Italian Culture in Ten Meals

Welcome to Italy, the land of full stomachs. As you know, the country is famous for its varied, healthy and – above all – abundant food. But which local cuisine should you investigate in order to learn more about Italy’s culture through its traditional dishes?

Where should you start your Italian food tour? Join us for a quick guide.

Savory main courses

    • Pizza

Italy is the birthplace of pizza, making it a compulsory first stop on our culinary tour. Naples is said to be the birthplace of pizza, and Neapolitan pizza consists of mozzarella, fresh tomato, basil and olive oil. There are no other toppings, so be warned. Pizza Romana is the exact opposite, with ham, mushrooms, egg, and artichoke toppings on an almost cracker-thin, crispy crust. Let’s not forget Sicilian pizza, famous for its thick yet spongy crust and anchovies topping. And don’t miss out on pizza alla pala (with a crust that is both crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside) and pizza fritta (made with fried dough) either.

    • Pasta

Italy is also the original land of pasta. Simply choose your favorite kind of pasta, from spaghetti to bucatini (all cooked al dente, naturally), and your topping of choice: from the traditional olive-oil-only option, to tomato sauce, sundried or fresh tomato, shrimp, mushrooms… you name it, Italy has it. But why stop there, when you can also sample ravioli or tortelli (made from the same dough as noodles, with different kinds of stuffing, from vegetables to chicken), gnocchi or cannelloni (a sizeable tubular pasta dough with lavish amounts of stuffing). If you want to go the extra mile, try lasagna, a layered tower of pasta and meat (among other flavors) that represent some of the best of Italian cuisine.

    • Risotto

Rice and broth, stirred until creamy. Sounds odd, but Italians have a unique preparation technique, adding butter and onions to the mix to make a traditional Italian risotto. You can also add wine and cheese to the mix, but keep in mind the wide variety of toppings available.

    • Ribollita

Ribollita is a vegetable soup, and yet it’s also so much more. It originated as a means of combining leftovers in a nourishing and practical dish, but has since earned its place at the table of traditional Italian cuisine. Thickened with bread crusts, it can also be bolstered by the addition of cannellini beans.

    • Osso buco

Italy’s healthy dishes may rely heavily on flour, but that’s not the case with osso buco – which translates literally as “hollow bone”, and is also known as osso buco alla milanese. This meat-based dish consists of a veal shank slowly cooked in broth and wine and served with vegetables and gremolata, including lemon, garlic, and parsley.

Desserts for anyone with a sweet tooth

Italy’s reputation for main courses is justified, but it holds its own when it comes to desserts too. Anyone taking a Rome food tour should try one or more helpings of each of these sweet treats.

    • Biscotti

This twice-cooked delicacy is an excellent match for your afternoon coffee. It’s made of eggs and oil – often mixed with hazelnut or anise – and is thin, crunchy, and sugar-and-vanilla sweet. While they don’t usually last long on your plate before they’re eaten, they can be stored for long periods of time – making them ideal souvenirs to bring home from your trip. Make sure to try amaretti, a close almond-based relative of the biscotti (also available with apricot kernels and made up of egg whites and sugar) as well.

    • Tiramisú

If you thought coffee and ladyfingers were merely OK, wait until you try them together – often with a dash of liquor, almonds or pistachio – covered with mascarpone and egg cream, and topped with powdered cocoa. And before you ask: yes, you can have two portions in one sitting.

    • Gelato

Often confused for ice cream, gelato does have some things in common – the creamy, frozen quality, for a start – but is denser (both in texture and taste) and silkier than its more common cousin. It comes in a wide variety of flavors, from hazelnut and pistachio to espresso and chocolate. Make sure to try one on your food tour around Rome.

    • Cannoli

With a shape that’s similar to cannelloni, its pasta counterpart, the cannoli’s crust is made of fried pastry dough, and filled with sweetened ricotta cheese. Additional flourishes – like chocolate chips, cinnamon, orange zests and maraschino cherries, among others – often make an appearance inside the humble cannoli, while sugar and chocolate are sometimes added as a topping.

    • Torrone

This could be your new Italian favorite food. Sugar, honey, egg whites and heaps of almonds, walnuts, and pistachios combine to make this nougat and nut delicacy, which is served in small, cookie-sized amounts but will surely surpass your expectations nonetheless. Different approaches can be found across Italy: soft and easy to chew, hard and crunchy, and everything in between. Some regions add dried fruit into the mix, while others cover their torrone with chocolate. In any case, it’s an ideal treat for all occasions.

Cuisine in Italy is not just a matter of putting food on a table. It’s about sharing a moment. Taking a food tour is a perfect way to get to know this unique culture of tenderness and flavor.

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