Che buono! One of the greatest compliments you can give an Italian is of their food. Italy is a diverse country that has an equally diverse cuisine, right from the Apennine Mountains to the heel of the boot. There are 20 regions that each have their own signature culinary delights so let’s dive into the kitchens of 10 delicious regions in Italy. We guarantee you’ll be licking your lips by the time you’ve finished reading…
1. Piedmont (capital city: Turin)
Partially bordered by the Swiss Alps, it’s fitting that Piedmont translates to “foot” (pied) and “hill” (monte). With the fertile Padana flats and the waters of the Po River used for irrigation, the region is rich and full of rice, fruit, vegetables, mushrooms and beef.
Must-try meals: Fassone Piemontese (local beef); Risotto ai Porcini (mushroom risotto); Tagliolini (hand-cut spaghetti-like pasta).
2. Lombardy (capital city: Milan)
Although being home to the fashion capital of the world – Milan – the Lombardy region is also home to the great lakes, a bustling economy and a few food traditions that shake their head at the norm. Here, you’ll find that rice trumps pasta; butter is more popular than olive oil; and there is a big emphasis on meat. Lombardy is also a cheese-lovers’ heaven, home to blue-veined Gorgonzola, tasty Provolone, and firm Gran Padano (just to name a few)!
Must-try meals: Osso Buco (braised veal with vegetables, white wine and broth); Cotoletta alla Milanese (crumbed veal); Panettone (cake).
3. Liguria (capital city: Genoa)
Stretching along the coast of the Italian Riviera, Liguria has the perfect mild climate for growing several classic Italian produces: pine nuts, olives, wild mushrooms and herbs. One of these herbs is basil, so combined with pine nuts, local olive oil, garlic and pecorino cheese, the famous Pesto alla Genovese is to die for! Liguria’s prime position along the coast means fresh fish is plentiful and often used in regional cooking.
Must-try meals: Coniglio alla Ligure (a rabbit dish); Ciuppin (fish stew); Porcini Fritti (breaded, fried mushrooms).
4. Veneto (capital city: Venice)
With the Dolomite mountains, the Adriatic Sea and all the land in between, the Veneto region has a variety of traditional dishes depending on the area you’re in. However, there are common ingredients used throughout like polenta, rice and beans. Risotto is a popular meal that Venetians like to cook with vegetables, beans, and a range of meats from quail to seafood to frogs. Desserts are also a standout here, including the most famous Italian dessert, tiramisu!
Must-try meals: Risi e Bisi (rice and peas); Spaghetti alla Vongole (with seafood); Pasta e Fagioli (with beans).
5. Tuscany (capital city: Florence)
Tuscany is one of the most-visited regions and it’s not hard to see why! With picturesque landscapes and ancient architecture, Tuscan food is prepared simply to showcase certain star ingredients. Barbecuing is popular, with vegetable skewers and meat cooked over the fire – including the famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak). Bread also plays a big part in daily Tuscan life; picture big, crusty, salt-free loaves eaten with most meals.
Must-try meals: Panzanella salad (salad with crumbled bread); Cacciucco (fish and seafood stew); Gnudi (ricotta dumplings).
6. Umbria (capital city: Perugia)
Located right in the heart of Italy, pork and black truffles are staples in any Umbrian kitchen. The Italian version of a roast pork (porchetta) is a favourite amongst locals, slow cooked on an open fire for a minimum of 8 hours. Cold cuts like prosciutto and salami are one-of-a-kind here, cured to a gold-star standard. Black truffles are plentiful here, and Umbrians prefer their truffles chunky (instead of shaven/grated).
Must-try meals: Mazzafegato (salami made with pork liver, orange zest, pine nuts and sultanas); Pasta alla Norcina (with truffles, garlic, anchovies and olive oil); Trote alle Nocciole (trout with hazelnuts and white wine).
7. Lazio (capital city: Rome)
With Rome as its capital, Lazio is probably the most historical region in Italy. As it’s a big tourist city, it can be a little harder to find an authentic meal but once you do, you’ll know you’ve hit the jackpot. If you stumble across Suppli al Telefono, these breaded mozzarella and rice croquettes will make your heart melt as much as the cheesy insides. Moving onto mains, Lazio is the birthplace of carbonara with guanciale (cured pork) the star of this famous pasta dish.
Must-try meals: Cacio e Pepe (spaghetti with pecorio romano cheese and black pepper); Saltimbocca alla Romana (veal cooked in a white wine sauce and topped with sage and prosciutto); Artichokes alla Romana (artichokes cooked in a garlic and herb oil).
8. Campania (capital city: Naples)
Simple is the name of the game in Campania, and they do it so well in across all regional dishes. The world’s first-ever pizzeria was opened in Naples so of course, you must have a slice while visiting! The fewer the toppings, the better. Campania also stretches to the Amalfi Coast so fresh seafood plays an integral part in the regional cuisine.
Must-try meals: Spaghetti alla Puttanesca (with tomato, capers, anchovies, basil and chilli); Mozzarella in Carrozza (deep-fried sandwich with mozzarella, tomato and basil); Impepata di Cozze (mussels with parsley, lemon and pepper).
9. Apulia (capital city: Bari)
Due to its location on the south-eastern shores of Italy, Apulia is lucky to have a temperate Mediterranean climate. Olives, grapes and figs grow plentifully inland, and the coastline provides fish and crustaceans. Apulia cuisine is said to be ‘cucina povera’ which translates to simple, peasant food. Much like the simplicity of its neighbour, Campania, this doesn’t mean it’s any less delicious!
Must-try meals: Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa (pasta with a turnip leaves sauce); Le Tielle (casserole with potatoes, vegetables and cheese); Friselle Pugliese (snack bread topped with fresh tomato, oregano and olive oil).
10. Sicily (capital city: Palermo)
Found just off the ‘toe’ of the boot, Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. With such rich, volcanic soil (due to Mount Etna), citrus, almonds and olives flourish. In the central parts of Sicily, meat is very common – think lamb, pork, rabbit and veal. Being an island, fishing is plentiful with tuna and swordfish caught daily. Desserts also play an integral part in Sicilian cuisine: cannoli and granita just to name a couple!
Must-try meals: Involtinin di Pesce Spada (crumbed and grilled swordfish); Caponata (eggplant stew); Cassata (sponge cake layered with ricotta and candied fruit).