15 Foods You Have to Try in Italy

Essential Food to Eat in Italy

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Essential Food to Eat in Italy
Cheapism / antoniotruzzi/FilippoBacci/urbazon/istockphoto

La Dolce Vita!

There are few countries where you can be certain that even the rocks would taste good, and Italy is definitely, without a doubt, one of those countries. 

The carb-loaded, cheese-smothered, flavor-packed paradise is where you go to treat your taste buds and indulge. Italian celebrity chef Gino D’Acampo says Italian cuisine is all about “minimum effort, maximum satisfaction,” showing how simple and delicious the dishes are. Each region in Italy has a dish that started there, and you’ve got to try them in their hometowns. Here’s a list of everything you need to try to truly enjoy Italy’s culinary charm.

Margherita Pizza, Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba, Naples, Italy
Martin H./Yelp

1. Pizza Margherita, Naples

It would be a cardinal sin to visit the birthplace of what is now the world's most beloved food and not try the original. If you're visiting Pizza Margherita or Pizza Napoletana. One legend has it that when Queen Margherita of Savoy visited Naples a local pizzaiolo (pizza maker) wanted to impress her and created a pizza featuring the colors of the Italian flag: red tomato sauce, white mozzarella cheese, and green basil leaves. The queen loved it, and thus, Pizza Margherita was born.

To make the most of your pizza experience, head to Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba, the oldest and widely believed to be the first pizzeria in the world. You'll thank us later. 

Related: 9 Pizzas From Around the World You May Not Know Exist

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese
Максим Крысанов / iStock

2. Tagliatelle al Ragù, Bologna

Forget what you know about spaghetti Bolognese. In Bologna — the birthplace of the dish — it’s all about Tagliatelle al Ragù. Nicknamed “La Grassa,” or "the fat one," this indulgent dish features fresh tagliatelle pasta smothered in a rich meat sauce made from minced beef, pork, tomatoes, and a splash of red wine. The sauce simmers for hours to develop its deep, savory flavors. The only thing you’ll manage to say after devouring it is, "Mama Mia."

Olga Mazyarkina / iStock

3. Ossobuco, Milan

Ossobuco, meaning “bone with a hole,” is a Milanese specialty of braised veal shanks cooked with white wine, broth, and vegetables. The dish is traditionally served with gremolata (a mix of lemon zest, garlic, and parsley) and is often accompanied by Risotto alla Milanese — another Italian must-try.

O Kemppainen / iStock

4. Arancini, Palermo, Sicily

Arancini, meaning “little oranges,” are deep-fried rice balls filled with ragù, mozzarella, peas, and sometimes saffron. These delicious snacks originate from Palermo and are a must-try when visiting Sicily. The best place to enjoy Arancini is from a street food vendor in Palermo, where they’re freshly made and served hot. Crispy on the outside and savory on the inside, they’re the perfect on-the-go treat for exploring the streets of Sicily.

Spaghetti cacio e pepe
Michele Oliveri/istockphoto

5. Cacio e Pepe, Rome

When in Rome, you have to try one of the simplest yet ridiculously delightful pasta dishes. Cacio e Pepe means “cheese and pepper,” and it is basically just that: made with three ingredients — pasta, Pecorino Romano cheese, and black pepper. In Trastevere, Rome's most charming neighborhood, Roma Sparita serves cacio e pepe in a pecorino bowl, and it's out of this world. This place was also allegedly where Anthony Bourdain would go for cacio e pepe.

Italian tiramisu of ladyfingers, espresso and mascarpone cheese

6. Tiramisu, Treviso

Tiramisu is Italy’s love letter to the world of desserts. Literally translated to "pick me up," this coffee-flavored delight will do just that — pick you up and bring you to dessert heaven. Made with layers of mascarpone cheese, cocoa, and ladyfingers soaked in espresso, it's a delightful proof of the Dolce Vita (sweet life) that you find in the country. (Sighs in Italian.)

Le Beccherie in Treviso claims to be the birthplace of Tiramisu, making it a must-visit for dessert aficionados.

Gelato, Fatamorgana, Rome, Italy
Vivian N./Yelp

7. Gelato, Florence

Speaking of desserts and things that will make you want to consider moving to Italy for good, let's talk about gelato — the ice cream's cool Italian cousin. Born in Florence, gelato is denser, creamier, and just plain better. Why? It’s churned slower, so it has less air, making it rich and velvety. Plus, it’s lower in fat because it uses more milk than cream, making it smoother and silkier.

Related: 29 Must-Try International Street Foods Under $5

Dinner with risotto alla milanese
Olga Mazyarkina/istockphoto

8. Risotto alla Milanese, Milan

You'll never look at rice the same after tasting an Italian risotto, and for the most authentic experience, go to Milan. Risotto alla Milanese is creamy, buttery, and beautifully golden, thanks to luxurious saffron. Arborio rice is slowly cooked in broth until it's perfectly creamy, making every bite rich and flavorful.

chunks and rind of parmigiano cheese

9. Parmigiano Reggiano, Reggio Emilia

Known as the“King of Cheeses,” Parmigiano Reggiano hails from Reggio Emilia. This hard, granular cheese is aged for a minimum of 12 months, developing a complex flavor that’s nutty, savory, and slightly fruity. The best place to taste it is right at the source, where you can tour local dairies and see the cheese-making process firsthand.

Related: The Funkiest Cheeses in the World

Roasted T-Bone Steak

10. Bistecca alla Fiorentina, Florence

Bistecca alla Fiorentina is a massive T-bone steak that's only served rare. It’s seasoned with just salt, pepper, and a splash of olive oil, then grilled to perfection. 

Plate with spaghetti carbonara on a laid table

11. Spaghetti alla Carbonara, Rome

Forget everything you know about carbonara — forget heavy cream and bacon. Head to Rome for the real deal. Roman Carbonara is made from your classic artery-clogging ingredients: eggs, Pecorino Romano cheese, guanciale (cured pork cheek), and black pepper. It is the Holy Grail of Rome's cuisine.

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Prosciutto di Parma, Parma

12. Prosciutto di Parma, Parma

Prosciutto di Parma is the king of cured hams, and Parma is the throne. This delicately sweet and salty ham is aged for at least 12 months, allowing it to develop its signature melt-in-your-mouth texture. Enjoy it thinly sliced, paired with melon or figs, or simply on its own. 

In Parma, you’ll find the best prosciutto in family-run salumerias, where tradition and craftsmanship are passed down through generations. It’s a true taste of Italian culinary heritage and a must-try for any foodie visiting the region.

Spaghetti alle Vongole

13. Spaghetti alle Vongole, Naples

This classic Neapolitan dish features spaghetti tossed with fresh clams, garlic, white wine, and a hint of chili pepper. Simple yet flavorful, Spaghetti alle Vongole is best enjoyed in a seaside trattoria in Naples, where the clams are as fresh as they come. 

The briny sweetness of the clams combined with the garlic and wine sauce creates a dish that’s both light and satisfying. 

Caprese Salad

14. Caprese Salad, Capri

Another dish that resembles the Italian flag is the Caprese salad, straight from the beautiful island of Capri. This iconic salad features juicy tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil leaves all drizzled with olive oil. It's a light, refreshing dish that captures the essence of Italian cuisine — simple ingredients, bold flavors.

Young Man Holding A Cannoli Pastry Filled With Creamy Ricotta And Pistachios On The Street In Catania, Sicily

15. Cannoli, Sicily

Cannoli are iconic Sicilian pastries consisting of crispy, fried shells filled with sweet ricotta cheese. Often garnished with candied fruit or chocolate chips, they’re a delightful blend of textures and flavors.  It’s a sweet ending to any meal and a true taste of Sicily.

Related: Iconic Foods to Try From 40 Countries Around the World