The 10 Most Iconic Foods to Eat in Italy

By Soren Rivero

From spaghetti to pizza, Italian cuisine has influenced the world in more delicious ways than we can count. But, if you want to experience authentic Italian cuisine, the best place to go would be Italy! Not sure which dishes to try when you visit? Here are the 10 most iconic dishes to eat in Italy!

1. Gnocchi

One of Italy’s more famous pasta dishes is gnocchi, meaning “lumps”. You’ve probably heard of this prized Italian delicacy at one point or another, as many people refer to it as Italy’s version of dumplings.

Gnocchi is simply potato dough formed into balls, cooked, and served with some type of sauce, cheese, and garnished with basil. Depending on which region of Italy you go to, the way gnocchi is served can differ greatly – which makes it a highly-versatile dish loved by people across Italy!

2. Lasagna

Now we all know lasagna is an extremely popular Italian dish (even Garfield loves it), but did you know lasagna didn’t originate in Italy?

Surprise! Lasagna actually originated in Ancient Greece. They called it "laganon" and it was simply layers of dry pasta and sauce. Italy perfected the layering years later and eventually, each region had developed their own version of lasagna. Southern regions stick to the form of lasagna we know best, with layers of pasta, meat ragu, mozzarella, and ricotta. Northern regions incorporate spinach into the pasta and use parmesan as well.

3. Risotto

Rich, creamy, and bursting with flavor – what’s not to love about risotto?

Traditionally a dish famous in the northern regions of Italy, risotto consists of rice cooked in broth. Risotto is usually made with unique grains of rice such as Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano as they can absorb high amounts of liquid without becoming mushy. A variety of cheese, meat, spices, and even wines are added to make the dish all the more delectable!

4. Gelato

Not exactly a dish but a dessert, your next must-try food in Italy is gelato. This famous dessert is very similar to ice cream, so much so that the two are often confused with each other, however, gelato is made with more whole milk than cream, whereas ice cream is mostly heavy cream based. Gelato is also made without egg whites, which gives it a much smoother and sticky texture. Make sure you eat gelato fast, as it melts much faster than ice cream!

5. Polenta

Similar to gnocchi, polenta is a highly-versatile Italian dish that’s quite simple to make. Polenta is mainly just a cornmeal porridge typically served hot and unseasoned as an accompaniment to other dishes. It can also be eaten alone with butter, meat, or baked or fried into fritters and loaves.

6. Arancini

The perfect street snack for walking the streets of Italy, this handheld delight is native to Sicily. Arancini are balls of rice filled with an assortment of cheese, meats, sauce, and vegetables deep fried in a coat of breadcrumbs.

Pair this with a side of pomodoro dipping sauce and a glass of champagne for a truly authentic and delicious Italian experience!

7. Truffles

Italy has long been known for a species of fungus that can only be found in subterranean areas, usually under tree roots: the white truffle. These truffles are most commonly found in the Alba and Piedmont regions, where you can even experience a unique festival dedicated to their flavors.

Regardless of the species of truffle you try, adding it to any dish can upgrade it to gourmet status. Because of their rarity and flavor, they can be quite pricey. But if you’re taking a trip to Italy, this is a must-try food!

8. Focaccia

Focaccia is an Italian comfort food that’s recently become a staple part of other cuisines around the world due to its simplicity and heartwarming taste.

Made from a mixture of flour, water, salt, yeast, and topped off with olive oil, Focaccia is another Italian dish that can be customized in various ways. Don’t let the simplicity fool you, though. To get the perfect focaccia, one must master the art of dough and oil manipulation, as well as using the exact oven temperature. Don’t feel like trying to perfect your focaccia technique? Sample this must-try food on your next trip to Italy!

9. Carbonara

Ask any culinary expert and they’ll tell you that carbonara is one of the hardest dishes to master. The basis of the dish is quite simple: eggs, pasta, pecorino cheese, black pepper, and cured guanciale (pork cheek).

Italian-cuisine connoisseurs say that imitations of this dish (such as those that use cream and bacon) are nowhere near as delicious as the real deal. Be sure to ask locals for their favorite Carbonara in Italy — a true taste of it can change your life.

10. Digestivos

Not to be confused with the Scottish biscuits, Digestivos (or ‘digestives’) are a family of drinks in Italy that are usually consumed after a large meal. They are used to wash-down all the bread and pasts you ate so you won’t be walking around feeling like an inflated balloon! There isn’t much evidence that says these drinks actually help settle the stomach, but who doesn’t like a good mix of fruit, sugar, herbs, and alcohol after a large meal? These drinks come in a variety of flavors and combinations, so feel free to try a few (or all) of them!

What dishes will you try on your trip to Italy?


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