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Exploring Italy’s historic roads and Roman architecture is sure to leave your throat parched and your stomach rumbling. Get ready to experience gastronomic delights on your platter — the famous Italian food the county is renowned for.
The average Italian menu includes a variety of food: from the universal pizza Margherita to the regionally varying pasta; there is something for everyone. Whether you’re a tourist or an expat in Italy, we’ve saved you the effort by listing here the top 10 Italian dishes—all must-try dishes while on an Italy vacation.
Ask for a ‘pit-zah’ in any Italian restaurant, and you’ll be treated to a 19th-century concoction of flat bread cooked with olive oil and garnished with humble tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. The three colors of Italy’s national flag are reflected in the Pizza Margherita. This pizza has successfully won several hearts with its impeccable taste.
Don’t let this humble preparation of the common man’s rice fool you with its simple appearance. This dish is an Italian version of rice cooked in vegetable or meat stock, cheese and wine after frying it briefly in soffritto (sautéed) onions. The end result has a signature creamy texture. Each grain of this creamy rice is fluidly textured yet is distinctly visible floating in the bowl. Although regional variations have given many flavors to the traditional Italian risotto, Milan’s risotto alla Milanese (which basically means ‘the risotto from Milan’) cooked in lard and beef stock and colored with saffron is a little slice of heaven on your plate.
Complement your risotto with ossobuco alla Milanese, literally translating to ‘a hollowed bone preparation of Milan’. Counted as Milan’s signature dish, the ossobuco alla Milanese is a dish of cross-cut veal shanks and every meat lover’s paradise. The dish is so rich in its ingredients that it is a complete meal on its own. Reserve a night in Milan especially for a dinner of authentic risotto and ossobuco.
The ribollita is a comforting preparation of seasonal vegetables thickened with bread. This Tuscan soup is a part of the la Cucina Povera or Italy’s “poor cooking” cuisine. Its origin can be traced back to the Middle Ages when peasants used the leftovers from royal feasts to prepare their meals. True to its meaning, ribollita was just re-boiled vegetable soup back then but its modern day version is flavored with herbs and spices. The sheer variety of vegetables used in its preparation is bound to bring back the comfort and taste of your mother’s home cooking.
The Sicilian caponata is a vegetarian’s answer to Milan’s ossobuco. To call it a blanched eggplant (or aubergine) salad cooked in tomato with stewed onion and celery would be sacrilegious. A titillating balance of the sweet, sour, and salty dressing creates an overwhelming explosion of flavors in your mouth. The caponata alla Siciliana transforms the simplest of vegetables into a delicious dish.
Tagliatelle alla bolognese is a ribbon-shaped pasta (Italian ‘pah-sta') served with a blend of minced meat and vegetable sauce. Honestly, there is a long list of the variety of pasta in Italy served with an exhaustive combination of sauces and herbs. To zero down on one of them wouldn’t be fair for the rest. This is one pick we don’t want you to miss because of the sheer discrepancy of its authentic bolognese ragu version from the westernized ‘spaghetti bolognese.’
To choose an ice-cream for dessert in Italy is to excise a vital part of Italy food tours. The land of gelato pampers your sweet tooth with ice-cream’s richer cousin in terms of density and texture and is more intense in flavor as well. Weight-watching visitors have a reason to rejoice here because it also tends to be lower in fat than other ice creams. Available in an assortment of flavors, gelato is served at a slightly higher temperature to preserve its rich and soft texture and is the perfect end to an authentic Italian dinner.
Desserts have an unbeatable quality of picking up or improving our mood. Italy takes it a step further and names a dessert after this very feeling! Tiramisu literally translates to ‘pull me up’ and is a heavenly layered blend of coffee, cream, eggs, finger biscuits, mascarpone cheese, sugar and a dash of cocoa. Modern day food connoisseurs have played with it to create a variety of styles of tiramisu, and you’ll find this variety of it in Italy.
Let us complete the dessert triad with the shy panna cotta that sometimes takes a back seat to gelato and tiramisu’s limelight but perhaps should not — the Italian ‘cooked cream’ is a combination of warm, rich cream and sugar pudding mixed with gelatin softened in a liquid at a lower temperature. Serve it with caramel, chocolate or berry coulis (thick sauce), as per your choice and feel like you are plunging into a pool of sweet delicacies.
Although not technically a dish of food, coffee is one thing that Italians love to sip throughout the day, so it deserves a mention on our top 10 list. Italy is so fond of coffee that it has coffee bars at every nook and corner. You order a cup of un caffè (and never an espresso, as it is widely known), cappuccino, a macchiato, marocchino, caffè latte, or caffè freddo, and you’re expected to finish it off in a shot without getting too comfortable in a seating. Don’t worry. We’re sure you’ll be heading for another round of caffeine in no time and when you exhaust the above varieties, you can look for the rest of the combinations of milk, water, and cocoa as you tread the streets of Italy.
A brief, short trip should give you enough time to try at least the above listed famous Italian food. But we’d be lying if we were to deem this list as complete. Italian cuisine is so profound and varied in its geography that trying everything on the menu on one visit would still do no justice. But that gives you reason to come back for more and delve in the land of gastronomic delights that has more to offer than just its food. On an ending note, if you're not able to visit Italy, you may find this Italian webshop of interest.
For a month-by-month rundown, read our travel article on the best time to visit Italy.
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