm here with signature dishes such as cacciucco, a fish stew that is full of a range of flavours.
A holiday in the Neapolitan Riviera is a dream for those with a well-developed palate and a taste for finer food. There are an abundance of regional culinary delights to discover in Sorrento and all along the Amalfi Coast. Home to dramatic cliffs, whitewashed sugar-cube villas, azure oceans and fields of lemon groves, there’s a lot to love about the area.
The region’s signature dishes and delights include fish fresh from Cetara, a local fishing village, and fresh spaghetti served with a rich anchovy pesto. Locals in this part of the country really celebrate their food from the first cup of espresso and Italian pastry to their evening meal.
Of course, Neapolitan pizza is the signature dish of the region, with nearby Naples being the Italian pizza capital. While pizza in Britain has become a take-away staple with extravagant ‘stuffed crusts’ and excessive toppings, traditional Neopolitan pizza strips the nation’s favourite dish right back to its simplistic origins. The region offers up freshly made, thin-crust bases topped with tomato, mozzarella and basil and a scattering of either fresh seafood, meat or vegetables all cooked in a traditional wood-fired oven.
What the bloggers think:
May, Food and Travel Writer @ Eat Cook Explore
“For a quick snack or lunch, find a bacarro or a local wine bar where wine is served from a barrel. Order an ombra (a glass of white wine) and with it there is usually a selection of freshly prepared cicchetti on the counter. Cicchetti is a Venetian snack or small plates, designed to be eaten while standing up at the bar. There used to be more of these when the local fisherman or gondoliers will park up at the nearest canal, prop up at the bar and have a quick bite. For another snacky option, there are numerous cafes along the narrow alleys between St Mark’s Square and the Rialto. Here you will find a selection of tramezzini, overstuffed Italian sandwiches band the more familiar ciabatta with a variety of fillings.
Venetian cuisine is mainly about fish and seafood and the better restaurants will offer a great fish and seafood antipasti and usually followed by a seafood pasta dish of some sort or seafood rissotto. One dish not to miss is Sarde in Saor which is sweet and sour cured sardines’ dish, usually served as a starter or as part of an antipasti selection. Some restaurants specialise in Fritto Misto, a plate of battered and fried fish and seafood. The Venetians do this very well. And a canal side restaurant (preferably not on the Grand Canal) and not near St Mark’s square and you will more likely find a good authentic local non touristy Venetian restaurant.”
Fran, blogger @ The Graphic Foodie
“Fierce loyalty to cuisine and the reluctance to experiment or alter traditional recipes means regional specialties have been honed to perfection over the centuries. Even neighbouring regions with similar recipes will argue that theirs is the only correct way of making the dish and many will celebrate their produce with local food festivals.
Italians also tend to prefer to eat what is grown locally and due to the diverse landscape of the country with mountains, sea and fertile hills, a wide range of food can be produced, shaping the dishes created.
Northern Italy tends to use richer ingredients such as cheese and cream with staples of rice and polenta in favour of pasta. Try Osso Buco, Polenta e Fasoli and Bagna Cauda.
Central Italy is diverse with its rugged mountains and sun-baked coast but is well known for fresh and cured meats, cheeses and seafood. From the hearty bean soups of Tuscany and rustic Spaghetti alla Chitarra in Abruzzo to the luxurious truffle dishes of Umbria, this is a great area for eating well.
Southern Italian food is vibrant and colourful. The heat produces wonderful olive oil, fragrant tomatoes and citrus fruits. And of course it is home to Pizza in Naples. Don’t leave without tasting Nduja, a spreadable spicy sausage, Vitello al Marsala, Capretto Ripieno al Forno or a real Caponata. This area also produces some of the best sweet treats in the country.
Italian food is far, far more than just pizza and pasta and you will reap the rewards by eating with the locals and exploring the food of the region you are visiting.”
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