Italy and food have always been an inseparable pair, from a tourist's point of view and from an Italian's one as well. Food is in fact a fundamental part of the whole country's culture;
each region has its own recipes, almost always derived from a centuries-old tradition, declined in a myriad of variations and handed down within the family. Food means nice memories and good times spent together: there isn't an Italian who doesn't remember fondly his grandma's cake or dad's fish soup, huge Christmas Eve tables or afternoon snacks made of bread and chocolate. No matter how many sushi restaurants there are in Milan, how many Greek taverns you may find in Rome, everybody will always be proud of their city's food, made up of an unparalleled mix of creativity and quality, almost always zero-mile.
Italian food: a trip through the tradition
When it comes to pizza, pasta or risotto, ice cream and of course coffee, Italy is a little more united. However, if we wanted to list all the possible types of pasta, or all the existing ice cream's flavours, we would need an encyclopedia.
Travelling Italy from north to south you can have fun discovering how food changes even within a few tens of kilometres. Let's take pizza, for example, a seemingly simple food: in Rome it's tall and spongy, decidedly different from the Neapolitan one, where the dough is artfully worked to be thin and elastic.
Pasta, undoubtedly beloved throughout the whole country, has a special place in the heart of the people of the south, while rice is very popular in the north, as is the Milanese Risotto. In the central regions, on the other hand, soups made with excellent local grown legumes are consumed daily.
In Parma and its surroundings, after a visit to the Duomo or an evening at the Teatro Regio, travellers can savour the famous Parmesan cheese or the typical sweet prosciutto crudo. In Campania the cheese par excellence is instead the stringy one, the buffalo mozzarella, which goes exceptionally well with the local tomatoes, big, red and round, perfect when dressed with the olive oil produced by the secular olive trees of the south.
Since Italy is a peninsula with about 7500 km of coast, the fish naturally has a place of honour. Again, from one region to another, recipes and traditions change drastically. The Tuscan coast is famous for the caciucco, an excellent fish and shellfish soup, in Naples fried squids and shrimps are not to be missed. Red tuna, with its fine, firm and compact flesh, is instead one of the highest points of the rich Sicilian tradition.
Sardinia too has a huge variety, its full-bodied reds are famous and they are a perfect match for the strong flavor of the island's goat's milk cheeses.
Italy and sweet food
Wherever you are in Italy, committing sins of gluttony is always easy. Ice cream dominates everywhere, but in Sicily it competes with the snow cone called granita. The north-west has a rich production of hazelnuts with which delicious chocolates are prepared. The eastern regions have given life to an interesting and original mix between the Austrian confectionery and the Italian tradition, while in Tuscany there is the panforte, whose recipe is almost a thousand years old. Typical of the same area are also the cantucci, dry almond-based biscuits that bind very well with the vinsanto, a light and sweet wine, slightly liqueur-like. In Naples babà, pastiera and sfogliatelle all deserve at least a taste, while along the sunny coasts of Calabria the favourite ingredients of pastry chefs are dried figs, walnuts, cinnamon, oranges and almonds. If you happen to be there you don't have to miss the Pizzo's truffle, a hazelnut ice cream with a melted chocolate heart, or the Soriano mostaccioli, dry cookies made from wine must and honey. A culinary tour in Italy is likely to be basically endless, in any case every good Italian meal always ends with a hot cup of coffee. Espresso, of course!