best things to eat in Italy

best things to eat in italy

My husband and I recently spent a month discovering the best things to eat in Italy! When I was asked on Quora about the best Italian dishes we ate during our sojourn I couldn’t wait to share my list with everyone!

Some of the best dishes I tasted in Italy were in Tuscany, specifically Florence and Siena! Food in Italy is vastly different from what Americans think of as Italian food.

The first thing to note is that Italy didn’t become a country until the 1860’s. The area now known as Italy consisted of separate regions and kingdoms therefore there is not really a single cuisine that can be labeled Italian food; there is simply regional food from different parts of Italy (Tuscan, Sicilian, Roman, etc). Even within regions there are subcategories of food. For example, Siena and Florence are both in Tuscany but each city has a unique cuisine and a proud food culture. Heaven forbid you call a Sienese panforte Tuscan food in the presence of a local!

The best dish to taste in Italy will depend on what region and in what season you are visiting. Do your research to understand what dish/ingredient is native to the region at the time of your visit and don’t be afraid to try regional delicacies that seem unpalatable at first! I’ve listed some of my favorite dishes categorized by city.

Florence

  • Panini from All’Antico Vinaio
    • Panini and panino shops can be found throughout Florence but All’Antico was by far our favorite. They serve delicious, fresh sandwiches made on hot bread and stuffed with an assortment of meats, cheeses, and homemade spreads. My favorite combination featured Florentine salami, artichoke cream, and spicy sautéed eggplant.

best sandwiches in florence

  • Gelato from Vivoli
    • In my opinion, the best ice cream in the world is Italian gelato, the best gelato in Italy is in Florence, and the best gelato in Florence is from Vivoli! Following this line of reasoning, I officially declare Vivoli as purveyors of the best gelato in the world!
    • Vivoli is famous for their “crema” flavor (egg based custard – tastes like vanilla cake batter). My favorite flavors at Vivoli are tiramisu (real chunks of tiramisu included!), and cafe mousse

best gelato in florence

  • Vin Santo from any grocery store
    • The delicious caramel colored dessert wine can be found in little bottles throughout Tuscany.
    • Vin Santo is especially delicious when you dunk your almond chocolate biscotti (called cantuci in Italy) into the wine and let the cookie soak up the delicious libation.
  • Salami and cheese platter assembled from my favorite market in Florence, Sapori & Dintorni
    • There are several locations for this grocery store in Florence and you can stock up on amazing wine and beautiful antipasti ingredients.
    • We regularly devoured spreads like this with regional Chianti!

Siena

  • Pici pasta with aglione sauce
    • Pici is a Sienese pasta. The noodles are thicker than spaghetti and hand rolled, giving them a rustic texture that really holds on to the delightfully simple aglione (garlic) sauce. Top the noodles with pecorino cheese and enjoy with house wine!
  • Pastries from Nannini
    • The best pastries we ate anywhere in Italy were in Siena from a little shop called “Nannini”. I have at least five photos of my husband walking out of that store with a bag full of goodies in hand and a huge smile on his face!
    • The most authentic Sienese pastries from Nannini are:
      • Occhio di bue (bull’s eye) is a cookie sandwich made from two delicate shortbread cookies stuck together with a generous glob of nutella! The Occio di bue from Nannini are large and half of the cookie sandwich is dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with hazelnuts.
      • Panforte (strong bread) is the Sienese version of fruit cake with an elegant twist. Panforte is dense, sometimes contains chocolate, and is full of unique spices (even ground black pepper!). A small slice is very sweet and it’s all you need to enjoy with your tiny espresso.
      • Ricciarelli was my favorite Sienese pastry. It is an almond based cookie, crisp on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. It pairs well with Vin Santo and it’s absolutely delicious.
  • Wild boar in any form
    • Tuscany is replete with wild boar and you will find prosciutto stands on almost every narrow street.
    • The best boar that we ate was braised boar in a thick, tomato sauce from a charcuterie shop in Siena.

Rome

    • Rigatoni all’Amatriciana
      • When dining out in Rome we escaped the tourist traps and crossed the river to Trastevere. The restaurants were family run, quaint, and served locals. You can find amazing, fresh pasta dishes for under 10 euros served up with awesome house wine.
      • My favorite dish was fresh rigatoni noodles, cooked al dente, and coated with a spicy pancetta tomato sauce. It was so simple and delicious, I couldn’t wait to re-create the recipe in our air bnb!

Cinque Terre

  • Fritto Misto
    • While the cities in Italy featured various pasta dishes, the Cinque Terre was all about the seafood.
    • We enjoyed fresh caught calamari, anchovies (not the salty, canned stuff we think of in America), and shrimp lightly fried to perfection with a sprinkle of lemon juice!

After a beautiful month of traveling through Italy, my husband and I still remind each other of the places we visited by reminiscing about the food. There’s no better way to immerse yourself in a culture than to keep an open mind, eat what the locals eat, and dare to connect with fellow diners or restauranteurs despite language barriers. We will cherish our Italian food memories for years to come!

Do you have a favorite dish you tried in Italy? Share in the comments below!

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