Eating Italy: Dishes That Should Be on Your Table in Rome, Venice and Florence

In virtually any corner of the globe you can find pastas and pizzas. But in the country that developed those dishes and countless others, you’ll discover the real reasons that Italian food has migrated across the globe. Although it’s a widely known fact that Italy’s culinary reputation is legendary, eating in Italy will surprise you. Dishes you thought you knew take on a fresh, Technicolor-level deliciousness. An infinite diversity of Italian cuisine is on display in the countless menu items that you’ve never tried before. Once you’ve landed in these three famed Italian cities, find a restaurant and order up these essentials.

Rome

Caico e Pepe [Rome]Cacio e pepe | Pasta with cheese and pepper – it almost sounds too basic to be good. But take one bite and you’ll see why this iconic dish is a perfect expression of Roman gastronomy. The crunchy bite of the coarse-ground pepper, the powerful nutty-salty character of Pecorino-Romano cheese, and perfectly cooked pasta showcase the bold, unfussy character of Rome’s best dishes. It’s simple in its ingredients, yes, but to coax the right flavors and textures from those basics takes some skill.
Puntarelle alla Romana [Rome, Italy]
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Puntarelle alla Romana
| Eating your vegetables is more than just good health advice in Rome. This characteristically Roman dish of shaved chicory makes creative use of parts of this leafy plant that might otherwise get tossed aside. The fibrous central stalks are shaved into strips and then soaked in water until they soften and curl up. Once tender, they’re tossed with a dressing of anchovies, olive oil and lemon. Afraid of the anchovies? Don’t be – they simply add a sharp, salty and savory note to the dressing, rather than fishy flavor.

Cada Alla Vaccinara [Rome, Italy]
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Coda alla Vaccinara |
Rome is nothing if not a long-lived city, and over the millennia, its residents often had to learn to make delicious food from meager – or even undesirable – ingredients. Coda alla Vaccinara is one dish that illustrates just how good they got at that practice. Made with oxtail, a.k.a. a cow’s tail, this rich and hearty braised stew will become a new favorite for anyone who likes their meat flavorful and fall-apart tender. 

Venice

Nero Di Seppie [Venice, Italy]

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Nero di seppie | In terms of eye-catching cuisine, this storied Venetian specialty is awfully hard to beat. The ink of cuttlefish, which are bountifully available in the Venetian lagoon, is used for both flavor and color in pastas and risottos. The jet-black appearance is startlingly beautiful, but so is the taste: rich and earthy, but still redolent of the sea.

Seafood [Venice, Italy]

Seafood | Any number of seafood dishes could make the must-eat list in Venice, so suffice it to say that no matter whether you like your seafood grilled, stewed or straight-up raw, this is the place to enjoy the bounties of the sea. Some top options include pesce crudo, a raw seafood platter; sarde in saor, a cicchetti (Venice’s version of small-bite bar food) with onions and sardines; and the bounty of shellfish that are unique to the area, from tiny sea snails (garusoli) to soft-shelled crabs (moleche or moeche).

Carpaccio [Venice, Italy]

Carpaccio | Venice’s cuisine has more to recommend it than seafood alone. One dish that’s become a classic around the world actually originated in Venice, at Harry’s Bar. Created for a patron on a strict diet of raw meat, and named after a Venetian artist, carpaccio is a dish that might give you pause – but shouldn’t. Ultra-thin slices of raw beef are arranged on a plate and then crosshatched with “universal” sauce; go for the original at Harry’s and you’ll be treated to a silky, savory delight that’s you’ll never forget.

Florence

Bistecca Alla Fiorentina [Tuscany, Italy]

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Bistecca alla Fiorentina | Tuscany combines the rustic and the refined like few other places on earth, and the Bistecca alla Fiorentina captures that unique character. The simple preparation – salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon as a garnish – means that the meat itself takes center stage and has to be both top quality and carefully handled. Take a big, dry-aged rib cut, roughly two-and-a-half inches thick, grill it to rare (absolutely no further!) and you’ve got the classic Florentine steak.

Ribollita [Tuscany, Italy]

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Ribollita | Tuscany is a great place to visit in all seasons, so if you’re there when it’s a bit cooler, warm up with this hearty, filling stew. The name means “re-boiled” and evolved from the practice of re-boiling bean soup, with some extra ingredients (bread, cheese, Tuscan kale) added that take it straight into comfort food territory.

Trippa Alla Fiorentina [Florence, Italy]
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Trippa alla Fiorentina |
When you’re traveling, being a bit more adventurous in your menu selections can pay off big time. For instance, tripe might not sound too appealing under normal circumstances, but in the hands of an accomplished Florentine chef whose family has been making it for generations, it can be inarguably delicious. Cooked long and slow with a bevy of tomatoes and other vegetables, this comforting dish is guaranteed to change your mind about what parts of the cow are “off limits.”


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Gina Czupka

Gina’s first solo trip abroad, at age 16, changed her life. Since then, travel has been her passion and it’s her mission to convince others that they really can make travel a part of their lives. These days, she seeks out destinations where she can indulge her taste for adventure and shop for additions to her textile collection. Some of her favorite experiences from recent trips have included eating bun cha in Hanoi and feeding hyenas in Ethiopia.

Gina’s Favorite Travel Tip: When traveling abroad, learn enough of the language to be polite (hello, thank you, goodbye) and to shop and haggle (numbers and colors).

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