Top 6 Must-Try Foods during Your Trip to Italy

Written by Emily March 9, 2016

More true-to-size and look, these seafood cicchetti's were the best I had!

Although larger than most that we saw, these made for the perfect afternoon snack.

Delicious, but BEWARE: hard to peel!

A great place to get fresh fruit and interact with some locals! We stumbled upon this little market in one of the towns of Cinque Terre.

I wasn't kidding about the head thing-even the eyes are still on!

Excuse the orange lighting-we were under a heat lamp! Trying a sampler appetizer platter is a great way to test lots of new food you may be unsure about.

We ordered an appetizer plate that was said to have foods only indicative of Florence. This one was great...minus the liver!

Made of grilled chicken, bread, and sausage all in a delicious marinade, this lunch was fabulous!

Nothing better than a nice homemade meal to come home after a twelve hour day of exploring!

I had the amazing opportunity of spending this last week on a lil’ Tour De Italy, with an added bonus of having my mom by my side (S/O mom for the unforgettable trip!). We bounced from Venice to Cinque Terre to Siena to Florence. Along the way we had our fair share of museums, churches, and exploring, but best of all, we had more than our fair share of FOOD!

Taste-testing foods indicative of where we were visiting was on the top of our list and, I must say, we did not disappoint. Aside from the “classic” Italian basics here is a list of the more obscure, must-eat Italian foods that are must-tries while traveling throughout Italy:

Cicchetti: These are small snacks or side dishes, much like tapas. They’re traditional of Venice, with a “bacari”, or cicchetti bar, seemingly located on every corner. Let me tell you, these little guys are delicious. What we saw most in Venice was various seafood, olives, vegetables, and cheeses atop bread. While one or two of these make for a great snack, you can also make a meal out of them if you order a few different types. Visiting a series of these cicchetti bars is great fun, and you’re bound to see many locals hanging out here as well.

Pro-tip: Cicchetti is typically eaten around lunch or for an afternoon snack. It is also most common to eat these standing up around the counter where they are displayed. Also—it is both acceptable and encouraged to use your fingers to eat these!

Olives: I could go on about olives. These are best picked up from a local supermarket or deli and are the perfect accompaniment to any meal! For true authentic Italian olives, stick with black, green, or red colors. The salty, sweet flavors pair well with an afternoon cheese plate, pasta dinner, or with your morning oatmeal (okay this didn’t exactly pair well together, but I am definitely guilty of doing it nonetheless).

Pro-tip: Olives range widely in price, depending on their freshness. I would recommend spending the few extra dollars here. You’ll be able to taste the difference!

Pecorino and Ricotta Cheese: I spent much of my spring break trip in the Tuscan region, so I became well acquainted with the cheese. The most popular Tuscan cheese is Pecorino, which is made from sheep’s milk and can be eaten soft or aged. I only tried it aged and man was it sharp! This tasted best over pasta rather than eating pieces of it directly. Ricotta is also a must-try while in Italy. A soft, fresh cheese made from ewe’s milk, ricotta tastes best smeared on fresh bread or mixed into pasta sauce. We also stumbled upon a pop-up market with more fresh cheeses than I’d ever seen before. Typically you can get cheese in small quantities. Find a few you like and buy a little bit of them all. Cut them up with some olives and prosciutto and you’re well on your way to a true Italian snack!

Pro-tip: Ask the person at the counter if you can sample a few-they’re usually more than willing to cut off little bites for you to try.

Seafood-based Dishes: Especially if you are around water, ordering seafood is a must. Some of the restaurants we passed were owned by a couple, where the husband brings in his fresh catches every evening and that’s what is cooked up and served that night. I don’t think it gets fresher than that! The seafood, especially in Cinque Terre, tasted better than any other seafood I’ve ever had. We had fresh octopus, tuna steaks, lobster, clams, anchovies, and shrimp galore.

Pro-tip: Beware! Most seafood comes with the head still on, which makes actually getting the meat out a bit trickier and often times there isn’t much substance when all is said and done. Beware of this when ordering!  

 Panna Cotta: The perfect Italian dessert to top off any meal. Panna cotta is made of sweetened cream and set with a small amount of gelatin and often has vanilla, caffe, or chocolate flavors within. It’s the perfect balance between not too heavy and not too light. I saw this dish, or a variation of it, on almost every dessert menu. Give it a try!

Pro-tip: Pair this with an after-dinner espresso! Delizioso!

Chicken Spiedini: Also very popular around Italy, we found this delicacy from a food cart in Cinque Terre. It was a shish kabob consisting of chicken, sausage, and bread, all dipped into a magical marinade and grilled over a fire. They were 2.50 euro each and debatably the best meal I ate over the entire week (while sitting on a bench next to a dumpster…no shame).

Pro-tip: Don’t be afraid to buy unfamiliar foods at local meat and fruit markets. They are sometimes the yummiest and are often most true to Italian eating! Buon Appetito!

That’s all I have for you—enjoy!