Italy is a bucket list destination for sensational gastronomic adventures. Yes, good food is easy to find here.
But some cities and regions naturally stand out with their unique specialties, traditional dishes, and age-old recipes handed down over generations.
So, where do you find the finest spot to eat in a country where tasty food is everywhere?
In 2023, Tripadvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Best of the Best Awards ranked Rome and Florence among the world’s top 5 food destinations. But there are more places to discover.
Whether you’re craving pasta, pizza, or polenta, check out this list of the best destinations for foodie travel in Italy.
Florence is not only an art historian’s dream. It is also a food lover’s paradise. Located in Tuscany, the city focuses on local ingredients. The vegetables are grown in the fertile Tuscan soil, while the high-quality meats come from the Chiana Valley.
Simplicity is a feature of Florentine cuisine. Some might even consider it an example of cucina povera (poor kitchen).
It refers to the Italian tradition of combining common and cheap ingredients, such as legumes, tomatoes, and sometimes stale bread, to create something delightful.
And that is how Florence came up with signature dishes like Pappa al Pomodoro (tomato bread stew) and Ribollita (bean stew).
But not all Florentine dishes are ‘poor.’ The famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak) has regal roots that date back to the Medici family.
During the feast of San Lorenzo, high lords would give the people large quantities of meat, which they grilled and shared. Today, almost every restaurant in the city serves this flavorful steak, usually paired with a glass of Chianti wine.
Other must-try dishes in Florence are Pappardelle al Cinghiale (ribbon pasta with wild boar sauce) and Tagliatelle Funghi Porcini e Tartufo (mushrooms and truffles). Panini di lampredotto (beef tripe sandwich) is a wallet-friendly but tasty option.
Read next: Guide to Eating in Florence
2. Emilia Romagna
Dubbed Italy’s food valley, Emilia Romagna is known for its rich culinary traditions.
This region gave the world Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, traditional balsamic vinegar, and Prosciutto di Parma. Culinary arts are so deeply ingrained in Emilia Romangna’s culture that it has 19 museums dedicated to food.
Many travelers consider Bologna, Emilia Romagna’s capital, the top food destination in the region. But this vibrant city – despite its affectionate nickname “the fat one” because of its outright love for good food – is just the tip of Emilia Romagna’s culinary scene.
You can’t claim you’ve experienced the region’s cuisine without exploring Parma and Modena.
With that said, don’t leave Bologna without eating tortelloni (stuffed pasta) and Tagliatelle Ragu, the dish that inspired the world-famous Bolognese sauce.
Finding the perfect foodie tour in Emilia Romagna can be overwhelming because there are so many great choices. But if you must visit one place, make it a Parmigiano Reggiano dairy.
Regarded as the King of Cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano is one of the region’s 44 DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) products. For this cheese to be legit, it should only come from specific locations, such as Parma and Reggio Emilia.
And while you’re at it, you might as well sample another DOP, Culatello di Zibello, the King of Hams. Though Italians have enjoyed this rare cured meat since the Middle Ages, it became available in the US only in 2017.
There is truth to the adage that all roads lead to Rome, particularly if you are looking for the best food destinations in Italy.
That is to say, you cannot go on an Italian food trip without eating your way through the Eternal City.
Roman cuisine prides itself on its simplicity. But do not mistake this for mediocrity.
Many of its culinary gems are as old as the city, honed to perfection over the past two thousand years.
An example of this is the local delicacy pinsa, a Roman flatbread invented during the Ancient Roman Empire and known as the predecessor of pizza.
When in Rome, eat as the Romans do. Local favorites include the classic Pizza Romano, Carciofi alla Giudìa (deep-fried artichoke), Saltimbocca alla Romana, and the fab four of pasta – Amatriciana, Gricia, Cacio e Pepe, Carbonara.
If you are an adventurous eater, try Trippa alla Romana, a traditional dish of slow-cooked tripe with onion, garlic, and tangy tomato sauce, then topped with freshly grated pecorino romano cheese.
Head to the city center for cheap eats and try street food staples such as porchetta, suppli, and Pizza al Taglio. And don’t skip the gelato.
Sicilian cuisine is perhaps the most divine among Italian cuisines, so much so that Sicily has been called God’s Kitchen.
Whether or not you agree, it’s undeniable that Sicily has an astonishing blend of flavors, thanks to the mix of cultures (Arab, Spanish, Greek, Norman) that ruled it.
A favorite Sicilian ingredient is eggplant, cooked in every way possible – baked, fried, grilled, sauteed. As a result, you get dishes such as Pasta alla norma (eggplant pasta), sweet and sour Caponata, and Cotolette di Melanzane (eggplant cutlets).
Though every part of Sicily boasts a specialty, focus your gastronomic journey in Palermo, the capital city.
Visit the Arab quarter to enjoy the best Sicilian fried food, including chickpea fritters, potato croquettes, and arancini (breaded fried rice balls with melted mozzarella). Plus, you get to savor seafood freshly caught from the Mediterranean Sea.
Indulge in the delectable delights of Sicily, with two culinary must-haves being Pasta con le sarde (spaghetti with sardines) and the beloved Cannoli pastry.
After a day of savoring these gastronomic treasures, consider enhancing your experience with authentic Sicilian villa rentals that provide a cozy retreat for your culinary adventures.
Venice’s reputation for romance often overshadows its culinary scene. But beyond the canals and the gondola rides is a melange of delectable dishes that range from succulent seafood to tantalizing tiramisu.
Something Venice has that other Italian cities don’t is Cicchetti. These are assorted mini sandwiches topped with anything from baccala (creamy salt cod) to prosciutto.
You can eat these fascinating finger foods at a bácaro, tiny wine bars scattered throughout the city.
For something even more unique, try Spaghetti al nero di seppia, a simple but heavenly pasta blackened by squid ink.
Then, there’s Sarde in Saor, fried sardines with raisins, pinenuts, and sweet-sour pickled onions. Save room for some fried cream for dessert.