One of the best ways to experience cultural immersion in Italy is simply to enjoy a delicious Italian meal!
Each region of Italy has unique specialties that have evolved throughout the centuries to perfectly combine the local in-season ingredients.
There are a few tricks to ensuring that you can enjoy the true local cuisine.
Firstly, most traditional eateries will have a limited menu with only several ‘antipasti’, ‘primi’ and ‘secondi’ dishes. Not many kitchens can produce hundreds of different recipes and maintain top quality.
If the menu is written in lots of different languages, it is likely targeting the tourist market, rather than returning locals. In this case, the focus on good food and service may be lacking.
Spaghetti Bolognese does not actually exist as a traditional dish in Italy. The meat sauce is usually called ‘ragù’ and more traditionally is served with pappardelle ribbon pasta or other varieties that better grip the chunky sauce. Seeing ‘Spaghetti Bolognese’ on a menu is often an indication that they are pointing towards the tourist market.
If dinner is being served at 6 pm (or worse – earlier!) it is definitely not an eatery for locals, who typically dine from 8 pm onward. If a gelato or pastry won’t tide you over until then, you could try an aperitivo from around 7 pm – a glass of wine or other beverage served with hors d’oeuvres.
Gelato usually costs around 2 euro for a small to medium serving. If you’re paying more than that, you may be falling into a tourist trap. Gelato should be made in smaller quantities to stay fresh, whilst the colours and flavours should truly reflect the colour of the flavouring ingredient. Check out the pistachio – if it is a nutty green (and not fluro-coloured), go for it! If you see gigantic mountains of brightly-coloured gelato, go elsewhere.
In Florence, which is a fair way away from the coast, seafood is not so common. Rather, one of the specialty dishes of Florence is the steak – Bistecca alla Fiorentina. In Venice however, the seafood is amazing. Rome is great for any dish titled ‘alla Romana’, such as artichokes and lamb.
And for great insight into the best places to eat in Italy, ask the locals! You can meet lots of foodie locals on our small-group Italian Food Tour in Florence!
To learn to make delicious, typical Italian recipes before indulging in a delicious meal made by you, we have hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.
For more ideas on Italy best travelled, see our Top Travel Tips for Trips to Italy series and be part of the Italy travel community for top travel tips.