The very best places in Italy for food & drink
"He who goes to bed without eating will regret it throughout the night," says the Italian proverb, and this is certainly true if you pass up the opportunity to sample authentic Italian cuisine. With so much seasonal produce and so many unique regional flavours to sample, there genuinely is something for everyone when it comes to Italian food and drink.
If you want to enjoy real Italian food, be sure to check out some of these destinations…
Naples -- Pizza
How could any guide to Italian food not begin with pizza? Pizza, it is said, was first invented in Naples in 1889 in honour of Queen Margherita of Savoy. The first pizza was said to represent the Italian flag, with red tomatoes, white mozzarella and green basil, and it was named after the Queen -- that's why we still call this classic pizza a Margherita
Real Italian pizza is thin-based, not deep-pan, and there are often far fewer toppings to choose from than we're used to. The best pizzas are cooked in wood-fired ovens (forno a legna); this often means Italian pizzerias don't open until the evening, as wood-fired ovens can take a long time to heat up.
Bologna -- Ragù, Lasagne and Tortellini
Bologna is nicknamed "the fat one" (La Grassa) for a reason -- some of the best Italian dishes can be enjoyed here. Our version of spaghetti Bolognese has been adapted from the delicious tagliatelle al ragù -- this dish was first created in 18th-century Bologna, with veal, truffle, chicken liver and cream used in the original recipe. Today, this thick tomato-based sauce is made with carrots, onion, celery, beef and pork, and is served with tagliatelle or in lasagne with creamy béchamel sauce, but never with spaghetti.
Legend has it that tortellini were first created when Venus visited a local inn in Castelfranco Emilia, a town halfway between Bologna and Modena. The innkeeper attempted to spy on her, but only caught a glimpse. He then rushed to the kitchen, where he created a dish inspired by what he'd seen. Fresh egg-pasta tortellini is served in a broth and can be filled with meat or cheese.
Rome -- Carbonara
We have Rome to thank for carbonara, although the genuine recipe doesn't include the cream that many recipes call for. Instead, the combination of eggs and pecorino Romano cheese creates a creamy sauce all on its own. Also, rather than bacon, cured pork jowl (guanciale) is used.
Genoa -- Pesto Genovese
Pesto hails from the Liguria region and uses two of its most abundant ingredients -- basil and olive oil, along with garlic, parmesan, pecorino, salt and pine nuts. Traditional pesto Genovese is served with pasta, potatoes and green beans.
Parma -- Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma
Parmigiano Reggiano is known as the "king of cheeses" -- in fact, it's so important that famous diarist, Samuel Pepys, buried his Parmesan during the Great Fire of London in 1666 to save it from the flames. Parmesan was first created by Benedictine and Cistercian monks over a thousand years ago.
Parma ham, known as prosciutto di Parma, is salted and air-dried for eight to 24 months, giving it a uniquely sweet taste.
Sorrento -- Limoncello
Limoncello is Italy's favourite liqueur and is made with lemon zest, which is steeped in alcohol until its oils are released, which gives the drink its vibrant colour. This aperitif is said to have been created over a century ago, although no one really knows its true origins.
Sicily -- Gelato
The history of gelato is unclear, with some stories crediting the ancient Romans with its creation, while others say it was actually the Egyptians we have to thank for it. However, Sicily has its part to play in this delicious frozen dessert, with Sicilian fisherman Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli creating the first ice-cream machine in 1686. Today, you can find gelato throughout Italy, but it remains one of the staples of Sicilian cuisine today.
Chianti -- Wine
This famous wine is produced in the Chianti region, between Florence and Siena. Authentic Chianti must be made from at least 80% Sangiovese grapes, and you'll know if it's authentic if the bottle comes with a black rooster symbol on the label.
Trieste -- Prosecco
This sparkling Italian wine is named after the village of the same name, found near Trieste, and uses Glera grapes in its production. Prosecco has been produced since ancient Roman times, although it was known as ribolla back then. Pliny the Elder, who died in 79 AD, wrote about ribolla wine in his book "Natural History", one of the first encyclopaedias.