Italian Cuisine

Italian cuisine has developed through centuries of social and political changes, with roots as far back as the 4th century BCE.

Pesto, a Ligurian sauce made out of basil, olive oil and nuts, and which is eaten with pasta.

Pesto, a Ligurian sauce made out of basil, olive oil and nuts, and which is eaten with pasta.

Italian cuisine in itself takes heavy influences, including Etruscan, ancient Greek, ancient Roman, Byzantine, and Jewish. Significant changes occurred with the discovery of the New World with the introduction of items such as potatoes, tomatoes, capsicums (bell peppers) and maize, now central to the cuisine but not introduced in quantity until the 18th century. Italian cuisine is noted for its regional diversity, abundance of difference in taste, and is known to be one of the most popular in the world, with influences abroad.

Italian cuisine is characterised by its extreme simplicity, with many dishes having only four to eight ingredients. Italian cooks rely chiefly on the quality of the ingredients rather than on elaborate preparation. Ingredients and dishes vary by region. Many dishes that were once regional, however, have proliferated with variations throughout the country.

Cheese and wine are a major part of the cuisine, with many variations and Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) (regulated appellation) laws.

Coffee, specifically espresso, has become important in Italian cuisine.

Ingredients in Italian Cuisine

Italian cuisine has a great variety of different ingredients which are commonly used, ranging from fruits, vegetables, sauces, meats, etc.

In the North of Italy, fish (such as cod, or baccalà), potatoes, rice, corn (maize), sausages, pork, and different types of cheeses are the most common ingredients.

Pasta dishes with lighter use of tomato are found in Trentino-Alto Adige and Emilia Romagna.

In Northern Italy though there are many kinds of stuffed pasta, polenta and risotto are equally popular if not more so.

Ligurian ingredients include several types of fish and seafood dishes; basil (found in pesto), nuts and olive oil are very common.

In Emilia-Romagna, common ingredients include ham (prosciutto), sausage (cotechino), different sorts of salami, truffles, grana, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and tomatoes (Bolognese sauce or ragù).

Traditional Central Italian cuisine uses ingredients such as tomatoes, all kinds of meat, fish, and pecorino cheese.

In Tuscany and Umbria pasta is usually served alla carrettiara (a tomato sauce spiked with peperoncini hot peppers).

Finally, in Southern Italy, tomatoes – fresh or cooked into tomato sauce – peppers, olives and olive oil, garlic, artichokes, oranges, ricotta cheese, eggplants, zucchini, certain types of fish (anchovies, sardines and tuna), and capers are important components to the local cuisine.


Italian cuisine is also well known (and well regarded) for its use of a diverse variety of pasta. Pasta include noodles in various lengths, widths and shapes. Distinguished on shapes they are named — penne, macaroni, spaghetti, linguine, fusilli, lasagne and many more varieties that are filled with other ingredients like ravioli and tortellini. The word pasta is also used to refer to dishes in which pasta products are a primary ingredient. It is usually served with sauce. There are hundreds of different shapes of pasta with at least locally recognised names. Examples include spaghetti (thin rods), rigatoni (tubes or cylinders), fusilli (swirls), and lasagne (sheets). Dumplings, like gnocchi (made with potatoes) and noodles like spätzle, are sometimes considered pasta. They are both traditional in parts of Italy. Pasta is categorised in two basic styles: dried and fresh. Dried pasta made without eggs can be stored for up to two years under ideal conditions, while fresh pasta will keep for a couple of days in the refrigerator. Pasta is generally cooked by boiling. Under Italian law, dry pasta (pasta secca) can only be made from durum wheat flour or durum wheat semolina, and is more commonly used in Southern Italy compared to their Northern counterparts, who traditionally prefer the fresh egg variety. Durum flour and durum semolina have a yellow tinge in colour. Italian pasta is traditionally cooked al dente (Italian: “firm to the bite”, meaning not too soft). Outside Italy, dry pasta is frequently made from other types of flour (such as wheat flour), but this yields a softer product that cannot be cooked al dente. There are many types of wheat flour with varying gluten and protein depending on variety of grain used. Particular varieties of pasta may also use other grains and milling methods to make the flour, as specified by law. Some pasta varieties, such as pizzoccheri, are made from buckwheat flour. Fresh pasta may include eggs (pasta alluovo egg pasta). Whole wheat pasta has become increasingly popular because of its health benefits over pasta made from refined flour.

Regional Italian Cuisines

Each area has its own specialties, primarily at regional level, but also at provincial level. The differences can come from a bordering country (such as France or Austria), whether a region is close to the sea or the mountains, and economics. Italian cuisine is also seasonal with priority placed on the use of fresh produce.

Prosciutto di San Daniele at the Central Market in Florence, Italy

Prosciutto di San Daniele at the Central Market in Florence, Italy

Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Friuli-Venezia Giulia conserved, in its cuisine, the historical links with Austria-Hungary. Udine and Pordenone, in the western part of Friuli, are known for their traditional San Daniele del Friuli ham, Montasio cheese, and Frico cheese. Other typical dishes are pitina (meatballs made of smoked meats), game, and various types of gnocchi and polenta. The majority of the eastern regional dishes are heavily influenced by Austrian, Hungarian, Slovene and Croatian cuisines: typical dishes include Istrian Stew (soup of beans, sauerkraut, potatoes, bacon and spare ribs), Vienna sausages, goulash, cevapi, apple strudel, gugelhupf. Pork can be spicy and is often prepared over an open hearth called a fogolar. Collio Goriziano, Friuli Isonzo, Colli Orientali del Friuli and Ramandolo are well-known DOC regional wines.

Polenta served with Sopressa and mushrooms, a traditional peasant food of Veneto.

Polenta served with Sopressa and mushrooms, a traditional peasant food of Veneto.

Speck Alto Adige with quality seal

Speck Alto Adige with quality seal


Venice and many surrounding parts of Veneto are known for risotto, a dish whose ingredients can highly vary upon different areas, as fish and seafood being added closer to the coast and pumpkin, asparagus, radicchio and frogs legs appearing further away from the Adriatic. Made from finely ground maize meal, polenta is a traditional, rural food typical of Veneto and most of Northern Italy. It may find its way into stirred dishes and baked dishes and can be served with various cheese, stockfish or meat dishes: some polenta dishes includes porcini, rapini, or other vegetables or meats, such as small song-birds in the case of the Venetian and Lombard dish polenta e osei, or sausages. In some areas of Veneto it can be also made of a particular variety of cornmeal, named biancoperla, so that the colour of polenta is white and not yellow (the so-called polenta bianca). Beans, peas and other legumes are seen in these areas with pasta e fagioli (beans and pasta) and risi e bisi (rice and peas). Veneto features heavy dishes using exotic spices and sauces. Ingredients such as stock fish or simple marinated anchovies are found here as well. Less fish and more meat is eaten away from the coast. Other typical products are sausages such as Soppressa Vicentina, garlic salami and Asiago cheese. High quality vegetables are prized, such as red radicchio from Treviso and white asparagus from Bassano del Grappa. Perhaps the most popular dish of Venice is fegato alla veneziana, thinly-sliced veal liver sauteed with onions. Squid and cuttlefish are common ingredients, as is squid ink, called nero di seppia. Regional desserts include Tiramisu (made of biscuits dipped in coffee, layered with a whipped mixture of egg yolks and mascarpone, and flavoured with liquor and cocoa), baicoli (biscuits made with butter and vanilla) and nougat. The most celebrated Veneto wines include Bardolino, Prosecco, Soave and Valpolicella DOC wines.

Trentino-Alto Adige/South Tyrol

Before the Council of Trent in the middle of the 16th century, the region was known for the simplicity of its peasant cuisine. When the prelates of the Catholic Church established there, they brought the art of fine cooking with them. Later, also influences from Venice and the Austrian Habsburg Empire came in. Trentino sub-region produces various types of sausages, polenta, yoghurt, cheese, potato cake, funnel cake and freshwater fish. In the South Tyrol sub-region, due to the German speaking majority population, strong Austrian and Slavic influences prevail. The most renowned local product is traditional speck juniper-flavoured ham which, as Speck Alto Adige PGI, is regulated by the European Union under the protected geographical indication (PGI) status. Goulash, knödel, apple strudel, kaiserschmarrn, krapfen, rösti, spätzle and rye bread are regular dishes, along with potatoes, dumpling, homemade sauerkraut, and lard. The territory of Bolzano is also reputed for its Müller-Thurgau white wines.


The regional cuisine of Lombardy is heavily based upon ingredients like maize, rice, beef, pork, butter, and lard. Rice dishes are very popular in this region, often found in soups as well as Risotto. The best known version is Risotto alla Milanese, flavoured with saffron and typically served with many typical Milanese main courses, such as ossobuco alla milanese (cross-cut veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine and broth) and Cotoletta alla Milanese (a fried cutlet similar to Wiener schnitzel, but cooked “bone-in”). Other regional specialties include Cassoeula (a typical winter dish prepared with cabbage and pork), Cremonas Mostarda (rich condiment made with candied fruit and a mustard flavoured syrup), Valtellinas Bresaola (air-dried salted beef) and Pizzoccheri (a flat ribbon pasta, made with 80% buckwheat flour and 20% wheat flour cooked along with greens, cubed potatoes and layered with pieces of Valtellina Casera cheese) and Mantu as tortelli di zucca (ravioli with pumpkin filling) accompanied by melted butter and followed by turkey stuffed with chicken or other stewed meats. Regional cheeses include Robiola, Crescenza, Taleggio, Gorgonzola and Grana Padano (the plains of central and southern Lombardy allow intensive cattle-raising). Polenta is generally common across the region. Regional desserts include the famous panettone Christmas cake (sweet bread with candied orange, citron, and lemon zest, as well as raisins, which are added dry and not soaked).

Valle dAosta

Bread thickened soups are customary as well as cheese fondue, chestnuts, potatoes, rice. Polenta is a staple along with rye bread, smoked bacon and game from the mountains and forests. Butter and cream are important in stewed, roasted and braised dishes. Typical regional products include Fontina cheese, Vallée dAoste, Lard dArnad and Génépi Artemisia-based liqueur.




Nestled between the Alps and the Po valley, with a large number of different ecosystems, this region offers the most refined and varied cuisine of the Italian peninsula. Point of union of traditional Italian and French cuisine, Piedmont is the Italian region with the largest number of cheeses Protected Geographical Status and wines Denominazione di origine controllata. It is also the region where both Slow Food association and the most prestigious school of Italian cooking, the University of Gastronomic Sciences, were founded. Piedmont is a region where gathering nuts, funghi, cardoons and hunting and fishing takes place. Truffles, garlic, seasonal vegetables, cheese and rice are all used. Wines from the Nebbiolo grape such as Barolo and Barbaresco are produced as well as wines from the Barbera grape, fine sparkling wines, and the sweet, lightly sparkling, Moscato dAsti. The region is also famous for its Vermouth and Ratafia productlli (swirls)se of the region. Piedmont is also famous for the quality of its Carrù beef, hence the tradition of eating raw meat seasoned with garlic oil, lemon and salt the famous Carpaccio, the famous Brasato al vino, wine stew made from marinated beef, and boiled beef served with various sauces. The most typical of the Piedmont tradition are its traditional agnolotti (pasta folded over with a roast beef meat and vegetable stuffing), Panissa (a typical dish of Vercelli, a kind of risotto with Arborio rice, the typical kind of Saluggia beans, onion, Barbera wine, lard, salami, salt and pepper), taglierini (thinner version of tagliatelle), bagna cauda (sauce of garlic, anchovies, olive oil and butter) and bicerin (hot drink made of coffee, chocolate and whole milk). Finally Piedmont is one of the Italian capitals of pastry and chocolate in particular, with products like Nutella, gianduiotto and marron glacé that are famous worldwide.


Pasta with pesto sauce.

Pasta with pesto sauce.

Herbs and vegetables (as well as seafood) find their way into the cuisine. Savoury pies are popular, mixing greens and artichokes along with cheeses, milk curds and eggs. Onions and olive oil are used. Because of a lack of land suitable for wheat, the Ligurians use chickpeas in farinata and polenta-like panissa. The former is served plain or topped with onions, artichokes, sausage, cheese or young anchovies. Hilly districts use chestnuts as a source of carbohydrates. Ligurian pastas include corzetti from the Polcevera valley, pansoti, a triangular shaped ravioli filled with vegetables, piccagge, pasta ribbons made with a small amount of egg and served with artichoke sauce or pesto sauce, trenette, made from whole wheat flour cut into long strips and served with pesto, boiled beans and potatoes, and trofie, a Ligurian gnocchi made from whole grain flour and boiled potatoes, made into a spiral shape and often tossed in pesto. Many Ligurians emigrated to Argentina in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, influencing the cuisine of this country (which otherwise dominated by meat and dairy produces which the narrow ligurian hinterland would have not allowed).


Parmigiano cheese.

Parmigiano cheese.

Tagliatelle with bolognese sauce

Tagliatelle with bolognese sauce

Emilia-Romagna is known for its egg and filled pasta made with soft wheat flour. Romagna sub-region is known as well for pasta dishes like cappelletti, garganelli, strozzapreti, spoglia lorda and tortelli alla lastra or very peculiar cheese like squaquerone, piada snacks are famous worldwide. In Emilia sub-region, except Piacenza which is heavily influenced by the cuisines of Lombardy, rice is eaten to a lesser extent. Polenta, a maize-based dish, is common both in Emilia and Romagna. Bologna is notable for pasta dishes like tortellini, lasagne ,gramigna and tagliatelle which are found also in many other parts of the region in different declinations. The celebrated balsamic vinegar is made only in the Emilian cities of Modena and Reggio Emilia, following legally binding traditional procedures. Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is produced in Reggio Emilia, Parma, Modena and Bologna and is much used in cooking, whilst Grana Padano variety is produced in Piacenza. Although the Adriatic coast is a major fishing area (well known for its eels and clams), the region is more famous for its meat products, especially pork-based, that include: Parmas culatello and Felino salami, Piacenzas pancetta, coppa and salami, Bolognas mortadella and salame rosa, Modenas zampone, cotechino and cappello di prete and Ferraras salama da sugo. Piacenza and Ferrara are also known for some dishes prepared with horse and donkey meat. Regional desserts include zuppa inglese (custard-based dessert made with sponge cake and Alchermes liqueur) and pampepato (Christmas cake made with pepper, chocolate, spices, and almonds).


Ribollita is a classic Tuscan peasant dish

Ribollita, a classic Tuscan peasant dish.

Simplicity is central to the Tuscan cuisine. Legumes, bread, cheese, vegetables, mushrooms and fresh fruit are used. A good example would be Ribollita, a notable Tuscan soup whose name literally means “reboiled”. Like most Tuscan cuisine, the soup has peasant origins. It was originally made by reheating (i.e. reboiling) the leftover minestrone or vegetable soup from the previous day. There are many variations but the main ingredients always include leftover bread, cannellini beans and inexpensive vegetables such as carrot, cabbage, beans, silverbeet, cavolo nero (Tuscan kale), onion and olive oil.

A regional Tuscan pasta known as pici resembles thick, grainy-surfaced spaghetti, and is often rolled by hand.

White truffles from San Miniato appear in October and November.

High-quality beef, used for the traditional Florentine steak, come from the Chianina cattle breed of the Chiana Valley and the Maremmana from Maremma. Pork is also produced. The region is well-known also for its rich game, especially wild boars, hares, fallow deers, roe deers and pheasant that often are used to prepare pappardelle dishes. The most famous Lardo is from the Tuscan hamlet of Colonnata, where lardo has been made since Roman times.

Regional desserts include panforte (prepared with honey, fruits and nuts), ricciarelli (biscuits made using an almond base with sugar, honey and egg white),  and cavallucci (cookies made with almonds, candied fruits, coriander,  flour, honey).

Well-known regional wines include Brunello di Montalcino, Carmignano, Chianti, Morellino di Scansano, Parrina, Sassicaia, Vernaccia di San Gimignano.


Norcia Black Truffles

Norcia Black Truffles

Many Umbrian dishes are prepared by boiling or roasting with local olive oil and herbs. Vegetable dishes are popular in the spring and summer, while fall and winter sees meat from hunting and black truffles from Norcia. Meat dishes include the traditional wild boar sausages, pheasants, geese, pigeons, frogs, snails. Castelluccio is known for its lentils, Spoleto and Monteleone are known for spelt. Freshwater fish include lasca, trout, freshwater perch, grayling, eel, barbel, whitefish, and tench. Orvieto and Sagrantino di Montefalco are important regional wines.


On the coast of Marche, fish and seafood are produced. Inland, wild and domestic pigs are used for sausages and hams. These hams are not thinly sliced, but cut into bite-sized chunks.Suckling pig,chicken and fish are often stuffed with rosemary or fennel fronds and garlic before being roasted or placed on the spit. Ascoli, Marche southernmost province, is well known for Olive allascolana, (stoned olives stuffed with several minced meats, egg and Parmesan, then fried). Another well-known Marche product are the Maccheroncini di Campofilone, from little town of Campofilone, a kind of hand-made pasta made only of hard grain flour and eggs, cut so thin that it melts in the mouth.


Spaghetti alla carbonara

Spaghetti alla carbonara

Pasta dishes based on the use of guanciale (unsmoked bacon prepared with pigs jowl or cheeks) are often found in Lazio, such as pasta alla carbonara, and pasta alla matriciana. Another pasta dish of the region is arrabbiata, with spicy tomato sauce. The regional cuisine widely use offal, resulting in dishes like the entrail-based rigatoni with pajata sauce and coda alla vaccinara. Iconic of Lazio are also cheese made from ewes milk (Pecorino Romano), porchetta (savoury, fatty, and moist boneless pork roast) and Frascati white wine. The influence of the ancient Jewish community can be noticed in the Roman cuisines traditional carciofi alla giudia.

Abruzzo and Molise

Pasta, meat and vegetables are central to the cuisine of Abruzzo and Molise. Chillies (peperoncini) are typical of Abruzzo, where they are called diavoletti (“little devils”) for their spicy heat. Centerbe (“Hundred Herbs”) is a strong (72% alcohol), spicy herbal liqueur drunk by the locals.Lamb is used with pasta. A dish from Abruzzo is arrosticini, little pieces of castrated lamb on a wooden stick and cooked on coals. The chitarra (literally “guitar”) is a fine stringed tool that pasta dough is pressed through for cutting. The popularity of saffron, grown in the province of LAquila, has waned in recent years. Montepulciano dAbruzzo is an important local red wine. The most famous dish of Molise is cavatelli, a long shaped, handmade maccheroni-type pasta made of flour, semolina and water, often served with meat sauce, broccoli or mushrooms.


Traditional Neapolitan pizza

Traditional Neapolitan pizza

Campania extensively produces tomatoes, peppers, spring onions, potatoes, artichokes, fennel, lemons and oranges which all take on the flavour of volcanic soil. The Gulf of Naples offers fish and seafood. Campania is one of the largest producers and consumers of pasta in Italy, especially spaghetti. In the regional cuisine, pasta is prepared in various styles that can feature tomato sauce, cheese, clams and shellfish. Spaghetti alla puttanesca is a popular dish made with olives, tomatoes, anchovies, capers, chilli peppers and garlic. The region is well-known also for its mozzarella production (especially from the milk of water buffalo) that is used in a variety of dishes, including parmigiana (shallow fried eggplant slices layered with cheese and tomato sauce, then baked). Desserts includes truffoli (deep fried balls of dough) ricotta-based pastiera and sfogliatelle, and rum-dipped babà. Originating in Neapolitan cuisine, pizza has become popular in many different parts of the world. Pizza is an oven-baked, flat, disc-shaped bread typically topped with a tomato sauce, cheese (usually mozzarella) and various toppings depending on the culture. Since the original pizza, several other types of pizzas have evolved. Since Naples was the capital of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, its cuisine took much from the culinary traditions of all the Campania region, reaching a balance between dishes based on rural ingredients (pasta, vegetables, cheese) and seafood dishes (fish, crustaceans, mollusks). A vast variety of recipes is influenced by the local aristocratic cuisine, like timballo and the sartù di riso, pasta or rice dishes with very elaborate preparation, while the dishes coming from the popular traditions contain poor but nutritionally healthy ingredients, like pasta with beans and other pasta dishes with vegetables. Famous regional wines are Falanghina, Greco di Tufo and Taurasi.


Orecchiette al Pomodoro

Orecchiette al Pomodoro

Puglia is a massive food producer: major production includes wheat, tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli, bell peppers, potatoes, spinach, eggplants, cauliflower, fennel, endive, chickpeas, lentils, beans and cheese (like the traditional caciocavallo cheese). Puglia is also the largest producer of olive oil in Italy. The sea offers abundant fish and seafood that are extensively used in the regional cuisine, especially oysters, and mussels. Goat and lamb are occasionally used. The region is known for pasta made from durum wheat and traditional pasta dishes featuring orecchiette-type pasta, often served with tomato sauce, potatoes, mussels or cime di rapa. Pasta with cherry tomatoes and arugula is also popular. Regional desserts include zeppola, doughnuts usually topped with icing sugar and filled with custard, jelly, cannoli-style pastry cream or a butter-and-honey mixture. For Christmas, Pugliesi make a very traditional rose shape pastry called Cartellate. These are fried and dipped in Vin Cotto which is a reduction of wine or in some cases of fig juice.


Pork is an integral part of Basilicatas cuisine, often made into sausages or roasted on a spit. Mutton and lamb are also popular. Pasta sauces are generally based on meats or vegetables. Spicy peperoncini is largely used. The bitter digestif Amaro Lucano is made here.


French rule under the House of Anjou and Napoleon, along with Spanish influence, affected the language and culinary skills as seen in the naming of things such as cake, gatò, from the French gateau. Seafood includes swordfish, shrimp, lobster, sea urchin and squid. Macaroni-type pasta is widely used in regional dishes, often served with goat, beef or pork sauce and salty ricotta. Main courses include Frìttuli (prepared by boiling pork rind, meat and trimmings in pork fat), different varieties of spicy sausages (like Nduja and Capicola), goat and land snails. Melon and watermelon are traditionally served in a chilled fruit salad or wrapped in ham. Calabrian wines include Greco di Bianco, Bivongi, Cirò, Dominici, Lamezia, Melissa, Pollino, SantAnna di Isola Capo Rizzuto, San Vito di Luzzi, Savuto, Scavigna, Verbicaro.



Cassata, a cake containing different nuts, raisins, ricotta, different liqueurs and candied fruits.

Cannoli - rich Sicilian pastries

Cannoli – rich Sicilian pastries

Sicily shows traces of all the cultures which established themselves on the island over the last two millennia. Although its cuisine undoubtably has a predominantly Italian base, Sicilian food also has Spanish, Greek and Arab influences. Dionysus is said to have introduced wine to the region: a trace of historical influence from Ancient Greece. The ancient Romans introduced lavish dishes based on goose. The Byzantines favoured sweet and sour flavours and the Arabs brought, sugar, citrus, rice, and saffron. The Normans and Hohenstaufens had a fondness for meat dishes. The Spanish introduced items from the New World including chocolate, maize, turkey and tomatoes. Much of the islands cuisine encourages the use of fresh vegetables such as eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes, and fish such as tuna, sea bream, sea bass, cuttlefish, and swordfish. In Trapani, in the extreme western corner of the island, North African influences are clear in the use of various couscous based dishes, usually combined with fish. Traditional specialties from Sicily include arancini (a form of deep-fried rice croquettes), pasta alla Norma, caponata, pani ca meusa, and a host of desserts and sweets such as cannoli, granita, and cassata. Typical of Sicily is Marsala, a red, fortified wine similar to Port and largely exported.

See also : About Sicilian Cuisine


common elements of Sardinian cuisine.

A range of different cakes,pastries, meals, dishes and sweets: common elements of Sardinian cuisine.

Traditional carasau bread

Traditional carasau bread

Suckling pig and wild boar are roasted on the spit or boiled in stews of beans and vegetables, thickened with bread. Herbs such as mint and myrtle are widely used in the regional cuisine. Sardinia have also many special types of bread, made dry, which keeps longer than high-moisture breads. Those are baked as well, including carasau bread civraxiu, coccoi pinatus, a highly decorative bread and pistoccu made with flour and water only, originally meant for herders, but often served at home with tomatoes, basil, oregano, garlic and a strong cheese. Rock lobster, scampi, squid, tuna, and sardines are the predominant seafoods.

Meal structure in Italian cuisine

Traditionally, meals in Italy usually contain 3 or 4 courses. Meals are seen as a time to spend with family and friends instead of immediate sustenance; thus, daily meals can be longer than in other cultures. During holidays, family feasts can last for hours. Today, the traditional Italian menu is kept mainly for special events (such as weddings) while an everyday menu includes only the first and second course, theside dishand coffee. A notable aspect of Italian meals is that the primo or first course, is usually a more filling dish such as risotto or pasta. Italian cuisine also includes single courses (all-in-one courses), providing carbohydrates and proteins at the same time (e.g. pasta and legumes).  

  • Aperitivo : Apéritif usually enjoyed as an appetiser before a large meal, may be: Campari, Cinzano, Prosecco, Aperol, Spritz, Vermouth.
  • Antipasto : Literally “before (the) meal”, hot or cold appetisers
  • Primo : “First Course”, usually consists of a hot dish like pasta, risotto, gnocchi, or soup.
  • Secondo : “Second Course”, the main dish, usually fish or meat. Traditionally veal, pork and chicken are most commonly used, at least in the North, though beef has become more popular since World War II and wild game is found, particularly in Tuscany. Fish are generally caught locally.
  • Contorno : “Side Dish”, may be a salad or cooked vegetables. A traditional menu features salad along with the main course.
  • Formaggio e frutta : “Cheese and Fruits”, the first dessert. Local cheeses may be part of the Antipasto or Contorno as well.
  • Dolce : “Sweet”, such as cakes (like Tiramisu) and cookies
  • Caffè : Coffee
  • Digestivo : “Digestives”, liquors/liqueurs (grappa, amaro, limoncello, sambuca, nocino, sometimes referred to as ammazzacaffè, “coffee killer”)

Note: On restaurant menus, these terms may be referred to as Primi, Secondi, Contorni, and Digestivi.

Food establishments

Each type of establishment has a defined role and traditionally sticks to it.

  • Agriturismo : Working farms that offer accommodations and meals. Sometimes meals are served to guests only. Marked by a green and gold sign with a knife and fork.
  • Bar/Caffé : Panini, Tramezzini (sandwiches) and Spuntini (snacks such as olives, potato chip or potato crisps and small pieces of frittata).
  • Birreria : A bar that offers beer found in central and northern regions of Italy.
  • Bruschetteria : Specialises in Bruschetta, though other dishes may also be offered.
  • Frasca/Locanda : Friulian wine producers that open for the evening and may offer food along with their wines.
  • Gelateria : An Italian ice cream shop/bar, that sells gelato. A shop where the customer can get his or her gelato to go, or sit down and eat it in a cup or a cone. Bigger ice desserts, coffee, or liquors may also be ordered.
  • Osteria : Focused on simple food of the region, often having only a verbal menu. Many are open only at night but some open for lunch.
  • Paninoteca : Sandwich shop open during the day.
  • Pizzeria : Locations specialising in Pizza. Wood fired-pizza ovens are a specialty of Italy.
  • Polenteria : A regional establishment seen in limited number north of Emilia-Romagna.
  • Ristorante : Often offers upscale cuisine and printed menus.
  • Rosticceria : Its a kind of fast-food offering traditional local dishes like cotoletta alla milanese, roasted meat (usually pork or chicken) even as take-away
  • Spaghetteria : Originating in Naples, offering pasta dishes and other main courses.
  • Tavola Calda : Literally “hot table”, offers pre-made regional dishes. Most open at 11am and close late.
  • Trattoria : A dining establishment often family run with inexpensive prices and an informal atmosphere.





Moka coffee machine

Moka coffee machine

Italian style coffee (caffè), also known as espresso is made from a blend of coffee beans, often from Brazil. Espresso beans are roasted medium to medium dark in the north, and gets darker moving south. A common misconception is that espresso has more caffeine than other coffee but the opposite is true. The longer roasting period extracts more caffeine. The modern espresso machine, invented in 1937 by Achille Gaggia, uses a pump and pressure system with water heated to 90 to 95 °C and forced with high pressure through a few grams of finely ground coffee in 25–30 seconds, resulting in about 25 ml of liquid. Home coffee makers are simpler but work under the same principle. La Napoletana is a four-part stove-top unit with grounds loosely placed inside a filter, the kettle portion is filled with water and once boiling, the unit is inverted to drip through the grounds. The Moka per il caffè is a three-part stove-top unit that is placed on the stove-top with loosely packed grounds in a strainer, the water rises from steam pressure, and is forced through the grounds into the top portion. It is unlike a percolator in that the brewed coffee is not re-circulated. Espresso is usually served in a demitasse cup. Caffè macchiato is topped with a bit of steamed milk or foam; ristretto is made with less water, and is stronger; cappuccino is mixed or topped with steamed, mostly frothy, milk. It is generally considered a morning beverage; caffe latte is equal parts espresso and steamed milk, similar to café au lait, and is typically served in a large cup. Latte macchiato (spotted milk) is a glass of warm milk with a bit of coffee and Caffè corretto is “corrected” with a few drops of an alcoholic beverage. The Bicerin is also an Italian coffee, from Turin. It is a mixture of cappuccino and traditional hot chocolate, as it consists of a mix of coffee and drinking chocolate, and with a small addition of milk. It is quite thick, and often whipped cream/foam with chocolate powder and sugar is added on top. See also: Espresso

Alcoholic beverages

DOCG label on wine bottle

DOCG label on wine bottle

Bouteille de Campari

Bouteille de Campari

Italy produces the largest amount of wine in the world and is both the largest exporter and consumer of wine. Only about a quarter of this wine is put into bottles for individual sale. Two-thirds is bulk wine used for blending in France and Germany. The wine distilled into spirits in Italy exceeds the production of wine in the entirety of the New World. There are twenty separate wine regions. Those vineyards producing great wines are trying to do away with the old image of jug wines so often associated with Italian wine. To promote this, the Italian government passed the Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) law in 1963 to regulate place of origin, quality, production method and type of grape. The designation Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) is a less restrictive designation to help a wine maker graduate to the DOC level. In 1980, the government created the Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita (DOCG), reserved for only the best wines. In Italy wine is commonly consumed (alongside water) in meals, which are rarely served without it, though its extremely uncommon that meals be served with any other drink alcoholic or otherwise.


Italy hosts a wide variety of different beers, which are usually pale lager. Beer is not as popular and widespread as wine (even though this is changing, and beer is becoming more and more popular), and the average beer consumption in Italy is less than in some other neighbouring European nations, such as the United Kingdom, Germany and Austria. Among many popular brands, the most notable Italian breweries are Peroni and Moretti. Beer in Italy is often drunk in pizzerias, and South Tyrol (former part of Austria, a country notable for its beer) is the area where beer is made and consumed the most.


There are also several other popular alcoholic drinks in Italy. Limoncello, a traditional lemon liqueur from Sicily and Southern Italy (Sorrento, Amalfi and the Gulf of Naples) in general, is one of the most common. Made out of lemon, it is an extremely strong drink which is usually consumed in very small proportions, in small glasses or cups. Amaro Sicilianos are common Sicilian digestifs made out of herbs which are usually drunk after heavy meals. Mirto, a herbal distillate made from the berries (red mirto) and leaves (white mirto) of the myrtle bush is popular in Sardinia and other regions. Grappa instead is the typical alcoholic drink of northern Italy, general associated with the culture of the Alps and of the Po Valley. The most famous grappas are distilled in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto, Piedmont and Trentino. The three most notable and recognizable Italian aperitifs are Martini, Vermouth and Campari. A sparkling drink which is becoming internationally popular as a less expensive substitute of French champagne is prosecco, from the Veneto region.

Holiday cuisine

Every region has its own holiday recipes. During La Festa di San Giuseppe (St. Josephs Day) on March 19, Sicilians give thanks to St. Joseph for preventing a famine during the Middle Ages. The fava bean saved the population from starvation, and is a traditional part of St. Josephs Day altars and traditions. Other customs celebrating this festival include wearing red clothing, eating Sicilian pastries known as zeppole and giving food to the poor. On Easter Sunday, lamb is served in throughout Italy. A typical Easter Sunday breakfast in Umbria and Tuscany includes salami, boiled eggs, wine, Easter Cakes and pizza. The common cake for Easter Day is the Colomba Pasquale (literally, Easter dove), which is often simply known as “Italian Easter cake” abroad. It s supposed to represent the dove, and is topped with almonds and pearl sugar. On Christmas Eve a symbolic fast is observed with the cena di magro (light dinner), a meatless meal. On Christmas day, Italians often serve tortellini as a first course. Typical cakes of the Christmas season are panettone and pandoro.

Meal composition


 A typical Italian breakfast

A typical Italian breakfast, consisting of cappuccino and brioche / croissant.

The first Italian meal is breakfast, or colazione. Traditional Italian breakfasts are continental-style, similar to those of France, Greece, Portugal or Spain. The traditional breakfast in Italy is simply Caffè e latte (hot coffee with milk) or coffee with bread or rolls, butter, and jam — known as prima colazione or just colazione. Fette biscottate (a cookie-like hard bread often eaten with butter and jam) and biscotti (cookies) are commonly eaten. Children drink hot chocolate, plain milk, or hot milk with very little coffee. If breakfast is eaten in a bar (coffee shop), it is composed of cappuccino e cornetto (frothed hot milk with coffee, and a pastry) or espresso and pastry. Other products such as breakfast cereals, fruit compote (Macedonia), muesli and yoghurt are becoming increasingly common as part of the meal. It is very common for some Italians, mainly from the Central and Southern regions, to have a quick breakfast snack during the morning (typically a panino, or bread roll). In Sicily, occasionally with feast days or Sundays, people eat ice-cold granita with brioches, or pastries.


Pranzo or lunch traditionally used to be the heartiest and most important Italian meal, although shorter work breaks are significantly changing this lifestyle, especially in the larger urban areas of the North. Lunch is taken in Italy between 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm (usually, people from Southern Italian regions start lunch slightly later, from 1.15 pm to even 2.15 pm). Traditional formal Italian lunches are a lengthy affair, which usually involves an appetizer, aperitif, or antipasto as starter. This usually consists of cold cuts, cheese, bruschette or small sandwiches, olives and sauce dips. This is usually followed by a first course, such as various kinds of pasta, soup, ravioli, or risotto. The main course (secondo, literally “second course”) is usually meat or fish, with a vegetable garnish. The meal is rounded up by a dessert or fresh fruit. Most families still usually tend to have a traditional lunch on Sundays.

Mid-afternoon snack

Most Italians, notably children, have what is called a mid-afternoon snack or in Italian merenda just after school, from about 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm. This can be anything, from fruit, yoghurts, ice cream, nuts, brioches, cookies and biscuits, cake, raisins or mousses.


The Italian dinner structure is very similar to that of lunch, but Italians tend to have lighter meals at dinner-time. This usually consists of perhaps a salad, soup, risotto or the left-overs of lunch-time. Dinner is called cena (cfr. Latin coena) in Italian, and is usually consumed later than in Northern Europe but earlier than in Spain and other Mediterranean countries, usually starting from 7.30 pm to 9pm.

Italian cuisine abroad


Great Britain

Pizza and pasta dishes such as spaghetti bolognese and lasagne with bolognese ragù and Béchamel sauce are the most popular forms of Italian food which are popular in British, notably, English, cuisine.


Italian cuisine has had a strong influence on Slovenian cuisine. For centuries, north-eastern Italy and western Slovenia have formed part of the same cultural-historical and geographical space. Between 1918 and 1945, western Slovenia (the Slovenian Littoraland part of Inner Carniola) were part of Italy; in addition, an autochthonous Italian minority live inSlovenian Istria. For all these reasons, Italian dishes have penetrated the local Slovenian cuisine. Furthermore, there are numerous typical dishes that are shared between the Slovenian cuisines and the cuisine of the neighbouring Italian region of Friuli Venezia Giulia: these include the gubana nut roll of Friuli (known as gubanca or potica in Slovenia) and the jota stew. Among the Slovenian dishes that come directly from Italian cuisine, the gnocchi and some types of pasta are especially popular, as well as dishes like the minestrone (known as mineštrain Slovene) or the frittata (known as frtaljain Slovene). Prosciutto (pršut in Slovenian) and polenta are also popular.

USA and Canada

An Italian-American pizza with pepperoni

An Italian-American pizza with pepperoni (salami), mushrooms, olives and peppers

Much of Italian-American cuisine is based on that found in Campania and Sicily, heavily Americanised to reflect ingredients and conditions found in the United States. Most pizza eaten around the world derives ultimately from the Neapolitan style, if somewhat thicker and usually with more toppings in terms of quantity. See also : Italian-American cuisine

Central America


Throughout the country the “torta de milanesa” is a common item offered at food carts and stalls. It is a sandwich made from locally baked bread and contains a crumbed, pan-fried cutlet of pork or beef. “Pescado Veracruzano” is a dish that originates from the port city of Veracruz and features a fillet of fresh fish (usually Gulf Red Snapper) covered in a distinctly Mediterranean influenced sauce containing stewed tomatoes, garlic, green olives, and capers. Also, “espagueti” (spaghetti) and other pastas are popular in a variety of soups.

South America

Milanesaa la napolitana

“Milanesaa la napolitana” with French fries, an Italian-inspired dish based on the original cotoletta dish from Milan, common in South America. This dish is called “parmegiana steak” in Brazil, though it is not typical from Parma region in Italy but was actually invented in Buenos Aires.


Italian cuisine is popular in Brazil, due to great immigration there in the late 1800s and early-1900s. Due to the huge Italian community, São Paulo is the place where this cuisine is most appreciated. Several types of pasta and meat, including milanesa steaks, have made their way into both daily home and street kitchens and fancy restaurants. The city has also developed its particular variety of pizza, different from both Neapolitan and American varieties, and it is largely popular on weekend dinners. In Rio de Janeiro Italian cuisine is also popular, and pizza has developed as a typical botequim counter snack.


Due to large Italian immigration to Argentina, Italian food and drink is heavily featured in Argentine cuisine. An example could be milanesas (The name comes from the original cotoletta alla milanese from Milan, Italy) or crumbed cutlets. Pizza (locally pronounced pisa or pitsa), for example, has been wholly subsumed and in its Argentine form more closely resembles Italian calzones than it does its Italian ancestor. There are several other Italian-Argentine dishes, such as Sorrentinos and Argentine gnocchi.


There is considerable Italian influence in Venezuelan cuisine. Pan chabata, or Venezuelan ciabatta, Pan Siciliano, Sicilian bread, Cannoli siciliano, Sicilian cannoli, and the drink chinotto are examples of the Italian influence in Venezuelan food and beverages.


Due to several Italian colonies being set up in Africa, mainly in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Libya and Somalia (except the northern part, which was under British rule), there is a considerable amount of Italian influence on the cuisines of these nations.


Italys legacy from the days when Libya was invaded by Italy can be seen in the popularity of pasta on its menus, particularly Sharba is a highly-spiced Libyan soup. Bazin, a local specialty is a hard paste, made from barley, salt and water, and one of the most popular meals in the Libyan cuisine is Batata mubatana (filled potato). It consists of fried potato pieces filled with spiced minced meat and covered with egg and breadcrumbs.

South Africa

All major cities and towns in South Africa have substantial populations of Italians. There are Italian Clubs in all main cities and they have had a significant influence on the cuisine of this country. Italian foods, like ham and cheeses, are imported and some also made locally, and every city has a popular Italian restaurant or two, as well as Pizzerias. Pastas are popular and is eaten more and more by South Africans. The production of good quality olive oil is on the rise in South Africa, especially in the drier south-western parts where there is a more Mediterranean-type of rainfall pattern. Some oils have even won top international awards.


Although Italian cuisine is not nearly as represented in the Philippines as Spanish cuisine, and even with the comparatively low number of Italians who came to the country as compared to other places like Latin America, it has made an impression nonetheless. Spaghetti arrived during the time of the American occupation of the country in the early 1900s. It has since evolved into a distinctly Philippine version of the dish. Filipino Spaghetti is characterised by a sauce based on banana ketchup and the presence of sliced hot dogs (sometimes substituted with sausage). Aside from the ketchup-based sauce, garlic, oregano, and bay leaf and some sugar are also used to flavour the sauce. Ground beef or pork as well as ham may also be added, depending on how bare or upscale the version is. It can be found on restaurant menus and is consistently seen at Filipino parties and gatherings. Baked macaroni (with a red sauce) is also present in the countries cuisine, either as more authentic reproductions or as versions with flavours and ingredients modified to suit the local palate and budget, similar to Filipino-style spaghetti. Like spaghetti, this is also served in parties and gatherings. Lasagna is another Italian dish that made its way into Philippine cuisine. Unlike spaghetti, lasagna remains largely unchanged and Filipinos usually consume it with garlic bread. In recent years, Italian-style, as well as Italian-American-style restaurants have increased in popularity, and there is now a greater variety of establishments that serve these types of food.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *