Insider Guide to Italy: 5 must-try dishes!

09 March 2017

Lemons so sweet you can eat them like oranges, decadent gelato that’s impossible to resist, melt-in-the-mouth mozzarella made that morning…there’s no end to the wonderful stories about the delights of Italian food. But when you’re visiting Italy for the first time, where do you start?

One of the first points to bear in mind is that each of Italy’s regions have specialty ingredients and dishes, and it’s worth seeking them out. Heading to Central Italy (Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Lazio)? Make sure you visit the wineries. Travelling to Emilia-Romagna or Southern Italy (Campania, Basilicata, Abruzzo, Molise, Puglia, Calabria)? These regions are famous for their culinary traditions so prepare to gorge!

We’ve compiled our five favourite nibbles and tipples to help get you started on your Italian foodie journey, but from Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to truffles from Bologna and Prosecco from Veneto, there are endless foods to taste whilst you’re there. Make sure you tuck in and enjoy every morsel this magnificent country has to offer…

Burrata from Puglia

Italian food market

Imagine a perfectly poached egg as a bright orange yolk magnificently oozes out. Tear open a gently wobbling ball of burrata, and out oozes a mouthwatering concoction of salted fresh cream mixed and slivers of mozzarella. That milky hued ball may look like traditional mozzarella di bufala (mozzarella made from water buffalo milk) from the outside, but slice open the soft “shell” and that rich creamy mix will tell you otherwise. It’s a delight that you’ll immediately devour!

Travel Counsellor Roseanna has family in the north of Italy but ventured to Puglia over 10 years ago, falling in love with the area and visiting as often as she can: “It is unspoilt and the Pugliese are most welcoming. Apart from July and August, the beaches are deserted and the Adriatic is always crystal clear. The coast is rocky in parts and totally flat in others. The landscape is dominated by groves of olive trees, many hundreds of years old.

Needless to say, the produce is delicious. There are daily markets that rotate on a weekly basis and before you see them, the smell of garden-fresh produce can be detected by the senses. A lot of meat is eaten in this area and many butchers’ shops have tables outside, so that the customers can select their cut and have it cooked and presented to them, ready to eat with the family.

Every time that I visit, at different times of the year, I discover another plant or fruit. This time the narcissi were in bloom and swathes of poppies. The fig trees look as though they will produce a bumper crop this year. Yummy!”

Pizza from Naples

Pizza olives Italy

Wander through the bustling streets of Naples and you’ll stumble across the best pizza you’ve ever had. Keep wandering, feast on another pizza – it’ll soon become the best you’ve ever eaten. Welcome to Naples, home of the pizza!

Even if you’re not a fan of pizza, we think the soft chewy dough, perfectly crisp crust and piping hot tomato might just change your mind. And it’ll be a taste that will become one of your holiday memories, as Travel Counsellor Liz found of her trip to Italy in 2016: “My stay gave me some wonderful things to remember, including eating the delicious pizzas!”

Our tip? Stick to simple flavours and try a margherita (mozzarella and tomato) or marinara (tomato, garlic, olive oil and oregano). And whilst you’re there, delight your taste buds with a pizza fritta – a deep-fried, stuffed pizza that’s a street food classic!

Un Caffè

Coffee Italy

Even if you’re not a coffee aficionado, make like a local and embrace Italian coffee culture. And that means drinking your caffè whilst standing at the bar, and only ordering a cappuccino - or any other milky coffee, for that matter - in the morning!

Other coffee rules to follow whilst you’re there? “Un caffè” is a single shot of espresso, so you don’t need to order “an espresso”. Your morning coffee won’t come in a huge cup – it’s about quality over giant vats of caffeine - so drink your shot quickly at the bar, gobble a sfogliatella (a moreish, clam-shaped, flaky pastry filled with sweet ricotta) and carry on with your sightseeing. Craving a cappuccino? Have one for breakfast. And don’t order coffee with your lunch or dinner – drink un caffè after your meal instead!

Prosciutto di Parma

Cooking class, Italy

Pork, sea salt, and air. Parma ham is crafted with a mere three ingredients but the artisans who create it follow a strict set of rules governed by the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma. And it’s this process that creates the melt-in-the-mouth texture and distinctive, sweet flavour. The nutty, wafer thin slices are so delicious, it’s a struggle to stop eating them!

What’s makes the ham so moreish? It’s all down to the way it’s made, from the breed of pigs to the curing. Only specific breeds of pig can be raised for prosciutto di Parma, and their diet is regulated - cereals and watery, milky whey that’s left over from the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Then, there’s salting, resting, curing for at least a year…the process to create Parma ham is a long one. And this makes prosciutto di Parma a perfect morsel to delight your inner foodie!

Wondering how to serve prosciutto di Parma and how to cook the other dishes you try on your Italy travels? Try a cookery class while you’re away! Travel Counsellor Melissa and her family visited Rome in March 2016 as part of a tour around Italy and booked onto a cookery course: “One of the highlights for us was a cooking school we attended together. We visited an early morning market for produce, spent the day cooking, chatting and drinking great wine and then we ate the fruits of our labour together in an amazing penthouse apartment setting.”

Barolo from Piedmont

Piedmont wine

Opulent notes of rose, red berries, and tar, a deep ruby hue, and a rich, fragrant taste with powerful tannins. You’re sipping a Barolo, one of Italy’s finest wines.

Nestled on rolling green hills in the chalky, limestone soil are rows of vines, full of the black Nebbiolo grape which ripens under the Autumn sun and is transformed into a wine loved by enthusiasts worldwide. Whether you’re a wine-lover or not, if you’re in Piedmont, book on to a wine tour and experience the powerful, floral notes of this exceptional wine.

Heading to Florence, Tuscany, on your next trip to Italy rather than Piedmont (in the north)? Try a Chianti instead. You can explore the wine region of Chianti on a day trip from Florence, which Travel Counsellor Melissa did on her trip: “We spent a spectacular day doing a tour throughout the Chianti wine region, amongst the rolling hills. We visited multiple wineries and experienced authentic food and incredible wine tastings, actually sitting at the family tables of the wine makers. The hospitality was so warm and welcoming, it was unlike any winery tour we have ever done before and everyone made sure that our daughter was well catered for and entertained.”

Here, we’ve chosen a few of the delicacies we think you should eat while you’re in Italy. We know that there are many more scrumptious nibbles to try though! Discover more to see and do in Italy with our Insider Guide to Italy

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