Italian Cuisine: 10 iconic foods you have to try -Chillitos

 You can't try everything in Italy, and that's the hardest part of eating there. There is a finite amount of space in your stomach each day for meals, but there seems to be an infinite amount of Italian dishes you have to try. Italian cuisine consists of regional specialties to the finest seasonal delicacies, and even that isn’t enough before you even consider desserts and drinks. We put together this small bucket list so you don't have to panic about what foods to try on your trip. Our list here is far from exhaustive – we have avoided foods like cured meats and cheeses because they are a whole separate world – but there are some dishes that everyone should try at least once while visiting Italy. All of the ingredients in this dish represent the spirit and heart of the cooking traditions throughout the country. We’d love to hear of any dishes we've missed, and we know we're not the only ones. Please post it in the comments.

Italian Cuisine: 10 iconic foods you have to try -Chillitos
Italian Cuisine: 10 iconic foods you have to try -Chillitos

1. Pizza

Pizza has been around since before unification Italy, but it is perhaps the most common and representative dish to represent the country. It's been the nation's favorite fast food or snack for generations, especially since tomato sauce was added to pizzas in Naples. While visiting the bustling Italian city of Naples on her kingdom's tour in 1889, Queen Margherita requested that there be a dish that she saw so many of her subjects eating. The Margherita pizza is thought to be created by a local entrepreneur when he prepared a pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil. No matter if this is a coincidence or no matter if it's intentional, the Margherita flag also displays colors from Italy.

Italian pizza consists of two types: Neopolitan-style pizza and Roman-style pizza although many delivery places offer something in between the two. A Neapolitan-style pizza tends to have a thicker, fluffy crust, with a smaller diameter because the dough isn’t stretched as thinly and it’s more filling. Italian pizza is thicker but lighter and typically not as glutenous as its American counterpart. It has a thin, paper-thin crust and just the right amount of crunch (you don't want it too soggy).

Throughout Italy, arguments rage on whether Naples is the birthplace of modern pizza, however, due to its history with Queen Margherita. What matters is that you should try to have fewer toppings on your pizza in Italy. Pizzerias that pile their pizzas with toppings shouldn't be trusted either – this is often used as a means of deceiving customers. Each topping has to be exemplary, so fewer toppings symbolize confidence in the product. No matter what pizza you prefer, if you visit Rome, do as the Romans do. If you visit Naples, go as the Neapolitans do.

2. Bottarga

A smoked egg from the rat of the sea. Huh? Don’t be offended by this description of an Italian delicacy because bottarga can also be described as “Sicilian Caviar”.South Italians salt, press and air dry grey mullet roes in August and September, and then leave them for six months. A solid hunk of eggs the color of blood oranges blooms into a magnificently savory, smoky, and briny bouquet when sliced and eaten or grated onto pasta. Though in the past this method was mainly used by people with little means to preserve seafood, it is now considered as one of the most sought after and luxurious foodstuffs in Italy, right next to truffles (more on those later). Our recommendation is to chopped it up and toss it with pasta or slice it thinly with lemon juice and olive oil.

3. Lasagna

Lasagne is a wide, flat meal filled with lots of sauce. Like many traditional Italian dishes, its origins are hotly debated, but we can at least say that its traditional homeland is the Emilia-Romagna region.

In addition to ragù, béchamel sauce, and cheese, usually Parmigiano Reggiano or mozzarella, traditionally lasagna did not contain tomatoes (those came from the New World in the 16th century). In a traditional ragu, only a small amount of tomato sauce or tomato paste is used, contrary to most dishes in American Italian cuisine, which are drowning in tomato sauce. American palates may find it jarring sometimes, even though this technique concentrates the flavor of the meat.

Even though you can get lasagna anywhere in Italy, there’s nothing like a homemade version with fresh ragù and homemade noodles in Emilia Romagna.

4. Fiorentina Steak

Florentine steaks, also known as fiorentina steaks, encompass everything good about real carnivorous dishes: precise cuts of meat from specific cows prepared with specific preparation techniques in a specific region.

An enormous steak from a Tuscan cow's loin, bistecca fiorentina is an extremely rare cut with a thickness of at least 5 centimeters. Depending on the thickness and how thin it is, 5 to 7 minutes are cooked on each side. The interior remains very rare that way. I don't think a medium-well-done steak is appropriate here since the meat is too thick to even consider it.

Although the Florentine steak has a lot of dogmas attached to it, there are some variations. For one thing, there are options other than the Chianina cow. Many Florentines accept new breeds, but others remark that the Chianina produces the best t-bones because of the size and muscle. In doubt, simply ask. Florence prefers the high cuts, typically closer to the rib cage, which contains the unique piece of meat known as bistecca Nella costola, the steaks further south in Tuscany usually have a lower cutting surface, thus a more subtle and yielding cut. 

However, Florentines cite the bistecca nella costola as the better. Because the meat is handled more, the meat is more flavorful.

You can get whichever cut, this is something only to be enjoyed in Tuscany – either in Florence or the country. We recommend sharing this dish with others when it comes to ordering, especially since the weight of a portion goes up with two people.

5. Ribollita

It wouldn't be right to discuss Tuscany without also mentioning this hearty soup so popular that Campbell's now makes a version of it. The vegetable soup, rooted in the peasant cuisine of the region, is thickened with bread instead of meat, as that is what was more readily available and cheaper in the desperately poor Italian countryside for hundreds of years. Autumn is the perfect season for rustic dishes like Tuscan pumpkin soup, which is packed with the autumn harvest's plump sweetness despite its absence of meat. In the trattorie in Florence, this stew is usually eaten as a first course instead of pasta. It shows off the immense power of great produce and often goes untapped.

6. Polenta

In contrast to the common notion, pasta is mostly associated with southern Italy. However, until fairly recently, polenta was the staple dish of the northern part of the boot. Originally this corn mush was made from whatever starches were handy, including acorns and buckwheat. On the other hand, variations are caused by the coarseness of the kernels of corn ground. Polenta became the dominant ingredient of polenta after corn became the dominant ingredient in Europe in the 16th century. In contrast to pasta, which has a wider variety of shapes and textures, polenta goes especially well with meat stews and is one of the most comfort foods you can eat when the temperatures drop in cities such as Milan, Turin, and Venice. Look for it compressed into mush, or it could be mixed with cornflake flakes and fried into fritters. You shouldn't miss it in the dish coming next...

7. Ossobuco

There is a venal shank dish said to be world famous known as ossobuco alla milanese, which is traditionally cooked in a consommé of meat broth, white wine, and veggies until the meat is melt in your mouth tender. There are as many versions of this marvel as there are nonnas in the region of Lombardy, which is famous for its hearty dishes that help stave off the chill this winter. But for obvious reasons, the Milanese claim these to be their own. Although ossobuco (or ‘hollow bone’) is a popular delicacy, it’s not always found on restaurant menus since it takes three hours to cook it. 

If you have the opportunity to eat it in a restaurant or at your own home, or to cook it for yourself, you should take advantage of it. Additionally, it’s usually paired with polenta or the following item.

8. Risotto

Italian starches complete the holy trinity with the rice, which is typically made into creamy, luxurious risotto. Even though Italians aren't big rice eaters, because they have so much pasta and polenta, they are the biggest rice producers in Europe. The northern regions of Italy, particularly Lombardy and Piedmont, are often referred to as Italy’s rice bowl, while the southern regions of Italy are often referred to as the country’s breadbasket. In many of the country’s vast rice paddies, the Arborio and Carneroli varieties are grown. These rice varieties are then turned into one of Italy’s most iconic dishes by being combined with stock and heated at low heat. According to legend, the risotto alla milanese was invented by the workers building the Milan Cathedral during the mid-15th century, who used saffron to dye the stained glass windows but found it tasted good in their rice. The dish is also known as risotto nero di sepia, which consists of cuttlefish and ink, as well as risi e bisi, which contains squid and peas, and hails from Venice.

9. Carbonara

You can go to Italy without eating anything but pasta. We know this because we've done it. Carbonaria may be one of the more controversial pastas on the bucket list (you can share your desert island pastas in the comments). You’d think this dish is easy to make, but it takes a lifetime to master, and a well-made version will change your life. It’s prepared with egg, pecorino cheese, cured guanciale, and black pepper. Although many imitations are produced – namely, those thickened with cream or using bacon in place of guanciale – we refuse to accept any. The taste is simply too different. Roman cuisine is known for its risotto, but there are plenty of places in Rome that can and do make it wrong. Getting a recommendation from a local is probably the best way to ensure you're getting the best dish. You're not seeking a great restaurant per se, but one that specifically serves the perfect carbonara.

10. Truffles

I would love to purchase some truffles, but you have to know that they can only be purchased in Italy! These tubers can only be found underground, and are only found by sending dogs or pigs to sniff them out in the wild forests and mountains of Umbria and Piedmont.

Italy has two types of truffles, the white truffle, which is rarer and more aromatic, and the black truffle, which is a little less aromatic, but more common. 

Several consumers liken the flavor to gasoline – those not enthusiastic about it might say it is unpleasant. Yet they remain incredibly popular, and Italian Tartufo is one of the most popular fall foods in Italy!

Thinking of trying them on your next trip? The first thing is to locate yourself. It grows naturally all over Umbria, Tuscany and Piedmont, which is why you would be more likely to run into local dishes prepared with fresh truffles if you travel to these regions during autumn. Otherwise, the truffles that you get during the other months are imported or frozen, and they are not nearly as good. If you have a chance to go to truffle country in the fall, head to a sagra festival on the best white truffles in the world when it takes place in Piedmont in October and November.

The best way to try truffles if you have never tried them is to start off with a fresh pasta dish covered with thin shavings of truffle, but there are plenty of other options to choose from! Truffles are commonly used as a garnish on pasta, risotto, and omelets, as well as used in dishes with steak or other meat.

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