Italian cuisine is often regarded as some of the most sophisticated and nuanced in the world, with endless flavors blended in creative and supremely satisfying ways. It’s rare to go to an Italian restaurant anywhere in the world, let alone in Italy, and leave feeling unfulfilled or unhappy. Generous with their hospitality and their portions, Italians know how to do meals right. But on your next trip, try something different. Here are some regional specialties to look out for that you might not have heard of before:
These small, soft-shell crabs are a seasonal delicacy found in Venice only during a short period of time in the Spring and Fall. The specialized molecanti fishermen know how to recognize when their catch has molted their shells, and can be eaten in a very short time window before their new shell hardens. Moleche are often fried, served with linguine in a special crab sauce, or in salad, but are always delicious. You’ll pay a premium for them (they’re often compared to truffles in their rarity and reputation), but they’re entirely worth it.
2. Polenta e Osei
This specialty of Bergamo is actually a trick. While it looks identical to polenta, it’s actually a very sweet cake that makes the perfect ending to any meal (assuming that you still have any room left). It is topped with small birds (osei) made of marzipan, pecking at the surface. It will be difficult to find this outside of certain areas, but it is definitely worth trying to find!
This northern Italian delicacy is often compared to the spätzle of central Europe. Composed of bread crumbs, Parmesan, eggs, lemon, and nutmeg, they have a unique and hearty flavor. They can be served in chicken broth as a sort of soup, or as a normal pasta dish. Either way, they’re delicious.
This little-known item can be served as a dish in its own right, or used as an ingredient for more complex meals. Tiny pasta balls originating in Sardinia, they could be compared to cous cous but are larger and have a toasty flavor from being baked in an oven. They are excellent served as a sort of risotto, or can be sautéed, put into paella, or served in a salad. An excellent addition to southern Italian cuisine.
5. Pasta all’Amatriciana
Hailing from Amatrice in central Italy, this red sauce has a uniquely smoky flavor. When served on spaghetti, it is a traditional dish that often uses pig jowl (the cheek, a delicacy in most animals—just ask Hannibal Lecter) as its meat. This can sometimes be substituted with pancetta or bacon. Either way, it forms a rich flavor and is absolutely delicious.
Hungry yet? We are. Hopefully this list has gotten you inspired and looking for new things to try wherever you go in Italy. Buon appetito!