top 10 Italian foods

Try These Top Italian Foods Variations Next Time You Are In Italy

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If you love Italian food chances are you’ve eaten these already. But it’s also likely that you are sticking to the more popular option or flavor.

In this article, I will give you a list of the top 10 iconic Italian foods you need to try (plus bonus ones) and share with you delicious lesser-known variations that I suggest you try at least once. There’s a good chance that they might become your favorites!

PS: I am also giving you hints on where to eat most of these.

Let’s start.



1. Pizza – Try Norma Instead Of Margherita 

No one should ever go to Italy and not have a pizza. That would be almost sacrilege. It’s equally sad to go to Italy, and every time order the same pizza. Whether your go to pizza is Margherita or Capricciosa, there’s a world full of pizza flavors you likely have never heard of. That doesn’t mean they are any less delicious. 

Here’s my suggestion. Next time you find yourself in an Italian city or town, try a different one. For the Margherita lovers who appreciate simple flavors and don’t mind eating eggplant, I urge you to try Pizza alla Norma (my favorite). Yes, that’s right. There’s a pizza and a pasta with that name, and they are both Sicilian delicacies. Sicilian food rarely disappoints, so go ahead and give it a shot.

If you want to discover more pizza flavors to try, with names and toppings popular in different parts of Italy, read this article next – Italian Pizza Types.

In that article, I share with you the best pizzerias in different Italian cities, including Pizzerias that have won an award.

Since there’s no better place than Sicily for eating the best Norma Pizza, here’s a list of the best Sicilian Pizzerias by city for 2023.

If you don’t mind a very rustic decor, Antica Focacceria 1856 (in Bagheria, Palermo) is worth a stop.

Pizza alla Norma
Pizza alla Norma from Sicily



2.Risotto – Try Risotto Alla Trevigiana Instead Of Alla Milanese

In all honesty, risotto is not my top Italian dish but it’s on this list because it’s an iconic Italian delicacy and it’s also loved by many, maybe you too.

While I am not fond of rice in general, I can see why people love a mean risotto so much. It’s cozy while still being classy, and of course, it’s a classic Italian. If you know how to make it right, you can enjoy it at home with different ingredients. And you can order the most delicious variations in restaurants too.

The most popular recipes include Risotto Alla Milanese (with saffron), Risotto ai Funghi (with mushrooms), and Risotto alla Parmigiana (with parmesan cheese).

For those of you who love risotto and enjoy ordering it at least once when you are in Italy, I suggest you give this regional variation a try – Risotto alla Trevigiana (aka alla Veneta). It’s a simple yet interesting rice dish made with radicchio and Italian bubbly wine, spumante.

Should you wish to make it at home, you can use this recipe by Buonissimo.

For the True Risotto Lovers:
Let your risotto love lead the way, and head to Pavia next time you visit Italy. Here you can eat the best risotto at Cascina Vittoria restaurant, awarded the Prize of Best Risotto in Italy for 2024.




3. Lasagna – Try Pasticcio Ferrarese Instead Of Lasagna

I am not suggesting you miss the chance to enjoy a lasagna in Italy if you love it. I get it, as lasagna is probably my favorite pasta dish along with cannelloni. 

Rather than skipping lasagna, how about you share a lasagna and another variation of this dish?

You may have heard of Italian Pasticcio Pasta, not to be confused with the Greek Pastitio, but have you heard of its most traditional recipe – called Pasticcio Ferrarese?

Let me describe it for you:

Big Maccheroni pasta, cooked perfectly al dente, is combined with a white meat ragu. The latter is enriched with fresh mushrooms or truffle, topped with homemade bechamel sauce, enclosed by a thick but flaky puff pastry, and baked to perfection.

It sounds delicious, doesn’t it?

Given its name, it’s obvious the recipe originates from the city of Ferrara, in Emilia Romagna. If you ever find yourself in this region, or the main capital of Bologna, Ferrara is just a 30-minute train ride from Bologna Centrale station.

In Ferrara, head to one of these two restaurants to enjoy the best pasticcio: Trattoria Da Noemi and Ristorante Cà d’ Frara.



Orecchiette con cime di rapa

4. Pesto – Try Pesto Con Cime Di Rapa Instead Of Basil Pesto

Next time you are in Puglia, or find yourself in front of an Apulian restaurant, forget about the classic basil pesto pasta and try something local. 

Turnip tops pesto is a flavorful pasta sauce that’s made with turnip top greens, often called rapini or broccoli rabe. But don’t worry, it’s not just greens. The local recipe calls for anchovies, chili, and often capers too.

To truly savor this pesto like a local, you must eat it with the local pasta shape called orecchiette. It’s the one that’s shaped like little ears, hence its name. The full dish is called Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa.

Here are 3 restaurants that serve a mean one in Puglia:

  1. Osteria Vini e Cucina (Bari)
  2. Terranima (Bari)
  3. Il Trullo Antico (Alberobello)


If you are heading to Sicily, not Puglia, swap the basil pesto for the Sicilian Pesto alla Trapanese. This one features basil but also includes almonds and tomatoes. Spaghetti, Busiate, and Casarecce pasta shapes all pair well with this sauce.

Pesto alla Trapanese originates from the city of Trapani, an hour’s drive from Palermo. It’s a beautiful city with seaside town vibes. Consider taking a day trip and having Pasta con Pesto alla Trapanese at Caupona Taverna di Sicilia.



5. Pasta – Try Pasta Alla Zozzona Instead Of Spaghetti Alla Carbonara 

Rome is famous for four pasta dishes in particular – Carbonara, Amatriciana, Cacio e Pepe, and Gricia.

You might have heard of those, but you likely never heard of Pasta Alla Zozzona. This dish combines elements of all four, so you can enjoy a taste of all with just one pasta. Plus, you will be trying something truly traditional of Lazio and Rome.

The key ingredients are eggs, pecorino, tomatoes, guanciale, and sausage; it’s usually served with rigatoni. I am sure you can now see the resemblance to those iconic recipes.

This plate has poor origins and legends narrate that it originated from the effort of combining leftover sauces from those other recipes. You see, Italian cooks are known for 2 things: they are creative but they also hate wasting good food.

Let me give you two addresses for eating this dish in Rome:

  1. Lo Zozzone in Via del Teatro Pace
  2. Er Polpetta in Via di Tor Millina



Arancino al burro e prosciutto

6. Arancino – Swap Bolognese With Arancino Al Burro

Although they originate in Sicily, and you can surely eat the best ones there, this is a street food that’s become popular throughout Italy and the rest of the world. I doubt you will find many options for my swap suggestion outside Italy though. No worries.

On your next Italian holiday, I am sure you will come across at least one Rosticceria – a typical shop that sells arancini, other savory Italian snacks like pizzette and Cartucciate, but also homemade dishes like breaded escalopes, potatoes, and lasagna, all ready to be heated and eaten. These are the best places to get your arancini.

Other than rosticcerie, most coffee shops in Italy also sell savory food like arancini. Ask for an arancino al burro, although it’s often called prosciutto.

Here’s what you will be getting:
A fried Italian rice ball with butter, cubed ham, and melted mozzarella filling, all warm and gooey.

This is my favorite arancini flavor. You’ll understand why once you taste it. In Rome, they take it to the next level and make a supplì cacio e pepe.


Best Arancini Shops in Italy:

Milan – Ammu

Venice – Ve Dorsoduro

Florence – Arà: è Sicilia

Rome – Mondo Arancina Flaminia

Catania – Savia

Palermo – Ke Palle



7. Focaccia – Swap Focaccia With Schiacciata Toscana

I am positive you’ll want to visit Florence and Tuscany at least one more time, or maybe you still haven’t been there. Well, keep this suggestion in mind for when that time comes around. Or find yourself a typical street food store or bakery that sells this. It’s very common to find different regional cuisines in big Italian cities like Rome and Venice.

The classic focaccia you probably know and eat the most, back home and in Italy too, is called Focaccia Genovese. That’s the classic focaccia, which comes plain – just the dough and plenty of extra virgin olive oil. That’s delicious, of course.

However, you can step your focaccia game up for sure if you try this one: Schiacciata Toscana stuffed with local ingredients. I suggest crema di pecorino, sbrisolona, and rucola. All’Antico Vinaio in Florence serves the best ones, and you can choose the filling from the menu board or make your own.

Schiacciata Toscana
Schiacciata Toscana in Florence


If Southern Italy and Sicily specifically are calling your name this Summer, then try the local Sfincione instead of the plain focaccia. This has a focaccia dough but it’s topped more like a pizza – tomato sauce, onions, anchovies, oregano, and caciocavallo cheese.

In Palermo, there’s an entire shop dedicated to this local delicacy. It’s called La Sfincioneria, and it sells Sfincione as well as other Sicilian street foods like arancini. Grab your goodies and head for a picnic nearby, or eat it like a true Italian while standing on the side of the street.



8. Tiramisu – Swap It With Charlotte Cake or Carlotta

Rather than having tiramisu and gelato most nights for your dessert, try something different. If you like tiramisu, because of the consistency and the flavor, you’ll likely enjoy a slice of Charlotte cake.

It’s made with the same Savoiardi biscuits and it comes in different flavors, from chocolate to lemon and apple. 

It’s not clear whether Charlotte is French, Russian or British. However, it’s very popular in Milan, so much so that they have their version. It’s been popular for years, and initially, it was called Torta Carlotta. Nowadays, everyone refers to it by its international name.

The Milanese version is more like an apple pie than a tiramisu, but it still features the same Savoiardi biscuits or ladyfingers. Try it at Pasticceria Ungaro in Milan.



9. Cannoli – Swap The Ricotta Filling With Pistachio Cream

Pistachio has become everyone’s favorite flavor when it comes to Italian food. You can find it everywhere, from pasta and pizza to gelato and pastries, including the famous Sicilian cannoli.

As a kid, I never liked ricotta cannoli because I don’t eat ricotta (it makes me sick). So I always opted for the custard or dark chocolate filling. Lately, I have been loving a pistachio cannolo. It’s sweet but not sickly sweet, and it has that little salty flavor that I love when it comes to desserts.

Most pastry shops that sell cannoli in Italy, even outside of Sicily, and abroad will often have the pistachio filling. However, if you truly want to savor the best of the best, head to Bronte in Sicily. 

Bar Conti Galente has a wide range of pistachio delicacies, including cannoli of course but also Sfogliatelle, granita, bigne, gelato, iris, and pistachio cakes.

If you love Sicilian food or want to learn more before your vacation, I have written a full article on the best Sicilian food to enjoy during each season.



Gelato flavor fiordilatte and gianduia

10. Gelato – Opt For Fiordilatte & Gianduia Instead Of Vanilla & Chocolate

Many people love the vanilla and chocolate gelato combo. If that’s you, and you want to stick to your favorite flavors even with so many delicious options when enjoying gelato in Italy, go for it.

However, take your flavor combo to the next level by asking for Fiordilatte and Gianduia. You’ll thank me later, I promise. Fiordilatte is vanilla ice cream, just an artisan Italian version. And gianduia is chocolate mixed with hazelnuts. 

I don’t need to recommend a specific spot to enjoy these, as most Italian gelaterias will have both flavors. 

Instead, you can head to one of these top ice cream shops as listed on Corriere.it, depending on which Italian city you are visiting. 



Bonus – 6 More Top Italian Foods To Swap & Try

11. Bruschetta – Enjoy Crostini con Paté di Fegatini di Pollo rather than the usual bruschetta, especially if in Tuscany. I suggest two delicious spots in Florence in this article.

12. Ossobuco – Try Polpettone con salsa verde instead, especially if in Milan or the Lombardy region.

13. Pizza Napoletana – Instead of going for a second Neapolitan-style Pizza try a Pinza Romana.

14. Fettuccine – Swap Fettuccine Alfredo for Fettucine with Truffle.

15. Salad – Instead of Caprese Salad try a regional salad like Panzanella in Tuscany and Central Italy, Cialledda in Puglia, or Eoliana in Sicily.

16. Croissant – Try a ricotta Sfogliatella or a Maritozzo for breakfast to switch things up. You can find both of these in most cafes in Italy, even though Sfogliatella originates from Salerno & the Amalfi Coast while Maritozzo comes from Rome.



Final Thoughts

Although Italian cuisine includes many more delicacies than what we covered, the 16 traditional Italian foods and their delicious variations above give you plenty of options to try next time you visit Italy.

Remember that embracing authentic Italian food involves tasting more than just the famous foods. Of course, you can enjoy your beloved mozzarella cheese, mascarpone and bolognese sauce, but don’t stop there. Savour other dishes like Norma, Cialledda, and Pasta alla Zozzona. 

Continue learning about Italian food here.
You’ll find a nicely curated list of articles from Italian dinner, breakfast and aperitivo traditions, to the Italian food glossary, Italy’s best chocolate brands and Italian biscuits.



What are the top 10 famous Italian dishes?

  1. Margherita Pizza
  2. Bolognese Pasta
  3. Risotto alla Milanese
  4. Lasagna
  5. Insalata Caprese
  6. Bruschetta al Pomodoro
  7. Carbonara Pasta
  8. Amatriciana Pasta
  9. Fiorentina Steak
  10. Tiramisu

What is Italy’s national dish?

Pasta is the number one Italian national dish, and the most iconic one is spaghetti al pomodoro.

What are 10 foods Italy is famous for?

  1. Pizza
  2. Pasta
  3. Risotto
  4. Lasagna
  5. Ossobuco
  6. Arancini
  7. Gelato
  8. Tiramisu
  9. Prosciutto
  10. Parmigiano Reggiano

What is the number 1 Italian dish?

Pizza is widely considered the number 1 iconic Italian dish.

  1. Pizza
  2. Pasta
  3. Gelato
  4. Tiramisu

What are 3 staple foods in Italy?

  1. Pasta
  2. Tomatoes
  3. Olive Oil

What is the best Italian dish to order?

Some of the best classic Italian dishes to order are:

  1. Margherita Pizza
  2. Tagliatelle Bolognese
  3. Risotto alla Milanese
  4. Bistecca alla Fiorentina

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