8 Must-Try Italian Dishes for Tourists

At one point in time you’ve probably tasted food that originated from Italy. But now that you’ve got the chance to travel to Italy for holiday, it’s time to taste those foods the way the Italians make it. 

Italian dishes are so diverse, you’ll be overwhelmed with what they have available. Although one of the best ways to try the best Italian food is on a food tour of Rome, it’s good to have a bucket list of Italian food you must try while you’re in Italy. 

One major thing you need to take note of is that you need to be mindful of the “hidden rules” of eating in Italy. So before ordering a meal, acquaint yourself with everything you should know about eating in Italy. It’ll help you a lot and save you from being embarrassed. 

In this article, I’ll share with you some of Italy’s most famous dishes you must not miss when you travel to Italy. Some of these dishes may be familiar to you, but nothing beats its original Italian flavor. 

  • Risotto

The luxurious risotto is made of rice which is cooked in rich stock to form a delicious semi-soup. This rice dish will blow you away with it’s tantalizing flavors. The most popular risotto in Italy is the risotto alla Milanese. This risotto is made with saffron. 

You’ll find it interesting that although this rice dish is from Italy, Italians aren’t huge rice eaters. Pasta’s more their thing. Be this as it may, Italy is the largest producer of rice in Europe. The rice used to make risotto are the Carnaroli and the Arborio. 

  • Lasagna 

Lasagna is an amazing dish, but no one does it quite like the Italians do. Lasagna is made out of alternating layers of a flat pasta noodle and meat and cheese. The lasagna you’re probably familiar with has tomato sauce, but the traditional lasagna isn’t made with tomatoes. This is because a typical Italian lasagna is focused more on the flavor of the meat.

Italian lasagna is made of a meat-based Bolognese sauce called ragù, béchamel sauce and mozzarella or Pamigiano Reggiano (or a mix of both cheeses). 

  • Pizza

Ever tried a Margherita pizza before? There’s an interesting story behind it. When Queen Margherita was on a tour of her kingdom, she wanted to try the dish that her subjects were eating. She was served a pizza that had tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil which interestingly represented the colors of the Italian flag. Ever since then that pizza was called – you guessed it – Margherita Pizza. Next time you order a Margherita pizza it will be a lot more meaningful to you. 

In Italy there are typically two major types of pizza: the Neapolitan-style pizza and the Roman-style pizza. The Neapolitan-style pizza, although smaller in size, is more filling. This is because the dough is thicker and not completely rolled out. The Roman-style pizza on the other hand has a thinner crust and it’s comparatively larger than the Neapolitan-style pizza. 

  • Spaghetti alla Carbonara

If there’s any pasta you should taste first, then it’s got to be the Spaghetti alla Carbonara (or simply, Carbonara, for short). It may look like an ordinary spaghetti, eggs and cheese situation, but to prepare the best carbonara requires a lot of mastery. Some restaurants that claim to serve carbonara still get it wrong. 

The best carbonara is in Rome. This is because the carbonara is originally a pasta dish from Rome. It’s made of fresh eggs, Pecorino Romano cheese, pork jowl and seasoned with black pepper.  Imitations make use of cream and bacon, but no matter what they do, the taste is never the same. 

Aside from the expertise required to make a perfect carbonara, its history is shrouded in mystery. The name of the dish comes from the word carbonaro, which means charcoal burner which connotes that it was a dish popular among the Italian charcoal workers. However, some believe that the carbonara has a lot to do with an Italian secret society called Carbonari, meaning the charcoal men. 

  • Panzanella  

The Panzanella is a healthy tomato and bread salad originally from Tuscany. It’s made of leftover bread mixed with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, seasoned with basil and topped off with some olive oil and vinegar. It’s a wonderful dish to have during the summer. 

It’ll remind you of how the locals of Tuscany would relish their produce from the farm by whipping up a delicious bowl of Panzanella.

  • Focaccia 

Speaking of bread, in Italy there are so many different types of bread. And as you saw from the Panzanella, Italians know how to be creative with their bread and turn it into a delicious meal. However, there is one kind of bread that is really famous and that is the Focaccia. 

The Focaccia is a flatbread from Liguria. This flatbread will remind you of a pizza dough. The Focaccia is very salty and has a nice generous drizzle of olive oil. Other regions in Italy make their Focaccia a little different. For example, the Focaccia could be flavored with herbs and tomatoes. In Sardinia the Focaccia is more like a pita which is toasted, giving it that amazing crunch. 

  • Ossobuco alla Milanese

This mouthwatering delight is made of veal shanks that were beautifully cooked in meat broth, white wine and vegetables until nice and tender. It’s seasoned with a mix of lemon zest, parsley and garlic. This combination is called Gremolata. The Ossobuco usually goes well with the risotto alla Milanese. 

  • Gelato

I saved the best for last. Gelato is an Italian favorite and it would be a shame if you visited Italy without having a taste. Gelato is not necessarily a dish but since we’re talking about what to eat in Italy, this list wouldn’t have been complete without it.

Gelato is sold in what they call a Gelaterie. Gelato is so popular that there are about 37,000 Gelaterie in Italy. Gelato is not any ordinary ice cream. This ice cream contains less air, low fat and the flavors are exquisite because it’s all natural. Italians surely know how to make a mean ice cream. 

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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