Italy, with its rich culinary legacy and numerous regional cuisines, is a foodie’s paradise. It doesn’t matter if you’re visiting Rome, Florence, Venice, or some other Italian city; you’ll never run out of tasty dishes to try.

The next time you’re in Italy and trying to decide what to eat, look no further! There is no shortage of delectable selections to pick from, ranging from pizza and pasta to risotto and gelato and more. However, it might be difficult to narrow down your dining options when there are so many delicious options available. That’s where I come in!

This is your ultimate Italian food guide, and I’ll introduce you to some of the must-try dishes and drinks during your trip to Italy, as well as recommendations for the finest wines to go with them. Your taste buds will thank you—and me.

Here are some must-try dishes and drinks during your trip to Italy.

1. Pizza

Pizza is probably the first thing that comes to mind when considering Italian food. And for a good reason—it’s delicious! The traditional Neapolitan pizza is made with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil and cooked in a wood-fired oven. The dough should be soft and slightly chewy, and the crust should be slightly charred.

In Rome, you’ll find a different style of pizza called “pizza al taglio,” which is sold by the slice and often topped with various ingredients.

Irina Bukatik's snapshot of a pizza.

2. Pasta

Pasta is another staple of Italian cuisine, and there are hundreds of different types to choose from. Some of the most popular types include spaghetti, fettuccine, and penne. In Rome, you’ll find a dish called “carbonara,” which is made with spaghetti, eggs, bacon, and pecorino cheese.

In the Emilia-Romagna region, you’ll find “ragù alla bolognese,” a meat-based sauce served with wide noodles called pappardelle. And in the southern region of Puglia, you’ll find “orecchiette,” small ear-shaped pasta, often served with a simple tomato sauce and fresh basil.

3. Panini

Panini is a sandwich made with Italian bread, typically served hot and pressed. They can be filled with various ingredients, such as salami, prosciutto, cheese, vegetables, and more. In Rome, you’ll find “porchetta,” a roasted pork sandwich that is a local specialty. In Milan, you’ll find the “Panino con la milza,” a sandwich filled with spleen and sometimes tripe.

4. Gelato

Gelato is a must-try when you’re in Italy. It’s a type of Italian ice cream made with milk, cream, and sugar and often flavored with fruit, nuts, chocolate, and other ingredients. It’s usually denser and creamier than American ice cream and is usually served in a cone or a cup. In Rome, you’ll find “grattachecca,” a shaved ice dessert topped with fruit syrup and sometimes fruit pieces.

Irina Bukatik's snapshot of a gelato

5. Caffè

Caffè, or espresso, is a staple of Italian culture, and it’s the perfect way to start your day or take a break from sightseeing. It’s a small, strong coffee usually served in a demitasse cup. In Rome, you’ll find “caffècorretto,” which is espresso with a shot of liquor, such as grappa or sambuca. In Milan, you’ll find “caffèlungo,” a longer, weaker version of espresso.

6. Aperitivo

Aperitivo is a pre-dinner drink often served with small snacks, such as nuts, olives, and cheese. It’s a popular way to socialize and unwind after work or sightseeing. The most popular aperitivo drinks are cocktails, such as the “spritz,” which is a mix of prosecco, Aperol, and soda water, often served with an orange slice. In Milan, you’ll find the “negroni,” a cocktail made with gin, vermouth, and Campari.

7. Antipasti

Antipasti are small appetizers that are served before the main course. They can include a variety of dishes, such as cured meats, cheeses, vegetables, and more. Some popular antipasti include “bruschetta,” which is grilled bread topped with tomatoes and basil, and “Caprese,” which is mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil drizzled with olive oil.

8. Focaccia

Focaccia is a type of flatbread that is popular in Italy. It’s made with flour, water, yeast, and olive oil, and it can be topped with various ingredients, such as herbs, olives, and cheese. In Liguria, you’ll find “focaccia al Formaggio,” which is focaccia topped with cheese.

9. Risotto

Risotto is a meal that consists of Arborio rice, broth, and a variety of ingredients such as vegetables, fish, or meat. It’s a common meal in northern Italy, and there are many different versions depending on where you go. The city of Milan is known for its saffron-laced risotto, known as “risotto alla Milanese,” which is traditionally served with veal osso buco.

Prepared in the Veneto area, “risotto al nero di seppia” combines cuttlefish ink with shellfish to create a unique and delicious dish.

10. Tiramisu

A common Italian dessert, Tiramisu is created by layering ladyfingers, mascarpone cheese, and espresso and then dusting it with cocoa powder. It’s the ideal way to finish off a satisfying dinner because of its luxurious texture and flavor.

Irina Bukatik's snapshot of Tiramisu with a blackberry.

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11. Ossobuco

Ossobuco is a dish with veal shanks braised in white wine, broth, and vegetables. It’s a popular dish in Milan, usually served with a side of risotto. Try a full-bodied red wine, such as a Barolo or a Brunello di Montalcino, for a wine pairing. These wines have enough tannins and acidity to stand up to the rich, savory flavors of the ossobuco.

12. Polenta

Throughout northern Italy, polenta, a dish cooked from cornmeal, water, and butter, can be found on nearly every table. Both as a side and a main entrée, it pairs well with a wide range of meat and vegetable toppings. Choose an acidic white wine like a Vermentino or Gavi to match your meal. These wines are just what you need to cut through the creamy polenta and highlight the complementary toppings.

13. Prosciutto and melon

Thin slices of cured ham and fresh melon are the main ingredients in this snack. It’s the ideal summertime dish because of its lightness and freshness. Sip on a Pinot Grigio or Vermentino to complement it— two examples of delicious, dry white wines. These wines will complement the melon’s natural sugars and the saltiness of the prosciutto.

14. Mozzarella di bufala

The Campanian area is known for its mozzarella di bufala, a form of mozzarella cheese prepared from the milk of water buffalo. The taste is subtle yet distinct, and the texture is smooth and velvety. A Rosé or Gamay, both of which are light red wines, would be a great choice to combine with this dish. These wines will well balance the richness of the mozzarella.

15. Zabaglione

The classic Italian dish zabaglione is composed of egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine. It’s airy and fluffy, with a luscious, sugary taste. The dish is best accompanied by a sweet dessert wine such as Moscato d’Asti or Passito di Pantelleria. These wines are the perfect match for the zabaglione because of their sweetness and contrast to the dish’s rich consistency.

Irina Bukatik's snapshot of an espresso.

16. Arancini

Fried rice balls called arancini can be stuffed with anything from cheese and meat to veggies and herbs. They are commonly served as a snack or appetizer and are a common sight on the streets of Sicily—an island well-known for its stunning architecture, beautiful cathedrals, wineries, and beaches.

17. Fritto Misto

Fritto Misto is a dish made with a selection of fried seafood and vegetables, and it’s a popular dish in the Veneto region. It’s usually served with a side of lemon wedges and a dipping sauce.

18. Fagioli all’uccelletto

Fagioli all’uccelletto is a traditional Tuscan bean dish made with cannellini beans, tomatoes, and rosemary. It’s often served with grilled bread and a drizzle of olive oil.

19. Crostini

Crostini are small toasted or grilled slices of bread topped with various ingredients, such as cheese, meat, or vegetables. They’re a popular appetizer in Italy and can be found at most bars and restaurants.

20. Polpette

Polpette are meatballs that are made with a variety of meats, such as beef, pork, or lamb, and they’re often served with pasta or as a standalone dish. They’re a popular comfort food in Italy and can be found in most Italian homes.

Irina Bukatik's snapshot of a plate of pasta.

A vacation to Italy isn’t complete without sampling some of the country’s numerous delectable dishes and drinks. Don’t be shy about branching out and trying new things; experience the regional fare as you go. And remember, when in Italy, it’s important to savor each bite and enjoy the company of those around you—it’s all part of the Italian way of life. Buonappetito!

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