45+ Popular Italian Foods Italy is Famous For
Let’s learn all about authentic Italian foods! We’ll look at 47 of the best food Italy is famous for, from antipasti to dolci.
Aah, Italian food, is it the most delicious food in all the world? It just might be.
There are many things I’ve loved about living in and visiting Italy, but the food is high on the list. Here are authentic Italian foods you need to know about.
The Best Italian Food by Region
Lumping “Italian food” into one category would be a mistake, as the culture and cuisine vary from region to region. While pasta and gelato are foods Italy is famous for worldwide and popular all over Italy, there are other recipes that are unique to particular regions.
I learned to cook while living in Florence, so we learned traditional Tuscan dishes such as bruschetta, Panzanella, pappardelle al ragu, and biscotti – all while sipping Chianti Classico of course. When we visit our friends in Bologna we often see Tortellini in Brodo. And while visiting Lake Garda, we noticed a heavy German influence.
Traditional Italian foods are influenced by surrounding countries, climate, and history of the region. Some Italian food dishes have unknown regional origins, or multiple regions fight to claim they invented them.
Most Popular Italian Food: Ingredients
Many Italian foods even have protections to guarantee quality and authenticity, such as DOP labels. For example, Prosciutto di Parma must be from Parma, Basamico di Modena must be produced in Modena, Parmigano Reggiano must be produced within the Parmigiano Reggiano DOP mandates, San Marzano tomatoes must be grown and packaged in the specific area of Campania, and Chianti Classico must be made from grapes grown in the Chianti region.
These Italian foods must be produced in the specified regions, they must be made in the traditional manner and using only ingredients from the area. It is this attention and dedication to authenticity and quality that makes me love Italian food so much.
Some of the most popular Italian ingredients include Olive oil, vinegar (especially balsamic and red wine), truffles, tomatoes, tomato sauce (such as marinara and pizza sauce), pesto, legumes (especially farro, chickpeas, and white beans), bread, pasta, meat (wild boar, beef, chicken, rabbit, veal, pork), cured meats (salami, prosciutto), fish, fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
Most Popular Italian Foods by Course
Italian menus are traditionally broken up into appetizers (antipasti), first course (primi piatti), second course (secondi piatti), side dishes (contorni), and desserts (dolci).
Antipasti can be enjoyed for happy hour with a glass of wine or before dinner. Primi piatti usually includes salads, pasta, and other lighter dishes but can be ordered as a main dish. There can be some overlap, for example a salad could be included considered a primi or a contorni.
ANTIPASTI | Starters
Antipasto is the first course of a traditional Italian dinner. It usually consists of small bites and can be served all on one platter (like charcuterie). Salad such as Caprese could also be considered an antipasto.
1. VENETIAN CICHETTI
Cichetti is a classic Venetian aperitivo. They are often enjoyed with a glass of wine or Spritz at a wine bar. Similar to bruschetta, slices of bread are topped with all sorts of ingredients.
Check out All’Arco for some of the best, most creative Cicchetti in Venice.
2. FRIED SEAFOOD (FRITTO MISTO DI MARE OR CALAMARI)
Region: all coastal regions
Squid is popular in several Italian dishes. Here it is battered and fried and served with a squeeze of lemon juice. It’s often bought as street food. I’ve purchased paper cones of fritto misto at farmer’s markets around Lake Garda.
3. TOMATO BRUSCHETTA (BRUSCHETTA AL POMODORO)
Region: Lazio, Abruzzo, and Tuscany
Contrary to popular belief, bruschetta refers to the toasted bread rubbed with garlic, not a tomato topping. There are many types of bruschetta. One of my favorites in Tuscany is the white bean bruschetta. Bruschetta al Pomodoro is definitely the most popular and common.
4. ARTICHOKES (CARCIOFI)
Region: Tuscany and Lazio
The artichokes pictured above were from Cantinetta de Rignana and were the most delicious I had ever tasted.
5. PROSCIUTTO E MELONE
Cured meats such as salami and prosciutto are popular all over Italy. One famous pairing is canteloupe and prosciutto for a sweet and salty combination.
6. BAGNA CAUDA
Bagna Cauda is a traditional Italian food from Piedmont, in Northwest Italy. This antipasto is a dip that is made with olive oil and anchovies. It’s served similar to fondue, hot with vegetables for dipping.
PRIMI | First Courses
First courses in an Italian dinner usually consist of pasta, soup, or salad. Even though they are classified as “Primi Piati” on menus, it’s fine to order one as a main course.
7. CAPRESE SALAD
Caprese Salad first became famous on the Island of Capri when a patriotic stone worker created it in the same colors as the Italian flag. It can be served as an antipasto or a primi.
Panzanella salad can be found in most cafes around Tuscany during the summer. This typical Italian recipe made with day-old bread is a great example of how Tuscan cooks don’t waste any food.
Region: Veneto, Friuli, Lombardy and Piedmont
Creamy polenta is a classic warm and cozy Italian recipe. Polenta is a cornmeal porridge that from Northern Italy. It’s often topped with a hearty ragu or (my favorite) sauteed mushrooms.
11. TORTELLINI IN BRODO
Tortellini in Brodo is a very simple yet warm and satisfying primi piato. It’s very common to find on menus in Bologna. The first time I had this dish was at Ristorante Diana in Bologna, and I had it as a main course along with a salad to start.
12. PASTA WITH WILD BOAR SAUCE (PAPPARDELLE AL RAGÙ DI CINGHIALE)
Region: Tuscany & Umbria
One of the most famous Italian foods in Tuscany and Umbria is wild boar. As a vegetarian, I don’t eat this dish, but hunters and chefs claim the wild boar population must be kept in check. This dish is made by slow cooking the boar meat until is a soft ragu.
13. HALF-MOON RAVIOLI WITH MUSHROOMS AND TRUFFLES (MEZZELUNE AL TARTUFO)
Region: Tuscany and Umbria
Nearly all of the restaurants we visited in Tuscany had some type of truffle pasta on the menu. Truffles pair nicely with mushrooms, and truffle and mushroom ravioli is very popular.
14. PESTO PASTA (PASTA AL PESTO)
Pesto is a famous Italian recipe from Genoa, in the region of Liguria. This flavorful sauce is made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmigiano, and olive oil. It’s easy to make at home in a food processor.
15. PASTA ALLA NORMA
Pasta alla Norma is a simple and delicious Italian recipe from Sicily. It consists of an eggplant ragu tossed with pasta.
16. SPAGHETTI WITH CLAMS (SPAGHETTI ALLE VONGOLE)
A classic Mediterranean dish, this is a simple spaghetti loaded up with fresh clams. It is usually made with a light olive oil, garlic, and white wine sauce.
Region: Campania and Lazio
Puttanesca is a famous Italian pasta sauce loaded with flavor from tomatoes, capers, olives, and garlic. Puttanesca translates to “lady of the night” and has a rather interesting history.
18. CHEESE AND PEPPER PASTA (CACIO E PEPE)
Cacio e Pepe is one of the most famous Roman pasta dishes. It’s simple to make by stirring cheese and pepper vigorously into freshly cooked spaghetti.
19. PASTA WITH GARLIC AND OIL (AGLIO E OLIO)
Pasta with Aglio (garlic) and oil (olive oil) is as simple as it sounds. Simply saute some garlic in olive oil and add some cooked spaghetti.
20. SQUID INK SEAFOOD PASTA
The ink from Cuttlefish is used to make black spaghetti, a popular pasta dish in Venice, Italy.
21. SPAGHETTI WITH SEA URCHIN (RICCI DI MARE)
Region: Pulia, Campania, Sardinia, Sicily
Uni (sea urchin) is very popular in Japanese cuisine and you may have even tried uni sushi. Sea Urchin is also popular in coastal regions of Southern Italy. The most famous Italian food made with sea urchin is a creamy spaghetti.
23. POTATO GNOCCHI (GNOCCHI DI PATATE)
Gnocchi are small potato dumplings usually served with a tomato, pesto, or cream sauce. This traditional Italian food is similar to pasta but made with potatoes.
24. FARRO SALAD
Like Panzanella, farro salad with olive oil, tomatoes, and basil is a very common salad in Tuscany during the warm summer months.
Warm and creamy, risotto comes from the colder Northern regions of Italy. The main ingredient is arborio rice and it can be made with many types of vegetables. Try our Mushroom Risotto which is easy to make in the Instant Pot.
Piadina is an Italian flatbread with tasty fillings. Similar to a sandwich, this recipe is usually found as street food from grab-and-go cafes.
27. BREAD AND TOMATO SOUP (PAPPA AL POMODORO)
Here’s another traditional famous Italian food made with day-old bread and tomatoes. It may sound unusual, but pappa al Pomodoro is absolutely delicious and very common in Tuscany.
Yet another cucuna povera recipe made to use up old bread. This is a classic Tuscan soup loaded with nourishing ingredients like kale and white beans.
29. FARRO VEGETABLE SOUP
This nourishing Italian Vegetable Soup is one of my favorite Italian soups ever. Farro makes the minestrone a bit heartier and more filling.
SECONDI | Main Courses
Main courses in Italy are typically served a la carte. Contorni (side dishes) are meant to be ordered separately on the side. Italian food main courses (secondi) are usually some type of fish, chicken, or meat. However, many people, including myself opt for a primi piato such as pasta as the main course.
30. EGGPLANT PARMSAN (PARIMIGANA DI MELANZANE)
Region: Calabria, Campania, and Sicily
Eggplant is a popular ingredient in Southern Italy. Parmigiana di Melanzane is a famous Italian food that is perfect for vegetarians and easy to make vegan too. Here’s my recipe for healthier baked Eggplant.
31. MEATBALLS (POLPETTE)
Region: Veneto or Lazio
Polpette are always served as a secondi and never with pasta. Spaghetti with meatballs is an entirely American invention.
Region: Coastal Regions
Branzino is a whole roasted sea bass that is served usually served with lemon. In some areas, it is baked in salt to prevent the fish from drying out.
33. FLORENTINE STEAK (BISTECCA ALLA FIORENTINA)
Tuscany is the BBQ capital of Italy. My favorite restaurant in Chianti, Cantinetta di Riganna, has an open kitchen. The chefs can be seen grilling large pieces of meat throughout the night.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina is the most popular and is a T-bone steak that is grilled.
“Milanese” simply means in the style of Milan. This is a method of cooking meat in which thin slices of meat are dredged in eggs and bread crumbs and then fried. This is a famous Northern Italian food that is often made with veal or chicken.
CONTORNI | Side Dishes
As main Italian food dishes do not typically do not come with sides, “contorni” are usually ordered alongside.
35. GRILLED VEGETABLES (VERDURE GRIGLIATE)
Contorni are usually simply cooked vegetables of some sort. This platter of grilled vegetables at a restaurant in the Chianti area of Tuscany is a typical side dish.
36. SAUTEED SPINACH (SPINACI ALL’AGRO)
38. ROASTED POTATOES (PATATE AL FORNO)
39. WHITE BEANS (FAGIOLI BIANCHI ALLA MANIERA ANTICA)
40. MIXED SALAD
DOLCI | Desserts
Italy as some of the best foods in the world, and that includes desserts (dolci)! Here are some of the most famous.
Gelato is one food that Italy is famous for. While Sicily is known as the birthplace of gelato, it is famous everywhere in Italy.
A simple but delicious dessert, Affogato marries two Italian food staples – espresso and gelato. Affogato translates to “drowned” in English, which makes sense because gelato is drowned in a shot of espresso.
This Italian dessert recipe is easy to make at home and all you need is some gelato and espresso.
Tiramisu is one of the most famous Italian desserts. The name Tiramisu translates to “pick me up” or “cheer me up.”
Tiramisu is made by layering ladyfinger cookies soaked in espresso with whipped cream and mascarpone. It is topped off with a layer of coca powder. You can think of it as an Italian trifle.
Cannolo translates to “little tube” in English. These little fried pastry tubes are filled with a sweet ricotta cheese filling.
Some people say that Pizzelle are the oldest cookies in history! These thin Italian cookies are made by pressing dough in an iron, a bit like a waffle. They are delicious as a snack or dessert as-is but can also be shaped into bowls or cones and filled with pastry cream or gelato.
Cantucci are hard little almond cookies that are very popular throughout Tuscany. They are often served with a small glass of Vin Santo wine at the end of an Italian meal.
Final Thoughts on Italian Food
Pizza and pasta may be the foods that Italy is most famous for, but authentic Italian cuisine goes much further. The next time you’re in Italy or dining at an authentic Italian restaurant you’ll know just how to order.
- Bagna Cauda with Vegetables
- Vegetable Soups
- Eggplant Parmsan
- Meat (Bistecca alla Fiorentina, Milanese, etc.)
- Grilled Vegetables
- Roasted Potatoes
- White Beans
- Side Salad
- If you want to try some of the best Italian food Italy is famous for, create your own menu. Choose a few of the recipes listed in the article.
This is a quick printable list, but please see the full article for all the best Italian food information and links.