A few months ago,
I went on a foodie pilgrimage we took a trip to Italy.
Literally everything we ate was mind blowing. And the fact that there are entire food experiences in Italy that we don’t have in the United States (unless they’re overpriced) was equally as mind blowing. Osteria. Trattoria. Enotica. Aperitivo. Affordable coffee shops that consistently have amazing coffee and pastries. Any traveler interested in food should not miss out on these.
Want more details? Here are a few food experiences and dishes you absolutely cannot miss out on in Italy. And if you want a sample itinerary of how to fit all these places in one trip, check out my one week in Italy guide!
Osteria in Milan
The osteria is an Italian dining experience with a focus on local food. Since there are so many regions in Italy, there are a ton of unique local foods to try (not just pizza and pasta), but one of my personal favorites is Milanese food, which is why I would recommend osteria in Milan!
For example, when we went we had Milanese risotto made with the most flavorful Parmesan and saffron, and balanced with crisp, slightly sweet fried onions. And ossobucco, another Milanese dish of slow cooked cow soaked in flavors, so if you like melt in your mouth veal with a flavor explosion, you’ll like this. And the osteria’s special pasta for the day: a medley of wild mushrooms cooked in white wine and magic. It’s not a Milanese specialty, but it’s a reminder to always try a restaurant’s special for the day for maximum creativity and freshness.
The other great thing about osterie is that they also bring out a few complementary dishes over the course of the meal. They brought us free prosecco, free amuse bouche, and free risotto– in addition to all the stuff we actually ordered!
Ossobucco photographs bad, but tastes good
Aperitivo in Milan
Italian culture understands me so well! I like campari, spritzers, vermouth, gin. Aperitifs include campari, spritzers, vermouth, gin. I get hungry when I drink certain drinks. Aperitifs supposedly open up your palate. I like variety in foods and eat often. When you go out for aperitifs with your friends, you can eat a lot of different (sometimes free!!!) snacks to prepare you for dinner.
Italians call this aperitivo. I call this my life.
Anyway, an actual Italian can give you more background, but the drink+meal combination known as aperitivo is a great time of day that everyone who appreciates fine drinks and food should experience. Milan is its hometown, which is why you need to try it here.
But here’s a pizza instead because I always had aperitivo too quickly to take pictures.
Coffee shops in Rome
Sure, coffee shops can be found anywhere, but they won’t be anything like the ones you’ll find in Italy. The oldest coffee shop is found in Rome, and throughout the city there are ones where you can start your day with cornetto e cappuccino for like €1. One. Euro.
Another plus, the shops I would visit felt like a community- everyone knew everyone else, and most people were really friendly towards me, making jokes, teaching me Italian, showing me different types of cornetti. Coffee shops in Rome and in Italy are can’t miss experiences for great coffee, great pastries, and affordable prices. There are a few differences with Italian coffee shops vs US ones, which you can read about here.
Pasta in Rome
Rome and its surrounding areas are home to several unique, local pastas that are amazing and that you can’t miss. Carbonara. Bucatini alla’matriciana. Cacio e pepe. You can read about their history here, but when you’re in Rome, you need to try these dishes for a mind blowing, tasty experience.
A random dish at a random place
STOP following lists. Go out there, and get something random and unplanned! Sometimes, the best things you find are not the things you plan on, expect, or research.
For us, this was the random snacks we we were randomly given in a tavern. And the best pasta of our life in a residential part of Venice, at a random restaurant, where we ordered a random dish that we couldn’t pronounce. It turned out to be probably my most favorite dish on the whole trip! Better than the food I tried in the “best restaurants in Venice” lists!
Perhaps because it was the special for the day, and you should always try out a restaurant’s daily special for the freshest of foods, but also perhaps because no blog or YouTube channel talked it up- we had no expectations or ideas of what it would taste like. We found it on our own, and we chose to go. Also the server started playing DMX loudly as soon as he saw me, so…
Bonus: Cichetti in Venice
Okay- the above is sassy and I’m sorry.
If you do want an actual local Venetian food experience, try cichetti, which is like Venetian tapas. Since Venice is on the water, a lot of these small plates can include seafood like anchovies, squid ink, or tuna, and since it is similar to tapas, it’s also an affordable dining option.
Disclaimer: Italy has a strong food culture, and this list barely scratches the surface! While these are all amazing food experiences in Italy, if you have more time there, try even more!