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We’ve all eaten our fair share of Italian food. Spaghetti with meatballs is a common household dish in North America, and there’s a reason why Domino’s reigns as the world leader in delivery. However, these takes on Italian food don’t do the country’s iconic culinary scene any justice.
Italy is home to 20 different regions, and each of them offers a different take on Italian food. While it may be difficult to reach all 20 regions on your visit to the boot-shaped country, these four are ones that should never be missed.
Tuscany is known for its rolling green hills dotted with vineyards and cute country homes. However, it’s important that every visitor eat their fill before washing it down with one of the area’s signature Brunello di Montalcinos or Chiantis. Earthy foods thrive in Tuscany, and it’s a place to savor local dishes like sheep’s-milk cheese and fennel-scented salami before a meal.
When it comes time to chow down, opt for one of the local meats stuffed inside a homemade ravioli. Wild boar and chianina cattle are some of the area’s most special meats, and when paired with pasta, they offer an authentic Italian experience.
Head north from Tuscany to the “breadbasket” of Italy, also known as the region of Emilia-Romagna. This region is often considered the country’s culinary heart, so you’ll find no shortage of places to fill up on authentic, regional eats.
Emilia-Romagna is where the town of Parma lies, and if you haven’t heard of Parma, you’ve certainly heard of its famous pork product — Prosciutto di Parma. In this area, you’ll find the world’s best Prosciutto, as well as countless other must-try cured meats, like Pancetta, Zamponi, Coppa and Salame.
Emilia-Romagna is also famous for being the birthplace of Balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan cheese), Lasagna, Tortellini, Tortelloni, Cappelletti, Ravioli and an array of other stuffed pastas. Emilia-Romagna is the place to taste the Italian foods you know from home in their most authentic forms.
Travel northwest of Emilia-Romagna, and you’ll arrive in Italy’s Piedmont region. Piedmont is the birthplace of the Slow Food movement, an international movement to preserve authentic, regional cuisines, while encouraging the farming of plants and livestock that are characteristic to the region. You’re guaranteed to eat your fill of fresh vegetables and free-range cattle when traveling throughout Piedmont.
A fondue-like cheese dip flavoured with truffles and egg yolks, named fonduta, is a dish that every traveller must try. Gnocchi, grilled beef, handmade tajarin noodles, Agnolotti piemontesi (compared to ravioli) and polenta are among the other culinary delights you’ll find throughout the region. And don’t be surprised if many of the dishes are flavoured with the most divine local ingredients, like white truffles, fine chocolates and gorgonzola.
After sampling your way through some of Italy’s central and northern regions, it’s time to head south — way south. Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean, and its unique location has made it a cultural crossroads for roughly 3,000 years. This immense amount of history is reflected in the area’s food, which is different from what you’ll find in other regions.
Indigenous foods have been influenced by Spanish, Greek, African and Arab flavors to create meals that are full of hearty vegetables, seafood and a base of pasta or couscous. Sicily is also the birthplace of cannoli, so don’t forget to save room for the light semi-frozen dessert that’s often flavored with the island’s freshest citrus fruits.