Did you know that vacation experiences in Italy are your opportunity to discover Italy’s diverse regional foods?
Just as Americans eat more than just hamburgers and apple pie or Canadians maple syrup and back bacon, the foods you will encounter during Italy Tours and Italy vacation packages will vary region to region.
Although Italy is smaller than some American states and most Canadian provinces, it is comprised of 20 regions and home to nearly 60 million people. Not surprisingly, the varied geography and local foods greatly influence Italy’s regional cuisine. To give you some idea of the variety you will encounter across Italy, here are some of the culinary delights to watch for depending where you visit:
From the top
Which major city do you find in Italy across the border from Switzerland? Fashionistas know! Milan, of course. Whether you book our popular Private Walking Tour of Milan or a vacation package such as our Milan, Lake Como, & Venice Tour, watch for the cheeses, rice or polenta dishes, and wild game native to the Lombardy region. It’s probably not surprising that Italians this close to the Swiss with their love of fondues know a thing or two about exquisite cheese.
You must try some local cheeses while you are in Milan; ask for Formaggio latteria to taste the local cheeses. Rice dishes simmered with vegetables and meat are the local specialty, savory and delicious. Game meat is a staple throughout all mountain cities across Italy, especially veal, rabbit, or quail, but in cities like Milan you can also eat wonderful fish. Milanese aperitifs are like a meal and typically for a fixed price you can eat your fill. Drink orders are taken at the table.
If there is one dish we recommend you try in Milan it has to be the Milanese specialty Risotto allo Zafferano con Osso Buco. Tender veal shanks are first browned and then slow cooked in broth and tomatoes with onion, celery, carrots, and spices like garlic, bay leaves, and parsley. The meat and sauce are served with saffron risotto.
For wine, ask for Vino della Casa (the house wine) if you don’t want to have a full bottle of wine. If you are happy with a carafe of half a litre or less it is generally quite good and more economical. When you are in northern Italy you can also ask for a special after dinner coffee called caffe’ corretto. This is a delicious caffe’ espresso with a drop of grappa (brandy).
The Veneto region - the capital of which is Venice, the beautiful city of canals - has quite a bit of variety in cuisine depending whether you are near the coast, on the plains, or in the mountains. When you are enjoying Venice day tours you can sample many different selections, ranging from abundant seafood (eels, fish, clams, and shrimp to name a few) inspired dishes in the city of Venice, to grilled meat and potatoes or stews in the plains (duck and pork are popular), and polenta or fresh pasta with meat sauce, cheese, and mushrooms in the mountains. This region is where you find the delectable Asiago cheese.
When you are in Venice we have to recommend you try the popular appetizer sardine in saor (sweet and sour sardines). It is delizioso! A main course a specialty for anyone who wants to eat like a true Venetian is liver alla veneziana cooked with onions and served with polenta. For dessert? Tiramisu of course. Just be warned that once you’ve tried this coffee-flavored dessert here made with real Italian mascarpone cheese it may never taste as good back home.
Excellent Veneto wines to try with your meal are Prosecco or Valpolicella wines, including Amarone. If you’ve enjoyed fish for your meal, ask for a sgroppino. This special sorbet is made of lemon and vodka, which is not only tasty but a great digestif.
Italians consider this ancient city to be the food capital of their country. In the 1970s the city took steps to secure the integrity of the historic city center. Our Private Bologna Walking Tour takes travelers through the remarkably preserved and restored urban area, with its famous towers, porticoes, and monuments, pointing out the examples of medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture. In addition to the stunning artwork, this historically significant city is a great gastronomic adventure as well.
When you see the array of restaurants alongside magnificent food markets full of cured meats, cheeses, cakes, bread, and vegetables in the downtown it is easy to see why Bologna earned its nickname La Grassa (the fat one). This is the birthplace of delights of not just the rich Bolognese sauce but of mortadella and tortellini (oh, the fillings you’ll find here!).
We recommend you try Lasagne alla Bolognese, which is heavenly. Chefs vary the recipe according to their own preferences but typically this classic dish is lasagna made with Ragu alla Bolognese and Béchamel Sauce with a blend of Provolone and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses. Another wonderful option - aside from any of the incredible options for tortellini - is Fetuccine alla Bolognese. This hearty pasta dish is covered generously with the carefully stewed meat sauce stewed with wine, garlic, nutmeg, onions, and other vegetables.
Should you book Cinque Terre tours or day trips, don’t expect the same seafood on the riviera as you would enjoy near the Adriatic. Here in the Liguria region the signature dish is basil pesto sauce. While in Genoa pesto accompanies Trenette pasta, it is more popular paired in Cinque Terre with Trofie. Catch of the day in Cinque Terre is also more likely to range from anchovies to tuna, sardines, sea bass, or sardines. Veal and rabbit are also staples in the kitchen in this area of Italy.
While you are on the Amalfi Coast you should try Limoncello liqueur, especially as a digestif after dining on fish or seafood. This liqueur, made from the zest of Sorrento lemons, has been produced in this area for more than a century. It is extremely popular among locals and visitors and is usually served chilled.
If you want to try a delicious local dessert specialty, ask for Baba’ al Rhum (a small yeast cake filled with whipped cream and soaked in rum) or Pastiera Napolentana (a traditional cake made with Ricotta cheese and eggs, rich with citrus flavor and spices).