Italy is easily one of the world’s most culturally enriched destinations to visit, famous for its architecturally wondrous historic cities and its spectacular rural regions boasting awe-inspiring natural landscapes. But it’s the Italian food that often gets people most excited when planning a trip this incredible country.
In Italy, food is everywhere, and you don’t have to spend big to enjoy high-quality tasty dishes thanks to its vibrant street food culture. Indulging you in whole new world of Italian culinary creativity where affordable and tasty treats can be found on almost every corner, here are some of Italy’s top street food destinations and their most mouth-watering flavours to look out for.
Located in southern Italy, Naples is known to be one of the oldest cities in the world. Unsurprisingly for a city steeped in history, it offers a wealth of ancient sites of cultural significance, including the city centre which is a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site, and of course, a vibrant food scene developed over thousands of years. While Naples is known for its busy street markets selling fresh produce and other specialty local products, you’ll find delicious ready-to-eat street food served pretty much anywhere.
When in Naples, you must try pizza a portafoglio, which translates to pizza wallet. Pizza a portafoglio is a simple concept based on a Margherita pizza folded into quarters to form a ‘wallet’. Cuoppo is another popular staple on the Naples street food scene – a paper cone filled with deep fried treats from seafood to potato croquettes and arancini. And for a local variation of Italy’s popular arancini, try palla di riso, a deep-fried rice ball filled with vegetables, mozzarella or meat.
Home to one of the world’s oldest universities and the birthplace of the renowned Bolognese sauce, Bologna is a must-visit for foodies with an interest in academic history and medieval and renaissance architecture. Situated in the north of Italy with a unique cityscape which includes the two Towers of Bologna, Asinelli and Garisenda, you’ll discover a range of street food on the city streets and along its famous covered walkways.
Bologna’s popular piadina is certain to catch your eye wandering the streets, being as pleasing to look at as it is to eat. Piadina is a fresh pitta usually filled with Parma ham and soft cheese and is a top choice for those looking for something more substantial on the go. Meanwhile, if you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’ll be delighted to discover that Bologna is the birthplace of the sumptuous crema fritta dessert. Not for the feint hearted, crema fritta is a deep-fried custard with a golden crispy outer shell. And don’t miss the chance to try Crescentina – a favourite of Bologna and the wider Emilia-Romagna region featuring a fried or baked flatbread served with a selection of savoury accompaniments.
The capital of the northern Liguria region, Genoa is well known for its historic centre which has also earned recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is also famous for its iconic Lanterna – a centuries old lighthouse which stands at the Port of Genoa and is still thought to be one of the world’s tallest. Among visits to the stunning Romanesque-style Genoa Cathedral, the medieval palace of Palazzo Ducale, or its many other historical landmarks, there are a few local street foods you should make time for during your visit.
Well-liked for its thick and chewy texture compared to other regional variations, Genoa focaccia is a simple but fulfilling snack or appetiser usually just seasoned with olive oil and salt, although it can be found served with a variety of toppings including cheese. Don’t miss the chance to try Genoa’s farinata either – a light pancake made with chickpea flour, olive oil and water – or even the freshest fried fish brought to you direct from the harbour.
The capital of Sicily, Palermo’s food scene has been influenced by various civilizations over many centuries from the Romans and Arabs to the Normans and Byzantines. Suffice to say, Palermo is an exciting place to visit for its mix of architecture, including the Cathedral of Monreale and the Arab-Norman Palaces of Zisa and Chuba, and its varied street food culture. Food is absolutely everywhere here, and you can experience all kinds of local flavours by visiting one of Palermo’s marketplaces such as the lively Ballaro, Vucciria, and Capro markets.
For a crispy and satisfying snack, pick up a serving of Palermo’s popular panelle which are chickpea fritters either served on their own or as a filling to a roll or sandwich. And there’s probably no better place to try arancini than during your trip to Palermo. All around the city, these tasty rice balls with their characteristic golden crispy breadcrumb coating are typically filled with a ragu sauce of veal and mozzarella cheese. Sfincione (Sicilian pizza) is also a must for your Palermo street food hit list – distinguished from other pizzas by its thick dough base, caramelised onion and breadcrumb topping and – wait for it – absence of cheese.
Milan is the capital of Italy’s northern Lombardy region and is also affectionately known as one of the fashion capitals of the world, filled with high-end boutiques and home to famous designers. In Milan, you can enjoy the canal side nightlife in the Navigli District, the artistic atmosphere of the Brera District, and of course the variety of local cuisines.
A highlight bite for any visitor to Milan is panzerotti, a deep-fried turnover, much like calzone, filled with tomato, mozzarella or other savoury fillings. The Milanese also love their porchetta sandwich, with porchetta being slices of tender slow roasted pork seasoned with herbs and spices. And when in Milan, don’t miss your chance to cap off your street food feast with a serving of authentic locally made gelato.