There are places every foodie traveler has to visit. It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that we start our new series with the Italian Food Travel Guide. The first part of the immensely popular triptych Eat, Pray and Love by Elisabeth Gilbert takes place in Rome. It is the part quite adequately called EAT. And I must say I am not that much surprised the author chose Italy to feed the tortured should of the main protagonist with… Italian food. I am also not surprised why so many foodie travellers consider Italy the ultimate foodie travel destination. Italian food is the perfect balm that soothes your soul, makes you happy and as a matter of fact, it is quite healthy. But Italian food is not just about nutrition. It is about celebrating it, making it a social event, devouring it. So what are the best places and foods to try for every food traveler in Italy? There are many – each region has it's specific allure, from peasant and rather simple (yet still delicious) goodies in Sicily to glorious feasts in Rome. From the most amazing pizzas in Napoli, to more refined tastes of the north. One thing all those delicious foods have in common is that they are all amazing, all very much use the local ingredients and all can be finished with a delicious and sensual cup of espresso.
But why is Italian food so special? I am no expert, but perhaps part of the secret genius is simplicity. A glass of friuli and a plate of pasta, in the right setting, can make the heart race. The simple dish of grilled sardines some bread and olive oil with a sprinkle of salt put in the right context is heavenly ambrosia. I have eaten such meals a hundred times in the courtyards, kitchens and gardens of Italian B&Bs and small hotels, and have rarely been disappointed. Trust me – it might have been the overall experience of Italy, but so many people can't be wrong. Italian food is just divine, because it is simple. And also because in a magical way the food just boosts you happiness. Maybe it's the right dose of carbs in good durum pasta, maybe it's the amazing taste of tomatoes rich in vitamins, maybe it's the blessing of olive oil and omega 3 acids in all the delicious seafood. I just know that the Italian flag has always brought to my mind one thing only – the amazing white creamy mozzarella, the red juicy tomatoes and aromatic intensely green basil leaves to top it all.
What is pleasantly suprising is that casual italian food does not have to be expensive at all. So when you travel you do not have to spend a lot to discover the distinct tastes of each region of Italy and by no means do you need to resort to places like MacDonalds. In Italy you can do a lot better than that. But, like every foodie traveler you have to be willing to experiment, to be open-minded and to be prepared for the unknown. My most interesting experiment in Italy so far has been eating a… veal spleen in Antiqua Foccaceria in Palermo. I took my chances and was amazed by the simplicity and the richness of taste. The spleen itself was sliced and served in an amazing crispy roll with a generous dose of parmigiano-regiano. It tasted a bit like a liver but more creamy and with the scent of truffles. That was in Palermo – the capitol city of Sicily, one of the great destinations for every foodie travel who wants to discover Italy.
Whenever I ask any Italian to name their favorite regional cuisine, they are most likely to say their own. More specifically, they probably prefer the food in their own hometown or at least region. Each of the 20 regions in Italy has its own distinctive and delicious culinary traditions. Don't be surprised when traveling Italy you will stumble upon very different culinary traditions in towns that are a mere 3 miles apart as in Italy the cooking styles are hyper-regional. Once you visit all the regions – which I am sure is possible yet extremely challenging – you will probably find your favourite one. The good thing is that chances are even if you visit just one of the twenty regions, you are bound to find culinary paradise. We want you to embark with Travel World Passport on a culinary tour of Italy’s richly diverse culinary regions, from Sicily to Tuscany, from Palermo to Milan. And trust me = they are all worthy of your palate’s exploration.
Sicily – Arab, Greek and Spanish Influences for foodie travelers
We start our foodie travel with a southmost region of Sicily. Like much of Italy's regions this one has been occupied by foreign conquerors at one point or another. One good thing we can think of that became of that are the culinary traditions brought by those invaders. In Sicily, the indigenous dishes that pull heavily from the surrounding seas and such sun-loving vegetables as eggplant and peppers are complemented by Arab, Greek and Spanish influences. The African influences so characteristic for the Maghreb countries can be also found in the form of couscous, the use of raisins, saffron and cinnamon. This island is also the birthplace of cannoli, meltingly light pignoli cookies and granita, a semi-frozen dessert made from water and various flavors like lemons and almonds.
Puglia – the mix of bold, yet delicate ingredients foodie travelers
Puglia – another southern (yet this time continental) region – is home to a cuisine that is an amazing mix of delicacy and bold culinary choices. Nowhere else you will find such artful marriage between such aggressive flavors as lamb, goat, bitter greens, spicy peppers and urchin with delicate ingredients like fava beans, milky pillows of fresh burrata cheese and generous anointments of olive oil. One particularly beloved pasta in Puglia is an ear-shaped orecchiette. If you are a seafood fan then you should head to peninsula’s western coast. The city of Taranto is a shellfish heaven, especially for mussels.
Piedmont – richest, most decadent food extravaganza
I have mentioned in the intro that one of the things that make Italian cuisine so amazing is simplicity. And truly the appeal of most Italian region's cuisine is its effortlessness and simplicity. Not so in Piedmont, however. It is the northern region of Italy surrounded on 3 sides by the Alps. It borders both France and Switzerland. This region offers every foodie traveler the richest, most decadent foods in Italy. They use such ingredients as local white truffles, gorgonzola, butter and world-renowned chocolates, as well as a liberal use of gnocchi and polenta. Piedmont is also the home of some of my favourite (yet very rich and let's be honest a bit fattening foods). One is fonduta – a cheese dip similar to fondue but enhanced with truffles and egg yolks. The second one is bagna cauda, an olive oil-based dip deepened with anchovies and …. more truffles.
Veneto – Fresh Seafood, Risotto and Polenta Paradise
I have no idea which were the favourite foods of Romeo and Juliet. Chances are those two love birds hardly had eaten anything being so madly in love. I know that I have my favourite foods in Veneto – the region where Verona and Venice are situated. As a wildly popular tourist destination filled with art, romance, quiet canals and stunning beauty everywhere you turn, Venice is the indisputable shining star of the Veneto region. Venice gets much of its seafood from the Gulf of Venice and the Adriatic Sea but it also offers tastes of traditionally prepared risotto and polenta, commonly cooking with such ingredients as radicchio (a leaf chicory) and chicken and calf livers. The medieval city of Verona (home of Romeo and Juliet) on the other hand pulls a fair amount of fish from lakes and rivers. The beloved tiramisu supposedly has its roots there, so you might want to try the real thing just there.
Tuscany – home of hearty soups and crusty loaves
Under the Tuscan Sun is yet another amazing book (made into a movie) that makes you want to book NOW! The protagonist falls in love with the sun-kissed hills dotted with olive trees, grape vines and the occasional farmhouse or villa. It’s a place where time slows and you can savor the rustic, earthy foods and wines that prevail here. Uniquely bold food traditions pervade the area of Tuscany, like all the other regions. Liberal use of beans, hearty soups, crusty loaves, fennel-scented salami and sheep’s-milk cheeses are the things you are gonna fall in love there. I honestly can't think of a better place to start a foodie traveler adventure that Italy. Not only will you enjoy the myriads of simple yet bold tastes, the effortless dolce far niente (the sweet doing nothin), but you can see one of the most beautiful and culturally rich regions. Start with any of those we've covered. You will surely be back for more.
PHOTO CREDITS Photo Credit: Sebastian Mary via Compfight cc Photo Credit: thebittenword.com via Compfight cc Photo Credit: dongga BS via Compfight cc Photo Credit: PaRaP via Compfight cc Photo Credit: McPig via Compfight cc