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Yes, Italian food is an absolute dream. Trying to replicate the feeling my taste buds and body had in Italy by dining at Stateside Italian restaurants has only left me unsatisfied and checking flight prices to hop my ass on a plane back to Europe.

A lot of these dishes contained ingredients that I don’t normally care to eat, but if there’s a time to be adventurous with your appetite, it’s during travel. I had so much amazing food on my Italian vacation. Here’s a list of some of the popular foods in Italy you must try for yourself! Ready to indulge?

Popular Foods in Italy

1. Carbonara

This pasta dish’s main components are egg, cheese, pancetta, black pepper, olive oil, and garlic. My Couchsurfing host made this dish for me the first night I arrived in Rome. I’m not normally too into bacon, pancetta, or really, pork at all, but it is very evident that this makes the dish. The pasta was also tossed in grease from the pancetta for even more flavor. This dish is very popular in Italy, especially Rome.

must try foods in Italy, a heaping pile of plated carbonara

2. Grilled calamari

If you’re unfamiliar, calamari is squid— another food I’m not normally fond of. Living in America, I never even thought of the possibility of calamari being grilled. I’ve only ever seen it fried. And honestly, the few times I’ve tried it, I did not like it at all.

A friend I was at L’isola Ristorante with in Rome encouraged me to try the dish. It didn’t even look like calamari I’d seen. It was served whole instead of cut into rings. Had he not told me, I would’ve never guessed I was being served calamari. Being in a new place, I figured when in Rome (literally), so I squeezed some lemon juice on it and gave it a try, and oh my gosh! It was beyond good. I have even since tried asking places here to prepare it grilled, but I have yet to find a place that will actually do it. So, the first thing I will be getting next time I go to Italy is some grilled calamari!

The 10 Dishes You Must Try in Italy grilled calamari

3. Pizza

Okay, duh. But you can’t just try it once here. There are nearly 10 different styles— don’t you think it’s only right you try them all to determine which you like best? When going to a pizza place in Rome that only sold whole pizzas, I was a little concerned. However, the pizza here was so extremely thin that if you folded it up, it’d pretty much equate to a slice! And they don’t skimp on the toppings here. I got a pizza near the Trevi Fountain at Piccolo Buco that was really thin in the middle, but had a really bubbly crust (this kind was my favorite!). Moral of the story: don’t just try one slice of pizza here and think you’ve had all Italy has to offer. You’re just gettin’ started.

must try dishes Italy pizza
Piccolo Buco pizza

4. Cacio e pepe

Cacio e pepe literally means cheese and pepper. It’s another pasta dish, of course, and it’s so simple, yet so bomb. It’s interesting (maybe it’s just me), but all my life, whenever I’ve made a pasta dish, I like a decent amount of sauce. I don’t want to be able to see the color of the noodles. I want them coated. But Italian pasta dishes are so much lighter when it comes to what’s on the pasta. The ingredients are simple, but the flavor is so good.

The 10 Dishes You Must Try in Italy cacio e pepe

5. Gelato

Italian ice cream is another given. I must’ve had a gelato a day while in Italy. There are so many dang flavors!! Each place has their own selection, so don’t be shy about asking to sample before pulling the trigger on a flavor! Rice pudding and tiramisu seemed to be popular flavors in Italy. Tiramisu I enjoyed, but rice pudding was not my thing. If you’re in Rome, Giolotti is the oldest and most well-known ice cream parlour there and worth a stop.

must try foods in Italy an array of gelato options

6. Limoncello 

Limoncello is an Italian liqueur traditionally served after dinner as a digestivo. It is made from lemon zest, water, alcohol, and sugar. The lemons used to make limoncello aren’t just any lemons, though— they are Sorrento lemons. I had no clue lemons could even get as big as they do in Sorrento— they were literally the size of my head!

You can find limoncello anywhere in Italy, but if you go to Sorrento, you absolutely have to visit Limonoro Sorrento! You’re swept away by a couple of lighthearted, playful Italian men the second you walk in. Every time you turn, someone is presenting you with another sample of some sort. They don’t just stop at limoncello. They also offer lemon cream (my personal favorite), meloncello, sugared almonds, chocolate-covered coffee beans, chocolate-covered pistachios, chocolate-covered candied lemon and orange rinds— the list goes on. But they give you so many free samples and everything is so good that there’s no way to leave empty handed. They have beautiful glass bottles for the liqueurs, but if you want to bring some home with you, they also have travel-safe plastic bottle options as well. I definitely brought home a few!

must try foods in Italy lemon to make limoncello

7. Gnocchi

Gnocchi is like little Italian dumplings! Who doesn’t love dumplings? You can dress these guys up whichever way you like! Italian restaurants normally know what they’re doing, but if the dumplings come with a rich cheese sauce and you prefer a tomato-based sauce or want something lighter (like butter and herbs, for example), then request it— they are typically very accommodating. No matter what sauce you enjoy, I am sure it’s going to taste delicious on these little guys.

must try foods in Italy gnocchi

8. Lasagna

I am going to give you very specific instructions for this one. If you are staying in Florence, there is a half-day tour you can do which includes a sunset in Siena and Chianti dinner in Tuscany. (I won’t go into detail about the tour here, but just know there are a lot of really good tours that go out of Florence.) Siena was lovely, but by far the best part of the tour was Chianti.

We were served many delicacies at Tenuta Torciano, one of them being their homemade, family-recipe lasagna. It contained veal, which almost made me order the vegetarian option, but I hadn’t yet had lasagna in Italy, and I thought I could possibly pick around it. To clarify, I couldn’t. But I didn’t need to. It was the best lasagna my mouth has ever tasted. I was in shock how good it was. I didn’t think it could get any better, but after one bite, they came around and poured truffle oil on top of it. Y’ALL!!! After coming home, I tried to replicate the recipe (minus the veal), but I failed miserably. If you get the chance to explore this vineyard, make sure you include dinner with the tour!

Popular foods in Italy lasagna
Yes…I took a bite before getting the picture. No self control.

9. Cappuccino

If you’re a coffee lover like me, then it only makes sense that you snag a cappuccino in the country it was invented in! While non-flavored coffee drinks have never quite been my thing, after getting multiple blank, confused stares when asking what flavors places had for their cappuccinos, I decided it was time to get with the Italian program. Because of the way that Italians craft their coffee and the pride they take in it, I can understand why they want it to be unadulterated by artificial flavors. Many places top it with some cocoa powder and bring you some white and brown sugar as well. I personally enjoyed adding a little bit of brown sugar to mine! As a bonus, some places even give you little cookies or treats when you order a cappuccino! 🙂

must try dishes Italy cappuccino
This is at La Villa Risto-Bar. Stunning views, delicious coffee, and bonus treats!

10. Wine

Duh, right? It’s only one of Italy’s major food groups. Prior to visiting Italy, I was a little put off by wine. I seemed to get the worst headaches every time I drank it. When traveling through Italy, they didn’t have many liquor options, so it was pretty much wine, beer, or limoncello, so I went with wine. And ya know what? I didn’t have headaches the next day! (Check out my blog post on other surprising things I discovered during my Europe travels.)

So, I know what you may be thinking: “Oh, because they don’t have sulfites in their wine!”

must try dishes Italy Dwight saying false

I actually thought that too, but in doing a little research, it turns out sulfites are actually a natural byproduct of winemaking. In Italy, it doesn’t state on the bottles “contains sulfites,” because they are not required to (in the US, however, we are). Some winemakers do add more than the naturally occurring in order to help preserve the wine. While there still seems to be some controversy on what the cause of headaches in American wine and lack thereof in European versions are, most are in agreement that sulfites are not the culprit. If you’re a real wino, you may be interested in this fun post I found that debunks some wine myths!

must try dishes Italy sipping on some wine

A Few Tips

Make sure when trying these dishes you go off the beaten path. Sometimes, places in the more touristy areas aren’t as authentic as some other options. A general rule is if there’s a menu outside with pictures, it’s probably a tourist trap. Do your research, and if you encounter any locals, don’t be shy to ask for recommendations!

One of the best pastas I had was at a spot called Pastificio Guerra, which is in a somewhat touristy area near the Spanish Steps in Rome. Each day, they have two different pasta options. You pay $5 for a container full of pasta, and it is truly authentic Italian and so good. There aren’t any places to sit in or outside of the place— ya just grab and go. I ate mine while exploring. 

Anywho, the point is you can find some good places in touristy areas. Just do your research, and know the signs of a restaurant being a tourist trap.

Did I leave out a favorite dish you’ve had in Italy? Tell me what I need to try next time I visit!

21 Comments

  1. It was such a mistake to read this post on the best Italian foods on an empty stomach. Now my stomach is rumbling! I especially want some lasagna. Also, I wholly agree that gelatto is a must on every trip to Italy. When I went, I ate it every day!

    1. Haha it’s hard to pass all the gelato shops and not be tempted enough to get one! And I know I ate pasta within an hour of me posting this lol, I couldn’t get it off of my mind

  2. Awesome post!! I enjoyed reading this! Surprised to hear America don’t do grilled calamari! The size of that lemon was insane. Thanks for sharing, I hope to be able to use your tips one day when I get to visit Italy! (I now have such cravings for all of these wonderful things!)

    1. I’m sure we do do grilled calamari, I have just yet to find it haha. It’s not very common but I’m sure some more upscale places may offer it. I’m on the hunt though! I hope you get to visit one day and try them all too 🙂

  3. These are such great tips and suggestions! I can’t wait to travel to Italy some day so I can try all of these dishes, especially the carbonara and gelato! Also, I loved the Dwight meme lol

  4. Wow, I have had almost all of these dishes and I have to agree with you! I’ll never forget my first lasagna in Italy had peas in it and I was so confused 🙂

    1. Oooh, intriguing! I love when random veggies are thrown into things! Spinach would be yummy in lasagna too I think!

  5. We were supposed to go back to Italy this European summer – you’re right, there’s so many delicious Italian dishes to try! And yep – totally agree, wine is absolutely a major food group.

    1. Oh no, hopefully you can go back as soon as all of this is over. I’m dying for another trip myself, fingers crossed for next summer/fall for me.

  6. All of the YES!!! If food isn’t the best reason to travel, I don’t know what is. And great tips too. I always try to walk at least a street or two away from the main tourist drag when looking for a restaurant to eat at. I was never a fan of gnocchi before until I had good gnocchi. Now I love it, and even took an Italian cooking class so I can make it at home

    1. Ah that’s awesome! I think now may be a great time for me to take a virtual cooking class and step up my Italian cooking skills! And I couldn’t agree more, if you aren’t indulging in the food culture during travel you’re definitely missing out on half of the fun and experience!

  7. Great post! 80% of my diet consists of Italian food, so I can relate to many of these. I would love to try limoncello, I haven’t had the pleasure of trying that one yet, but it sounds delicious. And of course, who could visit/eat Italian food without a little wine?

    1. Oh my! Yes, you definitely have to try limoncello! And speaking of wine…I think I’ll have me a glass now haha.

  8. Great post! I visited Italy for a week last spring while I was studying abroad and the food was definitely amazing. I ordered bruschetta and carbonara every change that I got! I also really enjoyed the focaccia bread pizza that you could purchase from street vendors. 🙂

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