To travel is not just to visit sights, it is also an opportunity to sample the distinct flavors that the destination offers.
And if Italy is in your travel bucket list, National Geographic has compiled 10 iconic regional dishes that you must try on your visit.
1. The truffles of Piedmont
People travel all the way to Alba in Piedmont just to bring home Tuber magnatum pico or the Piedmont white truffle.
Just the aroma of the white truffle alone seems to cast a spell on travelers and make them fork out as much as $3,600 just to bring home a pound of it.
While most truffles are cultivated in orchards, white truffle only grows underground on the roots of oak, willow, poplar and hazelnut trees.
2. Veneto’s polenta
Polenta is a type of cornmeal that shows up in every dish from appetizers to sweets.
It can be served as a loose porridge alongside a dish.
Polenta can also be baked with alternating layers of sauce and cheese.
For dessert, it can be an ingredient to torta sabbiosa or sandy cake and zaletti, Venice’s favorite golden cookies.
3. Prosciutto di Parma in Emilia-Romagna
It’s the most sought-after ham in the world!
Salt-cured and air-dried Prosciutto di Parma has four essential ingredients found only in this province: well-fed hogs, dry mountain air, salt and know-how.
Wholesome hogs that are well fed on whey, barley, corn and fruit. The whey is a byproduct of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Dry and steady air currents rise from the Versilia River and blow through the Apennines. By the time they reach the prosciutto manufacturer, the air currents have picked up the scents of olive groves, chestnut woods and pine forests.
The rear legs of 10-month porkers are salted, hung and periodically massaged.
4. Parmigiano Reggiano in Emilia-Romagna
National Geographic describes the cheese as “freshly grated, its flavor takes dishes from great to magnificent.”
Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses are aged for 18 months to four years intensifying its flavor.
When a wheel of this cheese is opened, the aroma is said to convey the life and memories of entire villages.
A nugget of it reveals a rich straw color with firm, moist, flaky and slightly granular texture.
5. Tuscany’s Lucca olive oil
While almost every region in Italy produces olive oil, the one made in Tuscany is considered liquid gold.
Within Tuscany, the extra-virgin oil made in the city of Lucca near the Tyrrhenian coast is among the best of all.
Making extra-virgin olive oil is costly and labor-intensive and its handcrafted production is limited.
But this type of oil is essential to Tuscan cuisine.
By simply drizzling this liquid gold, it fortifies simple Tuscan dishes and brings streaks to new heights.
6. Artichokes in Lazio
The violet globe artichoke known as carciofo Romanesco found in the Lazio region is the symbol of Rome.
It is also known as cimarolo or mammola, a variety without thorns or choke because of careful pruning.
These artichokes have a particular flavor imparted from volcanic soil where it is cultivated.
You can eat it raw grazed with olive oil.
Or have it pickled in olive oil for the long winter months.
7. Gelato in Lazio
Another must-try in Lazio is the gelato.
There are 2,500 gelaterie around the city of Rome alone.
Gelatos are like ice cream but they are creamier and lower in fat and added sugar.
Roman gelatai make them at home using fresh dairy and quality raw ingredients – local fruits, premium chocolate, local nuts, and fine wines and spirits.
Gelatos are made in small batches to preserve the taste and silkiness.
Gelatos are also eaten the same day they are made.
8. Espresso in Campania
This is coffee heaven for caffeine lovers.
Espresso is one of the glories of Naples.
Experience sipping a unique cup of coffee brewed using the regional Campania secret – grinding beans to a near powder form, tamping it down and blasting boiling local water through it at the highest pressure possible.
Coffee bars will give you the following options:
Espresso – straight and dense
Ristretto – very concentrated
Lungo – espresso with more water
Macchiato – espresso stained with a dribble of foamed hot milk
Caffe Corretto – ristretto with liqueur, grappa or cognac
Cappuccino – espresso with foamed hot milk
Caffe Latte – half hot milk, half espresso
9. Citrus in Sicily
The fragrance of citrus is the scent of Sicily.
Sicily has lemons, limes, grapefruit, citron and sour orange called arangias.
Arangias are inedible when raw but used it cooking, it gives a distinctive bitterness.
This sour orange used to be a status food for the elite during the Middle Ages.
But its popularity eventually waned when blood oranges were cultivated in Sicily.
10. Pecorino Romano cheese in Sardinia
This cheese is known for its salty punch.
Pecorino Romano was originally made by Roman shepherds who like to flavor their food using it in place of salt which was costly then.
By grating this cheese, southern-style pasta dishes are enhanced particularly spaghetti con acciughe e cipolle or spaghetti with anchovy and onions.
According to National Geographic, Italian food does not have a national character. But the Italian way of eating does. There is a reverence for local ingredients, sensitivity and simply prepared, and enjoyed alongside family and friends, slowly and with gusto!
Now you’ll know what to look for to enjoy a gastronomic adventure or to bring home as pasalubong when you go visiting Italy.