Yes, Italy is known for how good its food is. Not just each region, but also each province and town can have their own specialities, as well as local wines that are made differently from one neighbouring province to the next. We absolutely love this difference and diversity, and bring this to every Italian cycling tour we run, which is a big part of what our guests love about our tours.
Here we have compiled a little light reading and a list for you to take on your next visit to Italia which shares 10 things to try, including places to try, and sometimes how to try these local favourites.
1. Americano vs Negroni
While it is great to see that plenty of people have jumped on the Negroni bandwagon, the Americano is another sensational aperitivo that we believe is worth trying. Given that it uses the same Campari and Vermouth Rosso, but just doesn’t include the Gin, it shares a similar delicious flavour… with the added bonus that it’s easy to have more than one on a hot summer’s day.
2. Eat Pizza Fritte in Napoli
Of course, Napoli is famous for pizza, however there’s another style of pizza you must try, the delicious Pizza Fritte. When you’re in Napoli and find a small vendor who specialises and makes these well, they can not only be addictive, but they are so good, you’ll dream about eating your next one.
Pizza fritte is a leavened dough that is filled with chopped salami, ricotta and tomato passata, before it is folded over and deep fried. Eating one of these straight from the fryer with a frosty cold Peroni, is a near religious experience.
3. Go to a Gastronomia
A Gastronomia is a usually a small shop with only a table or two inside, where you can purchase seriously delicious home cooked meals to take away.
Often prepared by mamma or nonna out the back, this is the perfect place to go if you are wanting real local food that is full of flavour. Depending on what part of Italy you are in, you could enjoy a freshly made orecchiette with a sugo of tomato, basil and salted ricotta as we do at one of our lunch stops on our Tour of Puglia, or a slice of Nonna’s meatloaf or spaghetti pizza in Campania, but it’s the different vegetables that are always on offer, that are the beautiful surprise at every gastronomia.
4. Dine ‘alla brace’
When Damian sees this sign, he is always excited, no matter where we are in Italy. ‘Alla Brace’s’ straight translation is “Grilled”, however the key is it’s over charcoal.
We regularly have the chance to share a very authentic charcoal grill experience on our Tuscany cycling tour, at L’Eroica and on our Puglia and Sicily tours, and there is always something special about selecting what you will have grilled from the refrigerated cabinet, and then enjoying the sensational flavours as they are progressively rolled out.
Bombette are from Puglia and are flat slices of pork or beef rolled into a ball that has a centre of eggplant, cheese, pancetta or ……something else amazing. In Tuscany, it’s their sensational hearty pork sausages and iconic Bistecca Fiorentina and in Sicily, meatballs wrapped in lemon leaves and pancetta slices wrapped around short lengths of chives. Delizioso!
5. Stand up coffee at the bar
Drinking your coffee standing up at the bar is an institution and it’s what the locals do. It’s the perfect thing to do to engage in local conversation with the bar owner or barista, and also with Italians enjoying their morning or afternoon caffe.
Find a spot, place you order, eat one of the irresistible brioche or cornetti and enjoy a little small talk, practicing your latest Italian phrase. What could possibly go wrong?……. just make sure you don’t mix up your cornetti with your cornuto as one German man did to much laughter when he realised his error.
6. Drink Vini Locali
Italy has a staggering 2000 different native grape varieties of which a little less than 400 are used to make wine in a commercial volume. With this in mind, live like a local and only drink from the Vini Locali section of the menu. You only have to travel a very short distance and the wine landscape totally changes. In Tuscany, one minute you’re drinking Rosso di Montalcino and less than 20 k’s in one direction, the wine of the area is Rosso d’Orcia or 40 k’s in another direction, and it’s Chianti Classico. This is without even touching on the various wines in-between these that include the Chianti Colle Senesi or the Super Tuscan’s that make the wine lists of many a good osteria or trattoria..
7. Gelato in a Brioche for Breakfast
Yes, you read that correctly and yes it’s somewhat strange, but when we return to Sicily for our tour this May, we will most certainly being have a scoop of the Pistachio gelato (from Bronte of course!), sandwiched in a sweet brioche bun. Whether it’s pre tour in Palermo or in Piazza del Duomo in Cefalu, the home of our first experience of this taste sensation as we watched daily life pass by, or post tour at the famous Bambar in Taormina, we cannot wait to eat this again.
8. Caffe Corretto, that little extra in your coffee.
Caffe Corretto is ‘corrected coffee’. The Italians say that the coffee has been corrected with the addition of a little grappa or sambuca. This little concoction is perfect on a winter’s day as we first enjoyed it many years ago in a little lakeside cafe on Lago di Como, or as Damian so often enjoys it, after dinner anytime with friends.
Digestivo is the little tipple at the conclusion of the meal, which we understand is to aid digestion. A grappa, an Amaro or a liquore are all classed as ‘digestives’…… and are all good in Damian’s view.
However, an Amaro is bitter and is made when pure alcohol is blended or macerated with local wild herbs, and it really does aid digestion. The pinnacle is Braulio. Made in Bormio at the foot of Passo dello Stelvio, this is always on the menu during our Como, Stelvio Dolomites tour. Enjoyed purely as an after dinner digestivo, this is also taken a step further at one of our special local dinners where we enjoy a Braulio Sorbetto for dessert.
Or if you’re trying a grappa, just remember that not all grappa is created equal. It is worth trying a few different types in both the clear and our favourite golden coloured style, that is in barrique. There is a beautiful version in the Dolomites that is also infused with pine cones, called Grappa di Mugo, which we will sample once again on our 2023 Giro d’Italia cycling tour. Finally, there are the liquori, and there is no end to the flavours and variations, with Limoncello from the Amalfi coast being our highlight…. it is quite literally sunshine in a bottle.
10. Gnoccho fritto con Prosciutto in Parma
Prosciutto di Parma on its own is a taste sensation, but when it’s wrapped around a little puffed pillow of leavened dough, known as a gnoccho fritto, it is a revelation. These pillows of goodness can be found across Emilia Romogna, but are particularly amazing in Parma. If you’re heading to Emilia Romagna pre or post tour (our recommendation to many), be sure to order a plate of Prosciutto and a plate of the Gnoccho fritto….. add a glass of Lambrusco to this, and you have a quintessential Emilian antipasto. Definitely a favourite!