If you have any Italian friends, you’ll probably be aware that every region in Italy has a unique identity and there's no such thing as a single authentic Italian cuisine, there are several different types of cooking around Italy.
These identities can be seen in their traditions, beliefs, their accents, and their cooking. While Italian cooking is famous all over the world for olive oil, cheese, tomato, there are even more regional specialities that aren’t as well known.
This regional identity can be explained in some part by the fact that the country wasn’t unified until quite recently. Italian reunification started as far back as 1815 with the Congress of Vienna but it wasn’t until 1871 that Italy became a single sovereign state and Rome became the capital.
Of course, since we're trying to cover every region in Italy, we're not going to be able to go into that much depth, but by the end of this article, you should be familiar with a few specialities from around Italy including Lombardy, Rome, Sicily, and Venice. Let’s go!
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Northwestern Italian Specialities
Northwest Italy, between the mountains, sea, and lakes, is a culturally rich region. Since cooking is part of culture, you’ll hardly be surprised to find that when you visit any given region, the food is one of the first things you’ll experience. Here’s some of the Italian food from the northwest of the country. Take your taste buds on a trip!
Food from the Aosta Valley
The Aosta Valley is a mountainous region (which includes the Alps) bordering France and Switzerland. However, just because it’s Italy’s smallest region and least densely populated, that doesn’t mean it has any fewer specialities.
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With cheeses, charcuterie, and other Italian dishes, there are a few things in the Aosta Valley to help fight the cold:
- Cured ham
- Carbonada, beef cooked in red wine (the region produces 23 different wines).
Food from Liguria
Hills, mountains, and the sea: the Italian region of Liguria with its capital Genoa, is nicknamed “the Italian Riviera”.
If you love penne, spaghetti, or any other Italian pasta, you can thank Genoa, for creating the famous pesto sauce made from pine nuts and basil.
There are also a lot of different vegetables, types of fish, and Mediterranean produce like:
- Olive oil
- Stuffed pasta like pansotti
- Wines from Cinque Terre
- Food from Lombardy
How can we talk about Lombardy without mentioning rice? That would be impossible.
The region, which is home to Milan, is responsible for most of Italy’s rice. In fact, if you're making risotto, you should probably use Italian rice such as arborio or carnaroli.
There’s a lot of food that comes from this region:
- The saffron-flavoured Risotti Milanese
- Panettone (a sweet loaf that's often eaten during the holidays)
- Bresaola and pacetta, some of the best Italian charcuterie
- Gorgonzola cheese
- Ossobucco, one of Italy’s most famous dishes
- Veal Milanese
- Amaretto almond liqueur
Food from Piedmont
If you’re wondering about this region’s name, it means the foot of the mountain. Just like Lombardy, Piedmont also produces a lot of rice as well as these specialities:
- Grissini (breadsticks)
- White truffle
Of course, thanks to private tutorials, you don’t necessarily need to be in Italy to learn how to make any of these things.
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Northeastern Italian Specialities
The Italian region on the coast of the Adriatic sea is famous for its maritime flavours:
Food from Veneto
As you may have guessed, Veneto is home to Venice and its famous carnival. Casanova’s hometown is also the region’s capital.
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The region is famous for some of the following specialities:
- Squid Ink Risotto (Risotto al Nero di Seppia)
- Beef carpaccio
- Pasta e fagioli, a dish consisting of pasta and beans
- Prosecco, the famous Italian sparkling wine.
Food from Emilia-Romagna
In Emilia-Romagna and its capital Bologna, charcuterie reigns supreme:
- Prosciutto di Parma
There’s more to the region than just charcuterie, though. You can also find:
- Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano
- Stuffed pasta such as capalletti
- Spaghetti bolognese
- Balsamic vinegar
- Lambrusco, the sparkling Italian red wine
Food from Trentino-Alto Adige
While the Italian food from the Trentino-Alto Adige region is certainly delicious, with the exception of smoked Speck ham, very little of it has left the region.
The region bordering Austria is home to many different fruits and vegetables, quality honey, and a fine recipe for polenta, a dish usually made from boiled grains, which in Trentino-Alto Adige, can be made with buckwheat and potatoes.
Central Italian Specialities
Tuscany, which is home to both Rome and Pisa, is a popular tourist destination that many people are familiar with. You shouldn’t forget about its culinary heritage, though.
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Their specialities have had a profound influence on cooking around the world.
Food from Tuscany
Famous for hilly landscapes and olive groves, Tuscany is unsurprisingly famous for its extra virgin olive oil, too.
There’s also Tuscan food like:
- Truffle and saffron
- Dry biscuits
- Pecorino cheese
- Food from Marche
The Marche region, which can be found on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, is famous for its pasta.
Do you like pasta? If so, this is definitely the place to go. It’s home to macaroni and stuffed pasta such as tortelli.
Food from Abruzzo
In Abruzzo, you can enjoy cheese, charcuterie, and fish. This interesting variety is due to the fact that the region is both home to mountains and coastline.
People living in Abruzzo can enjoy pecorino cheese, smoked ricotta, and seafood or anchovy soup.
Food from Lazio
The famous buffalo mozzarella (mozzarella di bufala if you're buying the authentic stuff) is made in the southern part of the region and also the northern part of the Campania region.
Just like pasta carbonara, the following dishes are also from Rome:
- Gnocchi alla romana (the name literally means Roman-style gnocchi)
- Penne arrabiata (the word arrabiata means "angry", the perfect description of this spicy pasta)
- Food from Umbria
While those living in Umbria don’t have access to the sea (the region is landlocked), they do have access to a lot of lakes full of trout and carp.
The region is also home to:
- Black truffle
- Porchetta suckling pig
- The olive tapenade often found accompanying Italian starters
Southern Italian Specialities
Nestled between the Adriatic and Mediterranean sea, the South of Italy has a lot to offer. However, you don’t need to go there to discover its culinary traditions (though it's a beautiful region and you should visit!).
In fact, most southern Italian specialities are commonplace in Italian restaurants. If you regularly visit Italian restaurants, you've probably been eating southern Italian food.
Food from Campania
You can thank Campania and its capital Naples for the world’s most famous dish: pizza.
Although Neapolitan pizza was created in Naples, it’s not the only speciality to make its way across the border:
- Italy’s best tomato, the San Marzano
- Rum baba
Food from Apulia
The Apulia region can be found in the South of Italy. In addition to a lot of olive oil, they also produce the wheat that makes Italian artisanal pasta.
This sunny part of Italy is also famous for the following specialities:
- Burrata cheese
- Orecchiette pasta
- Smoked scarmoza cheese
- Food from Calabria and Basilicata
These two regions can be found between the sea and the mountains. Their culinary traditions include a mix flavours from around Italy: beans, aubergines, peppers, and a lot of cheese.
In Calabria, they use a lot of fish: anchovies, sardines, and tuna have been eaten for generations.
Sardinian and Sicilian Specialities
These two Italian islands are each a region in their own right. In addition to their cultural identity, they also have a strong culinary identity and are culturally distinct to one another, too. They're only in the same section in this article because they don't belong to the other mainland regions.
Food from Sardinia
Sardinian cuisine is famous for working the land, despite being surrounded by Mediterranean coastline!
There’s a lot of spiced meats as well as several cheeses like:
Food from Sicily
Sicily, in the heart of the Mediterranean, welcomes loads of tourists every year who are happy to try its delicious food.
Sicilian food is a treat for the tastebuds and includes:
- Aubergine and ricotta pasta
- Arancini, rice balls which are eaten as a starter
- Dry fruits
- Nut pesto pasta
So now the next time you visit an Italian restaurant in the UK or Italy, you can impress your friends with your knowledge of where each dish originated from in Italy.
There is much more to Italian Food than just pasta and pizza, as you'll find out.
Check out these Top 20 Italian Recipes.