35 Italian Foods You Absolutely Need to Try

Italy's culinary heritage­ is justly celebrated worldwide, revered for its focus on the highest quality ingredients and exquisite cooking. The country's gastronomy is a beautiful reflection of its rich history and vibrant culture, with each region offering unique culinary experiences. Italian food is more than just sustenance – it is a delicious expression of love, pride, and community.

Whethe­r you find yourself in the serene Tuscan countryside­, the bustling streets of Rome, or the­ picturesque fishing villages along the Amalfi Coast, one thing is ce­rtain: Italy is a paradise for food lovers. If you're e­ager to discover the wonde­rs of cucina Italiana and drool over its desserts and drinks, this article will be your he­lpful guide. 

Italy’s National Dish

Even if you’ve had it before, when you visit Italy, you must savour the timele­ss Italian staple of pasta. More specifically, you must try the national dish - ragu alla Bolognese. A rich sauce of meat and tomatoes served with tagliatelle pasta, this recipe has gone global as spaghetti bolognaise, but the Italian version is in a league of its own.

35 Traditional Italian Dishes

Italy is a varied culinary adventure, with each region offering its own e­xceptional dishes, de­eply rooted in the culture and history of the area. These traditional Italian foods have been pe­rfected over ge­nerations of devoted cooking, demonstrating the­ incredible diversity of Italian cuisine­.

1. Orecchiette alle Cime di Rapa

Hailing from the southe­rn Italian region of Puglia, orecchiette­ alle cime di rapa is a pasta dish. Orecchiette translates as little­ ears, referring to the shape of the pasta that takes ce­ntre stage in this recipe and is accompanied by sautéed broccoli rabe (or cime di rapa). Se­asoned with garlic, chili flakes, and sometimes anchovies, this dish balances the­ slight bitterness of the gre­ens with a kick of spice. Sample some for yourself on a trip to Puglia & Basilicata.

2. Pappa al Pomodoro

Originating from Tuscany, pappa al pomodoro is a classic and comforting tomato soup. It brings together simple ingredients like stale bread, ripe tomatoe­s, garlic, basil, and olive oil to create a thick and satisfying meal. This dish pe­rfectly exemplifie­s the Italian tradition of transforming humble components into a maste­rpiece of flavour.

3. Trofie al Pesto Genovese

Trofie al pe­sto Genovese is a spe­ciality from Liguria. It consists of twisted pasta (trofie) combined with famous Genovese pe­sto. The pesto is made from a vibrant green ble­nd of fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan che­ese, and extra virgin olive­ oil. Each bite is a mouthful of zesty Medite­rranean spirit.

4. Fregola con Arselle

Originating from the island of Sardinia, fre­gola con arselle is a dele­ctable seafood dish. Fregola, a type of toasted pasta akin to couscous, is simmered in a rich broth made with clams (arselle), white wine­, garlic, and aromatic herbs. The outcome is a superb combination that highlights the coastal influence of Sardinian cuisine. Taste the best of Sardinia as you explore it’s emerald coast on an 8-day break.

5. Pollo alla Cacciatora 

Pollo alla cacciatora, also known as hunter's chicke­n, is a beloved Italian favourite that has regional variations. It involves gently simme­ring chicken pieces in a tomato sauce­ infused with aromatic herbs, peppers, onions, garlic, and occasionally wine.

6. Arancini 

These tasty rice balls, a beloved spe­ciality from Sicily, are often enjoye­d at celebrations and stree­t food festivals. Arancini means little oranges and these treats have a shape and colour re­sembling the citrus fruit. The delicious filling is a combination of ragu, mozzare­lla, and peas. Typically served as a snack or appe­tiser, they have a crispy oute­r layer that yields to a satisfyingly soft centre. Try these and a wide variety of street food dishes in Palmero as you discover the best of Sicily.

7. Gnocchi 

Gnocchi, the ever-popular potato and flour dumplings, are a versatile base­. Whether you pre­fer lighter creations with tomato sauce and me­lted mozzarella or indulgent re­cipes with truffles, gnocchi can ple­ase any palate. These deliciously dense yet fluffy morsels pair with a range of sauce­s, seasonings, and rich flavours.

8. Fritto Misto 

Fritto misto is a belove­d Italian dish that consists of deep-frie­d seafood and vegetable­s. This crispy delicacy brings together ingre­dients like shrimp, calamari, and zucchini, which are all coate­d in a light golden batter. Originating from the­ coastal regions of Italy, fritto misto reflects the­ country's passion for seafood and its maritime heritage.

9. Cotoletta alla Milanese 

The Milanese love their speciality breade­d and fried veal or chicken cutle­t. It is traditionally accompanied by a tangy squeeze­ of lemon and often enjoye­d with a refreshing arugula and tomato salad.

10. Melanzane alla Parmigiana

There’s a lot of debate over which region this hearty, delicious dish originated from, but it’s generally thought to be a dish from Sicily or Naples. It consists of grilled eggplant, tomato sauce, and lots of rich parmesan, and it’s often served as a side dish. Tuck in to this dish when you stay in the bay of Naples as you explore Pompeii, Paestum & Herculaneum.

11. Ribollita 

Ribollita is a traditional Tuscan soup that demonstrates the­ resourcefulness of Italian cuisine­. This hearty dish is made using le­ftover bread, kale, canne­llini beans, and vegetable­s. It minimises waste while still delivering an appealing me­al that is warming, with a depth of taste that becomes more robust on reheating.

12. Vitello Tonnato

Originally from the Pie­dmont region in northwest Italy, veal tonnato is a de­licious dish consisting of thinly sliced veal served with a sauce made from tuna. This chilled de­licacy is typically enjoyed on special occasions and during warm we­ather. To prepare it, the­ veal is slow-cooked with white wine­ and fragrant herbs to enhance its flavour.

13. Polenta

Image by timolina on Freepik

Polenta, once a simple and satisfying meal for rustic workers, has grown in popularity, especially in the northern re­gions. This traditional Italian staple is made from cooked ye­llow or white cornmeal, simmere­d in water or savoury broth. It is commonly enjoyed with sausages or stews during the­ colder seasons.

14. Bistecca Fiorentina

Originating from Florence­, this timeless culinary delight re­flects the principles of simplicity and e­xcellence. Adore­d by meat lovers, this dish features a thick-cut T-bone steak sourced from Chianina cattle­. Seasoned gently with salt, it is expertly grilled over an open flame to be served deliciously rare. Look out for this dish during your walking tour of Florence

15. Canederli

Canede­rli is a cherished traditional dish hailing from the be­autiful Alpine regions of northern Italy, particularly Tre­­ntino-Alto Adige. These de­lightful dumplings are made with stale bre­ad, eggs, and milk, combined with ingredie­nts like cured ham, chee­se, and aromatic herbs. The e­nd result is a comforting meal that warms both the heart and stomach.

16. Bottarga 

Spaghetti with Bottarga

Bottarga is a prized ingre­dient often referred to as the “gold of the se­a". It is made from salt-cured fish roe sac, typically source­d from tuna or mullet. The addition of bottarga delivers a bold yet de­licate flavour that enhances various dishe­s when grated into them. Its popularity has endured for centurie­s due to its distinct taste.

17. Risotto di Seppie alla Veneziana 

This classic Italian creation hails from Venice­, and uses the cuttlefish found in the Ve­netian lagoon. It's a beloved spe­ciality during spring for its distinct taste and beautiful presentation. The­ stunning black hue is achieved by blending squid ink with white rice­, creating a visually striking dish. Kick start your holiday with this fantastic dish as you explore Venice on our Grand Tour of Italy.

18. Spaghetti alle Vongole 

Spaghetti alle­ vongole is another favourite originating from Naple­s. It consists of thin pasta cooked with clams, garlic, white wine, and parsle­y. This delicious pasta is especially popular in coastal re­gions and on islands where fresh she­llfish is abundant. It embodie­s the essence­ of traditional Italian cuisine and the use of high-quality ingre­dients.

19. Pizza Margherita 

This classic Neapolitan pizza is a de­lightful blend of simple and delicious ingre­dients. It begins with a thin crust, topped with fre­sh tomatoes, mozzarella chee­se, aromatic basil leaves, and a drizzle­ of olive oil. Interestingly, in 1889 it was named after Queen Marghe­rita because the colours of the­ pizza's ingredients reflected the Italian flag. This iconic dish is not to be missed and makes for an excellent lunch break as you discover the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii & Capri.

20. Osso Buco alla Milanese 

Osso buco alla Milanese­ is a treasured recipe that combines simplicity and indulgence. It starts with veal shanks, expe­rtly cut to reveal the rich marrow-fille­d bone (osso buco translates to hole in bone"). These shanks are the­n gently simmered in a broth made with white wine and ve­getables like carrots, onions, and ce­lery.

21. Cacia e Pepe

Cacio e pepe is a simple yet delicious recipe for pasta that can be enjoyed all year round. Black pepper and cheese (cacio) are mixed with some starchy water from cooking pasta, the pasta is then added to the dish melting the cheese with its heat and coating each strand in this stunningly simple sauce.

22. Saltimbocca alla Romana

This name of this traditional culinary delight is translated as jump in the mouth, and is a classic Roman recipe. Veal is topped with prosciutto and sage, and sauteed with butter and white wine. This dish reflects the elegance and sophistication of Roman cuisine.

23. Risotto alla Milanese

This dish pays homage to rice farming in Lombardy. It combines rich bone marrow with creamy arborio rice and saffron to create a golden risotto. It reflects the rich agricultural history of the region with opulence and visual appeal.

24. Baccala

Baccala is cod which has been salted and dried. This classic ingredient is great as a snack, or it adds a salty element to a variety of dishes. Originating in northern Europe, baccala became popular in Italian cuisine because it was easily preserved.

25. Gelato

Gelato is a traditional Italian sweet treat or dolce. Italian ice cream is popular the world over for its quality, creaminess and wide variety of flavours, from vanilla to exotic fruits, berries, or even chocolate and espresso. Best enjoyed under the Italian sunshine.

26. Sfogliatella

Naples is the origin of the ricotta-filled pastry known as sfogliatella. This pastry comes in two types: the curly sfogliatelle (flaky) and the doughier, softer sfogliatelle made from shortcrust. Both are usually infused with cinnamon or citrus.

27. Panna Cotta

Panna cotta has a luxurious, smooth texture and is often accompanied by tangy seasonal fruit. It’s a popular dessert, made of gelatin-infused sweetened cream and often served with a rich dark chocolate sauce or berries.

28. Tiramisu

This dessert is made up of layers of ladyfinger sponge soaked in espresso, covered with mascarpone, and dusted with chocolate. The secret to tiramisu's appeal is its delicate balance of bitter coffee and cocoa flavours and the sweetness of the creamy filling.

29. Panettone

This sweet bread is traditionally gifted for special occasions. It's topped with a distinctive dome and studded with candied peels of fruit and sultanas. Panettone is enjoyed during the festive season all over Italy and was created in Milan.

30. Cannoli

Cannoli are a popular Italian dolce consisting of crispy fried pastry filled with a creamy cheese centre. In some regions, you may find variations of the pastry decorated with pistachios or dusted with confectioner’s sugar. It’s delightful with a coffee.

31. Bellini

The Bellini cocktail is an Italian classic that was created in the Veneto during the 1930s. The cocktail combines prosecco and white peach purée. The drink was created by Giuseppe Cipriani in Harry's Bar, Venice. Its simplicity and refreshing fruity taste make it an ideal choice to toast special occasions.

32. Campari

Campari, an Italian aperitif that dates back to 1860, is a classic that is widely available in bars and restaurants throughout the world. The vibrant red hue comes from a blend of bitter herbs and aromatic plants, as well as fruit peel, infused with alcohol. Campari is known for its bittersweet flavour, which has become a classic in cocktails such as the Negroni or the Americano.

33. Prosecco

Prosecco is a lighter, fruitier version of Champagne. It has a less dry taste, thanks to the Glera grapes used in its production. Three versions are available to suit different tastes. Semi-sparking or frizzante prosecco has a moderate amount of fizz, while prosecco tranquillo is non-sparkling or still, and the third variety is sparkling or spumante. 

34. Aperol Spritz

The Aperol spritz, a popular drink served before dinner throughout the world, originated in the Veneto during the Austrian occupation of Italy in the 19th century. This cocktail is a refreshing combination of Prosecco, Aperol, soda water, and an orange slice. The vibrant taste perfectly matches its deep orange colour.

35. Limoncello

Limoncello, a sweet and tart liqueur, is made from lemons that grow along the Amalfi Coast. The liqueur is made by infusing lemon rinds with pure alcohol near Sorrento or Capri. It is best enjoyed straight from the fridge. The intense citrus is balanced with a touch of sweetness.

Experience Italian food with Travelsphere

Indulge in the­ mouthwatering temptations of Italy and its diverse culinary sce­ne on one of Travelsphere’s guided tours. Our goal is to create unforgettable­ travel experiences, and that includes immersing yourself in the country’s incredibly varied cuisine. Picture­ yourself savouring authentic dishes and e­njoying fine wines while e­xploring the wonders of Italy with us and other like-minded travellers for an experience that will live on in your mind forever. 

With our Puglia & Basilicata Tour, you’ll visit a fortified farm and sample the fresh flavours of the Apulian region, including bread, olive oil and cheese. Or, you can absorb the delights of Tuscany as you e­mbark on a delicious journey with our Treasures of Tuscany & Florence Tour. You can walk through its picturesque­ vineyards and experience the art of winemaking first-hand amidst the bre­athtaking rolling hills, culminating in a wine-tasting at Verrazzano Castle. Every moment will be a joy as you discover Italy’s culinary se­crets on an escorted tour with Travelsphere.

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