Italy is known for some amazing food but there are so many dishes that go unnoticed and un-tasted. There are also plenty of places that people don’t visit because they’re not as famous as Rome or Venice. But if you’re planning on visiting Italy anytime soon I suggest going south to Puglia, Sicily, or Naples and opening up your palate to some of their famous foods.
A lot of us outside of Italy eat focaccia plain or with some olive oil, but down in the south, they top their focaccia with all kinds of ingredients, making it into a full on lunch rather than just an appetizer. It can be made with olives, tomato, cheese, and my personal favourite, potato slices.
2. Neopolitan Pizza
That thin pizza you see coming out of an old-fashioned wood-burning oven originates from Naples, Italy and is therefore referred to as Neapolitan pizza. Be careful here, it’s not Napolean pizza. Napolean was a French leader, and sadly, he did not make pizzas. It usually doesn’t take more than 2-3 minutes for these pizzas to cook and they’re so much better than any pizza joint in North America.
There’s nothing bad about these flaky little treats. Just like a croissant, it has a crunchy, flaky exterior and a soft interior. As a pleasant surprise, it’s stuffed with sweet ricotta cheese, another Italian must-have. Not too sweet but just sweet enough for a mid-day snack.
Gelato is a must anywhere in Italy but this list wouldn’t be complete without it. It’s creamy, refreshing and comes in a million flavours you would never even think of like fig and almond or cheesecake. Oh, and they love their Nutella there, so you’re sure to find a Nutella flavour anywhere you look.
You’re probably familiar with this flaky dessert filled with ricotta cheese and maybe sometimes even chocolate chips. But did you know that it originated in the south of Italy? Cannoli are from Sicily which is right at the bottom of the country. Definitely worth the visit, even if it’s just for one of these guys.
Even if you’re not a seafood lover, you should try it here. Being right on the water means that the muscles, clams, fish, and octopus are all so fresh you can really taste the difference. Whether it’s fried or not, you can’t go wrong with Italian seafood. Don’t knock it till you try it.
7. Caprese Salad
Bet you didn’t know that Caprese salad comes from Capri. The luxurious island that plays host to celebrities like Beyonce and John Legend is famous for putting cheese and tomato together to make this classic salad we all know and love.
Pronounced “pooch-eh,” this bun utilizes all the amazing olives that grow in the south. It’s a soft bun baked with olives inside and it tastes great alone or as a sandwich.
You might know it as a croissant, but in Italy, it’s called a cornetto. These are a typical breakfast in the south. Want to move there yet? Well, it gets better. They stuff their cornetti with Nutella or cream for a burst of sweetness that is the best way to start your day.
Orecchiette comes from Puglia, the heel of the boot, and is an amazingly versatile pasta so there’s no reason not to try it. You can serve it with pesto, tomato sauce, or just plain olive oil and it will still be delicious. The unique part of this pasta is its ear-like shape that allows it to hold sauces.
Just like the cornetto, these little cakes have a surprise center. Traditionally they may be filled with ricotta or cream but they’ve also been modernized by adding Nutella. Pasticciotto is just one of the reasons you should visit the beautiful city of Lecce where they originated.
Like gelato, you can really get a cappuccino anywhere in Italy but I had to put it on the list. Pair it with a sweet cornetto and you have a traditional Italian breakfast. Nobody in Italy walks around with a Trenta Starbucks. If you want to blend in, you have to drink espresso and leave the to-go cup behind.
This creamy cheese is my favourite part of Italian cuisine. It’s just like mozzarella but the inside oozes creaminess when you cut into it. Put it on a crostino or just eat it with a fork, it’s that good.
Zeppole are also served in the north of Italy but up there they often call them frittelle. This fried dough ball is often stuffed with cream or custard and is very similar to a cream puff. Another common name for these is bignè di San Giuseppe which means cream puff of Saint Joseph. They’re named after him because they are eaten on Festa di San Giuseppe, the Italian father’s day.
15. Anything Fried
Strolling around the streets of Napoli, it’s not hard to find something fried. Southern street food is all about anything fried from fresh seafood to macaroni noodles. Surprisingly, it’s not super heavy and if you get fried seafood, it’s even a little refreshing on a hot summer day.
These little snacks are so addicting that I’ve ruined my appetite on multiple occasions because I couldn’t stop munching on them before dinner. Taralli come in a variety of flavours, some sweet and some savory, but the best ones of all are the taralli from the south. Naples makes them with almonds and a bit of spice. They’re served warm and flaky so they basically melt in your mouth.
17. Olive Oil
Obviously you’re not gonna go drink this straight out of the bottle but it’s worth tasting the difference between Pugliese olive oil and olive oil from the rest of the world. Puglia is Italy’s largest olive oil producer and being such an important ingredient in Italian cooking, you’re gonna want the good stuff.