Best food in Italy: the most delicious A to Z
There’s no subject I enjoy writing about more than the topic of food.
And, when you add Italian dishes to the equation, my greedy tastebuds go into overdrive. This post is all about the best food in Italy, presented in an A to Z style.
It’s a culinary journey of what you should eat on your travels in the Mediterranean country. From arancini to supplì, expect to find classic favorites sitting alongside some lesser known dishes.
Similar to the A to Z of planning a trip to Italy, this is your gastronomic guide to the country.
If you notice that a letter’s missing in the list, it’s not deliberate. The Italian alphabet’s shorter than the English one, and some letters, like ‘J’, don’t exist. Another reason behind a missing entry, is that there isn’t a dish/es that match the respective letter.
Look out for the symbols to indicate whether the dish is suitable for vegetarians (V) or vegans (VG).
If you’re ready, get your napkin and prepare to salivate over the best dishes to try when traveling in Italy.
Decadent doesn’t even begin to describe this meat dish from the island of Sardinia. Accarrexiau is an entire sheep stuffed with a suckling roasted pig.
The 2-in-1 dish is slowly roasted over a pit of wood or coal. It can also be buried in the ground and roasted over hot stones.
Anolini — best food in Italy
Hailing from the Parma region in Emilia-Romagna, this stuffed ravioli-style pasta makes an ideal fall/winter Italian comfort food.
Fillings typically consist of ingredients such as breadcrumbs, garlic, beef and meat broth. The anolini are served in a beef broth, and served with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese.
Arancini (can be V)
The first entry from Sicily, is this classic deep-fried coated rice ball, stuffed with a rich ragu sauce.
Delicious, messy and oozing with meat sauce and mozzarella cheese, you’d be crazy not to try arancini on your travels. There are also meat-free versions of arancini which are suitable for vegetarians.
Synonymous with the region of Veneto is the smoked fish dish called baccalà. A salted, dried codfish, it’s an item you’ll frequently see on restaurant menus.
They typically serve baccalà with slices of grilled polenta and a side serving of steamed vegetables.
In the city of Vicenza, they’ve their own variation called baccalà mantecato. It’s a creamier version made with milk and it goes perfectly with some warm bread.
Bigoli con ragù d’anatra
As the days get shorter and the chilly weather draws in, this aromatic pasta dish will instantly warm you up.
Bigoli con ragù d’anatra is another typical dish from Veneto. It’s served with a ragù sauce made with duck and a slightly thicker spaghetti called bigoli.
Unlike the traditional ragù Bolognese, this sauce doesn’t contain tomatoes or beef.
Sharing a dish with its neighbors across the northern border is this trout dish from Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol.
The ‘blau’ refers to the blue color that the fish’ skin turns when cooked in white wine and vinegar. Served with parsley potatoes and boiled vegetables, it’s easy to see the dish’ Germanic influences.
Bordatino (alla livornese) (V) (VG)
This minestrone soup from Livorno in Tuscany packs in a lot of flavor. Made from beans, collard greens and corn flour, it’s perfect for wintry days and cozy nights in.
A northern Italian classic, baccalà Vicentina — best food in Italy
“Similar to the A to Z of planning a trip to Italy, this is your gastronomic guide to the country.”
Another Trento dish with hints of Germanic influences, canederli are bread and flour dumplings typically filled with Speck ham.
Cooked in boiling water for a few minutes, they’re served warm with a topping of Parmesan cheese.
Cappon Magro — best food in Italy
It’s hard not to be impressed by this Genovese seafood salad stack on first glance.
Consisting of seafood, eggs and vegetables formed into a pyramid shape, a tasty dressing completes the dish.
Caponata (V) (VG)
One of my all-time favorite dishes from Sicily, I never miss a chance to eat caponata.
A vegetable dish consisting of tomatoes, onions, eggplants and olives in a sweet and sour sauce, it’s perfect for summer. Best eaten cold, serve the caponata with some warm crusty bread and a crisp white wine.
Picture this: a bowl piled high with freshly steamed mussels, topped with a golden breadcrumb mix, and then baked.
This is exactly what you can expect when ordering cozze gratinate in the south of Italy. Parsley, garlic, breadcrumbs and olive oil make up the base of the mix, and it’s truly a taste explosion.
One of my all-time favorite Italian dishes, caponata
Spicy and succulent, this chicken dish is all about the heat. While its precise origins aren’t known, a popular style of cooking pollo alla diavola is the Roman way.
This is butterflying a whole chicken and cooking it in a hot pan.
A dish typical of Tuscany, this fried bread dough, sprinkled with sugar, or salt, is a local favorite. Simple, crispy and made in a variety of shapes, donzelle is an ideal accompaniment with cured meats.
Erbazzone (can be V)
This savory pie from Emilia-Romagna may come from humble roots, but it’s tasty and satisfyingly filling.
A pastry pie filled with spinach — or chard — and cheese, it’s one of the traditional food products of the region.
Grab a slice of Erbazzone
A type of Sicilian style meatloaf, there’s no chance of feeling hungry after a slice of falsomagro.
The dish consists of a beef joint stuffed with ingredients like mortadella, pancetta and hard-boiled eggs. I tried it for the first time in Palermo at Ai Cascinari and was instantly bowled over.
Fiorentina (bistecca alla)
No best food in Italy list would be complete without mentioning the mouthwatering bistecca alla Fiorentina. A cut of meat that comes from the Chianina cow in Tuscany, it’s a meat-lovers’ dream.
Frico (V) — best food in Italy
On first glance, frico almost resembles a Spanish tortilla. The ingredients aren’t far off, but this dish from Friuli Venezia-Giulia contains 3 things: potatoes, onions and cheese.
All 3 are fried together to create a crispy, cheesy, savory cake.
Sicilian meatloaf in the form of falsomagro
Gnocchi di semolina alla romana (V)
A typical first course in the Lazio region, these Roman-style gnocchi are simple, yet delicious.
Made from semolina flour and grated Parmesan cheese, the discs are placed in the oven until golden and crispy.
Granita Siciliana (V) (VG without the cream)
The granita comes in a variety of flavors, including strawberry, lemon, coffee and mulberry. Granita usually comes with a generous dollop of whipped cream, but ask for ‘poca panna’ if you prefer less.
Guidia (Carciofi alla) (V) (VG)
The second you spot Carciofi alla Guidia on the menu in Rome, don’t hesitate to order it.
These artichokes are fried in olive oil, leaving a crispy outside, and a perfectly cooked inside. The dish is typical of Roman Jewish cooking and only found in this region of Italy.
Deep-fried and a gastronomic treat, carciofi alla Guidea
Infarinata (V) (VG)
Though this Tuscan dish falls under the category of a soup, its consistency is halfway between a minestrone and polenta.
A soup that was once considered as food for the poor, this humble dish is nutritious as it is filling. Packed with borlotti beans and collard greens, it’s perfect for light lunches or chilly fall evenings.
Involtini di pesce spada
Another one of my top things to eat in Sicily, involtini di pesce spada are rolls of stuffed swordfish. The filling typically consists of capers, breadcrumbs, tomatoes and basil, along with the regular condiments.
Involtini di pesce spada goes well with warm summer evenings, a fresh green salad and a glass of wine.
Technically, this entry shouldn’t be on the list, as there’s no letter ‘K’ in the Italian alphabet. However, there’s always an exception to the rule, this being the mouthwatering krapfen.
As you can possibly tell from the name, it’s Germanic in heritage and popular in Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol. A fried donut, usually filled with a jelly or cream filling, krapfen is a delicious breakfast food in Italy.
A Sicilian classic, involtini di pesce spada
Lasagna (and V)
There’s no way I could leave out lasagna when writing about the best food in Italy. This layered pasta dish is known worldwide, the most popular variety being the traditional Bolognese meat sauce.
However, for vegetarians, there are other tempting variations that are just as satisfying and filling too. Lasagna alle zucchine, al pesto, ai funghi and al pistacchio are just a handful of veggie options.
Lenticchie di Castelluccio con salsicce
The best example of an Italian rustic, farmer’s dish, lenticchie di Castelluccio con salsicce screams autumnal vibes.
Wholesome lentils simmer together with plump, pork sausages until the two flavors marry to create a lip-smacking combination.
The lentil and sausage casserole originate from Castelluccio, a small subdivision in the Umbrian commune of Norcia. Enjoy with some crusty bread and a hearty red wine.
Lesso e pearà
Truthfully speaking, I wasn’t immediately sold on lesso e pearà upon first glance. A dish of boiled meats, vegetables and a hot breadcrumb sauce, it’s one that’s traditional in the Veneto region. It’s more of a home-style dish rather than something you’d find at a restaurant.
In the Venetian dialect, ‘pearà’ means pepper. This owes to the amount of spice that’s added to the sauce from which the dish takes its name.
Lasagna bolognese — best food in Italy
Maccheroni con la trippa
You’ll either love, or hate, this soup dish as it contains tripe.
Cow stomach lining is a popular ingredient in many parts of Italy. Maccheroni con la trippa is a soup with pasta, tripe and vegetables and originates from Savona in Liguria.
While it won’t be to everyone’s liking, it’s a dish typical of the town and very traditional too.
Maritozzo con la panna (V)
Popular in the Lazio region, as well as in Marche, are these soft bread rolls filled with freshly whipped cream.
With ingredients including raisins, honey and citrus peel, maritozzo con la panna is eaten for breakfast or as a snack.
The word ‘maritozzo’ is a Roman term meaning husband. Sources say that fiancés used to gift their future wives maritozzo con la panna, hence the name.
Melanzane al beccafico (V) (VG) — best food in Italy
Another foodie win for Sicily, this time in the form of eggplants. The vegetable grows in abundance around the island, and the flavor and quality is unmatched.
Melanzane al beccafico are rolls of eggplant wrapped around a filling of pine nuts, breadcrumbs, raisins and pecorino cheese. The dish can also be suitable for vegans — just without the cheese.
Creamy, doughy and delicious, maritozzo
‘Ncapriata (V) (VG)
A wholesome dish consisting of fava beans, cooked greens and potato puree, la ‘ncapriata is good for you, and delicious.
Originating from Puglia, la ‘ncapriata sits somewhere between a soup and a side dish. The creamy potato puree perfectly balances out the bitterness of the greens and the denseness of the beans.
From Abruzzo comes the uniquely named ndocca ‘ndocca.
No part of the pig is left to waste, as the dish uses the legs, ears and snout of the animal. The meat is cooked in a stew along with olive oil, rosemary, bay leaves and chili.
As the name suggests, neonata are newborn tiny fish, which are coated in flour and breadcrumbs and then fried.
I first tried neonata in Sicily with a fresh squeeze of lemon and really enjoyed it. Admittedly, I did feel a little wrong after knowing what I’d eaten. However, if it doesn’t conflict with your ethics, and you’re curious to try, then give it a go.
A fishy delicacy that isn’t easy to find, neonata
Orecchiette alle cime di rapa (V)
It’s time to eat some little ears — in the shape of pasta. Orecchiette alle cime di rapa is pasta with turnip tops and is popular in the Bari region of Puglia.
Fragrant and flavorful, this dish may come from humble roots, but it’s satisfying and very filling.
Hailing from the mighty Milan is the classic Ossobuco. A tender cut of beef or veal is cooked alongside ingredients such as butter and white wine.
Its classic accompaniment — and the best in my opinion — is riso giallo (saffron rice). Tasty and decadent, ossobuco continues to be a firm favorite, and for all the right reasons.
A must try in Milan, ossobuco alla Milanese
Panzanella (V) (VG)
Perfect for light summer lunches is this easy and very tasty Tuscan salad. Panzanella consists of soaked chunks of bread, mixed alongside red onion, cucumber, tomatoes and basil.
It’s finished off with a good glug of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
Pappardelle al ragù di cinghiale
Sticking with Tuscany is one of my all-time favorite dishes, and one that brings back fond memories of Florence.
Pappardelle al ragù di cinghiale is pasta with a ragu sauce made with wild boar. Rich, aromatic and an explosion of taste in the mouth, it’s an unmissable dish when in Tuscany.
Parmigiana (melanzane) (V)
Back to south Italy for another classic, and one that never disappoints the palate. Melanzane alla parmigiana marries together layers of fried eggplant, tomato sauce, basil, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
Personally, I could eat this for lunch and dinner, anytime of year, it’s just that good.
Pizzoccheri della Valtellina — best food in Italy
Originating from Valtellina in Lombardy is this particular type of buckwheat pasta called pizzoccheri.
Accompanied by cabbage, potatoes and cheese, it’s that kind of dish that’s comfort on a plate.
Just the thought of eating porchetta puts me in a mode of silent salivation. A succulent joint of roast pork stuffed with a variety of herbs, garlic and condiments, it’s a must try.
You can find porchetta typically in the Lazio region, where many places sell it in slices. Best eaten warm or even cold, porchetta is a must-try for true meat lovers.
One for the meat lovers, porchetta
Ribollita (V) (VG)
Made with an abundance of seasonal fall vegetables and stale bread, a bowl of ribollita will warm you right up.
This soup is renowned in many parts of Tuscany, most notably in Florence, Prato and Arezzo.
Risotto alla Milanese (V)
A Milanese classic, the distinctive yellow color of this risotto is a treat for the eyes and for the palate.
Shreds of saffron give the dish its enticing aroma while also adding to the overall flavor. Refined and creamy, it’s the ideal accompaniment to regional classics such as ossobuco.
Aromatic and flavorsome, risotto alla Milanese
It’s hard not to get excited by a dish whose literal translation means ‘jump in the mouth’.
Slices of veal are topped with prosciutto and a sage leaf, before being fried in butter. Light, it isn’t, but when in Rome, saltimbocca is one dish you can’t miss out on trying.
Another tasty Alpine offering from Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, this time in the form of pasta stuffed dumplings.
Schlutzkrapfen may not be the easiest to pronounce, but it’s a dish that you’ll always remember.
Crescent-shaped pasta dumplings are filled with spinach and chopped onions. Once ready, they’re cooked in salted water, and then finished off with Parmesan cheese, melted butter and chopped chives.
Spaghetti alla carbonara
There are tons of spaghetti variations in Italy to write about, many of them equally delicious. However, if I’ve to choose one, it has to be spaghetti alla carbonara.
Though widely known around the world, the original Roman version doesn’t use cream like other western countries.
Instead, the ‘creaminess’ of the sauce comes from the egg yolks and cheese, usually pecorino, used to make the dish. Add to this the salted guanciale (pig cheek) and the fresh spaghetti, and it’s a winner on a plate.
The last ‘S’ again comes from the Romans. Golden, deep fried and with a gooey, cheesy, meaty center, suppli are cylinder-shaped rice balls.
Though bite-sized, I find suppli to be slightly heavy. They remind me of a smaller arancino and are very tasty. Do your tastebuds a favor and gets your hands on one when in Rome.
A ‘jump in the mouth’ taste explosion, saltimbocca
Tortelli di zucca (V)
Nothing says autumn has arrived, than with a plate full of squash tortelli. A dish that hails from Mantua in Lombardy, it’s a classic seasonal dish that consists of local ingredients.
Locals typically eat tortelli di zucca during Christmas. That said, if you happen to be traveling in the region at this period, keep your eyes peeled.
Tortellini in brodo (and V) — best food in Italy
There’s no wrong time of year for me to enjoy a bowl of tortellini in brodo (broth). A classic dish of Emilia-Romagna, this simple bowl of pasta in a light broth warms me up instantly.
For vegetarians, make sure that the brodo is vegetable-based, and of course that the tortellini is veggie friendly. There are tortellini varieties stuffed with meats including mortadella and prosciutto.
Torta di riso (V)
A world away from the rice cakes you’ve tried in the past, is this sumptuous cake from Emilia-Romagna.
An Italian dessert with ancient origins, sources say it dates to the 15th century. With a soft, creamy texture and a light whiff of vanilla, torta di riso isn’t overly sweet, but very satisfying.
Warming and satisfying, tortellini in brodo — best food in Italy
A savory pie from the Basilicata region, locals usually eat U’pastizz before Easter. With fillings like Scamorza cheese, salami and eggs, you won’t be hungry for a while after one slice.
Vignarola (V) (VG)
A mountain of seasonal vegetables goes into making this Roman dish.
Featuring broad beans, peas, artichokes and romaine lettuce, you can eat vignarola as a side dish or with some bread. If there’s any left over, the vignarola goes very well with pasta too.
Simple and wholesome, vignarola vegetable dish ©Wiki Recipes
Though ‘zuppa’ means soup in Italian, there’s none in sight in zuppa inglese.
Instead, this dessert from Emilia-Romagna consists of sponge fingers, custard cream, cocoa powder and a liqueur called Alchermes.
British readers may recognize the similarity between zuppa inglese and trifle. Sources suggest that the trifle inspired its creation, hence the reference of ‘inglese’ (English) in the name.
Comfort food from the Val d’Aosta region comes in the form of zuppa valpellinese. Like zuppa inglese, this dish doesn’t involve any form of soup.
Instead, the dish compiles of white cabbage, lard and butter, which is cooked together and placed over sliced bread. Slices of Fontina cheese seal all the ingredients in, forming a golden melting blanket over the dish.
Suffice it to say, a helping of zuppa valpellinese is ideal for cozying up by the fireplace on winter nights.
Which of these dishes have you already tried? Are there any in the A to Z that you’d be keen on trying? Let me know in the comments below.
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Welcome to my site! I'm Lisa, founder of Following the Rivera. I write primarily for a ‘flashpacker’ audience, a demographic (late 20s onward) that enjoys glamping over camping and staying at boutique/luxury boutique hotels. Flashpackers also like to indulge in the local food and wine, cultural activities, as well as a spot of wellness on their travels. Want to know more? Read on....