14 Iconic Italian Foods You Have to Taste in Italy

7 shares Creating a shortlist of Italian foods is no easy task, but as an Italian who has lived abroad for many years, I know…

Creating a shortlist of Italian foods is no easy task, but as an Italian who has lived abroad for many years, I know my favorites. Whenever I return home, these are the dishes I eagerly seek out. If you visit Italy, you simply have to taste these iconic foods!

1. Neapolitan Pizza

neopolitan pizza
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It might sound cliche to an American, but pizza is still the most loved food by Italians. I’m living proof. But that’s only if we’re talking about genuine Neapolitan pizza. This has a sourdough base, which tastes like a donut minus the sugar. It’s the most delicious and filling pizza you’ll ever eat. You don’t need to visit Naples to eat it, but you’ll have to look for a restaurant with a Neapolitan pizzaiolo.

2. Polenta Taragna

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This simple dish brings me back to Sunday lunch with my family. It’s a blend of coarsely ground yellow corn and buckwheat flour boiled in water and cooked over a slow fire for 1 to 2 hours. Once it’s ready, you add cheese to it so it melts, and then serve it with fried butter and sage leaves. It’s addictive! You can pair it with mushrooms or roast meat. This is one to try if you visit northern Italy in the winter.

3. Parmigiana

parmigiana eggplant
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This is another very traditional dish that nearly every Italian loves. It’s an oven-baked dish made with fried sliced eggplant layered with Parmesan cheese, mozzarella, and tomato sauce. It’s super rich and flavorful. I tasted a homemade parmigiana made by a Sicilian woman, so nothing will ever compare. You can eat a good Parmigiana pretty much all over Italy.

4. Ligurian Focaccia

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I’ve always liked focaccia – flat-leavened Italian bread – especially with olive, cheese, or onion toppings. It’s hard to beat as an on-the-go lunch, and every Italian bakery nails the recipe. Focaccia made in Liguria, its home region, is superior, though. It’s super soft and deliciously oily. Buy a freshly baked one from a panetteria (bakery) and eat it while you stroll the narrow streets.

5. Buffalo Mozzarella

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You know the mozzarella you can buy at the store in the US? That tastes rubbish to an Italian – sorry. Buffalo mozzarella, made from Italian Mediterranean buffalo milk, is even better than genuine Italian mozzarella. It’s super rich, creamy, slightly pungent, and melts in your mouth. I love eating it with tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, and extra-virgin olive oil. You can buy a decent one in any Italian supermarket.

6. Trofie al Pesto

pesto on noodles
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This is another dish from the Ligurian cuisine. Trofie al pesto is a pasta dish with basil pesto. The unique soft consistency of trofie, a twisted pasta from Liguria, makes the pesto flavor stand out. It’s a unique pairing.

7. Porcini Risotto

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Risotto is one of my favorite dishes, and the porcini recipe is simply the best. Porcini is a type of wild mushroom that is nutty and earthy with a meaty flavor and texture. Porcini risotto is extra creamy and delicate at the same time. You have to try it. You’ll find it on the menu of most northern restaurants.

8. Farinata

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Farinata is a thin, unleavened pancake made from chickpea flour. Ligurians stuff it with all sorts of delicious delicacies, like Gongorzola (blue cheese), Parma Ham, vegetables, and more. I love its crumbly consistency and mild flavor. Like focaccia, this is a street food you can grab to eat while strolling. If you’re staying in an Airbnb in Liguria, chances are the owner will make you some.

9. Arancini

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Arancini are deep-fried stuffed rice balls. You can add ham, sausage, cheese, and more. All flavors are equally delicious if you ask me. Genuine arancini are moist and flavorful but not greasy. It’s hard to find good arancini out of Sicily, though – be warned.

10. Tiramisù

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I’ve ordered the same dessert at the restaurant since I was a kid. It’s always tiramisù. This dessert is made of Savoiardi cookies (Ladyfingers) dipped in coffee with a sugary mascarpone-based cream. It’s phenomenal. And I guarantee the Espresso in the cookies won’t keep you awake if you order it after dinner, especially if you’re stuffed full of delicious Italian food.

11. Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe

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This has to be one of the simplest Italian dishes. It’s just spaghetti with Pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper. That’s it. It sounds like nothing special, but it’s sublime. If you head to Rome or the surrounding area, you must order it at least once.

12. Pizza Fritta

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I promise this isn’t junk food – it’s a traditional Neapolitan street food. It’s a pizza that gets folded into two and dipped in a deep frier with seed oil. The deep-frying makes it taste even better than standard pizza. My favorite flavor is Parmigiana – the eggplant and cheese all melt together.

13. Sicilian Cannoli

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While tiramisù is hard to beat, I never say no to a cannolo. This is a tube-shaped shell of fried pastry dough filled with a sweet ricotta filling. It’s creamy, smooth, and crispy at the same time. Cannoli are a dessert but they aren’t too sweet because they have a slightly cheese flavor. It’s hard to find a bad cannolo, but if you happen to be In Sicily, you must try a traditional one.

14. Bottarga 

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You’ve probably never heard of bottarga. It’s a delicacy of salted and cured blue-fin tuna roe pouch traditional of Sardinia. Locals sprinkle a modest amount of it on pasta as a condiment, mixed in with the sauce. It tastes similar to caviar, but saltier. It’s excellent on crusty bread and pizza, too. 

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