Italy is one of the world’s most celebrated culinary destinations, but not all Italian food is the same; with such diverse landscapes and influences throughout history, each region has developed its own distinct culinary identity.
Travel to these six gastronomically rich regions of Italy – from its mountainous north to the sunny southern coast- to taste the best of the country’s regional Italian cooking.
This north-eastern Italian region, bordered by the snow-capped Dolomites on one side and Adriatic Sea on the other, is a vast expanse of hills and valleys, with the iconic city of Venice as its capital.
Polenta, rice, cod and beans are considered the region’s key ingredients, resulting in a wide variety of delicate risottos, and regional specialities that are determined by their locale; in the mountains, expect more game, and tuck into seafood by the coast.
Finish with one of Veneto’s most famous signature dishes, the sweet ‘pick-me-up’ Tiramisu.
This Venetian staple is often cooked with seafood, but for a classic risotto go for risi e bisi, with butter, parmesan, prosciutto and peas, or risotto nero with squid ink for something a little more adventurous.
Many Italians regard Emilia-Romagna as the country’s greatest culinary region, largely due to the rich produce this north-central area has to offer.
The cured meat prosciutto originates from Parma, with chestnuts and porcini mushrooms to stake a claim to as well.
As in each region of Italy, dishes are led by these seasonal ingredients, but in Emilia-Romagna, where the climate is cooler, dishes are that little bit richer.
The city of Bologna is especially famous for its homemade pasta dishes with hearty meat sauces.
Try: Polpette alla Bolognese
This classic Bologna dish comprises meatballs of veal, Bologna’s sausage Mortadella, and Parmigiano, cooked in a tomato sauce.
From Tuscany’s famously scenic landscape of rolling hills, vineyards and olive groves comes seasonal produce that’s used to cook up simple Italian dishes.
Pasta is typically prepared with meat sauces – and served with Tuscan bread to dip in the local olive oil – and game also plays a dominant role, with a richness of wild boar, hare and pheasant on Tuscan menus.
And while Tuscany’s capital, Florence, is celebrated for its Renaissance arts, it’s equally considered a gastronomic hub, showcasing the humble Italian fare of this region.
The signature Tuscan dish, Ribollita, combines the region’s cannellini beans and fresh vegetables in a hearty soup with crusty bread and olive oil.
The cuisine in Lazio and the city of Rome encompasses the ingredients sourced from the surrounding land, where Buffalo mozzarella, ricotta and Pecorino cheese are locally made and artichokes and fava beans grow alongside chestnuts and strawberries.
Meat such as beef, pork and lamb is reared, and features alongside game such as rabbit, as well as offal. But it’s the region’s everyday hearty pasta dishes that have become known across the world, including classic Italian dishes like spaghetti alla carbonara.
Try: Gnocchi alla Romana
What makes the gnocchi in Rome so unique is the use of Semolina flour instead of potato.
These are then cooked with butter and topped with cheese, and perhaps served with a meat and tomato sauce.
This southwest region is often thought of for its rugged stretch of coast where idyllic towns sit within the rocks, but inland the region’s fertile volcanic soil allows an abundance of sun-ripened produce to grow.
Mozzarella is made by hand, and pork is cured to make Prosciutto and salami. The coastal setting, meanwhile, provides abundant fish and seafood, including octopus, anchovies, sardines and clams.
Naples is situated here on the coast, enticing visitors in for its striking setting by Mount Vesuvius, prosperous arts, and world-famous cuisine, which despite Naples’ claim as the birthplace of pizza, is held in highest regard for its pasta.
Neapolitan pizza is Naples’ most famous dish, with a simple topping of tomato, mozzarella and basil, but another Naples specialty is Calzone, the over-baked, folded pizza filled with mozzarella and locally cured meat.
Influenced by the various peoples who have inhabited the island throughout history, and prepared with produce farmed in nutrient-rich volcanic soil, the food in Sicily is unlike anywhere else. Grapes, olives, pistachios, figs and lemons all grow in profusion, as do grains like rice and wheat.
Pasta has been made on the island since the 11th century, and seafood plays a dominant role in local cooking, with swordfish, sea bass and tuna caught off the coast.
Cakes and pastries are also popular in Sicily; look out for Cassata, a sweet rice cake made in Palermo.
Originating in Sicily, these fried balls of risotto are a part of the island’s street food culture, and most typically filled with a meat sauce or prosciutto and mozzarella.
Palermo’s vibrant festival, Saint Lucia, is the best time to try them, when each variation can be found in one place.