When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s Italy
When the world seems to shine like you’ve had too much wine, that’s Italian food!
You’ve heard these words sung softly just like the way Dean Martin does it, the singer of this classic song, but our endings don’t match with the original.
In this article, I’d like to share 20 (unpopular) dishes you should taste the next time you visit my beloved country.
So Why Unpopular?
Well, I’d say ‘unpopular’ just because these Italian recipes are not the common spaghetti bolognese, pizza or lasagna that you usually order in an Italian restaurant outside Italy.
Even aliens are concerned about the existence of these dishes. But there are so many more regional dishes that you haven’t tried.
You’ll be surprised by how many Italian recipes exist. And there are still Italian recipes I haven’t tried yet. How shameful…
Usually, tourists visiting my country only taste the most common dishes mentioned earlier, because many restaurants and take away shops offer economy price meals.
But if you fancy a coffee seated in a bar at Piazza San Marco in Venice or an ice cream near Fontana di Trevi in Rome, you better stop by an ATM machine before you sit down. That’s Italy for you.
And Why 20?
Because in Italy there are 20 regions completely different from each other.
Honestly, I don’t really know how I should start to describe my country and our ancient history. To give you guys an idea, Italy has 54 Unesco World Heritage Sites, more than any other country.
Of these 54 sites, 49 are cultural and 5 are natural. It would probably take 1000 years to write an article about it.
Italy’s scenery changes from the Alps in the north to Sicily in the south. Environment, customs and dialects are surprisingly diverse from city to city. Actually, from village to village.
There are districts that are so small in Italy that one-half of the house is in one district and the other half is in the next district.
It’s unbelievable: if you’re cruising around residential areas, it’s hard to figure out where the borders actually start and stop.
Whenever I go back to my hometown, I still struggle with that a lot!
People are different.
The dialects differ that much in Italy that sometimes I don’t even understand a dialect from 20km away.
Our national language is Italian but there are so many dialects that you probably would think that you’re actually in another country if you go from north to the south.
Everyone knows the original boot shape of Italy. It’s something that is unique to this country.
But as in every country, we’ve got negative sides as well as positive sides. But that’s another story and I’ll write an article in the future.
North, Middle and South. Make up our 20 regions.
North: Valle D’Aosta, Piemonte, Lombardia, Liguria, Trentino Alto Adige, Veneto,Friuli Venezia Giulia and Emilia Romagna.
Middle: Toscana, Marche, Abruzzo, Molise, Lazio and Umbria.
South: Campania (where I’m from), Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicilia and Sardegna.
Each Region has a state capital ( we call it ‘capoluogo’) which is the most populated and, usually, the most important city among the others belonging to the same region.
For instance, Milan in Lombardia, Rome in Lazio and Naples in Campania.
Where should I start, the North or the South?
I was always taught by my geography teacher to start from north to south when it comes to describing my country.
I still remember the song we used to sing in class in order to make this topic easier to learn.
And I still remember how my schoolmates and I never could work out whether to start from the north or the south.
So let’s get started on our food tour in ‘Mamma mia’ land. I would suggest referring to the Italian map below while you’re reading to better track my journey.
Valle D’Aosta: located at the very top-left, this region is better known in Italy for its tiny size and for the least population.
This region is mainly mountainous, so if you’re after amazing landscapes and exciting sky tracks, it’s the right place to go for your holiday in winter.
A typical recipe in this area is the carbonada valdostana. Don’t confuse with the ‘carbonara’ you certainly know! This is totally different and it doesn’t include pasta in it.
It’s a delicious dish made with beef meat cooked with onion, flour, red wine, butter and spices. It perfectly matches with polenta or stimmed onion.
Piemonte: we’re still in the north-west, along the France border. I lived in this region for 8 years and I’ll never forget when I saw the snow for the first time in my life.
I was just 11 years old when I moved there.
Here, you must try a dish called finanziera, a great classic of this region since 1800. If you haven’t tried it yet, you really should.
The calf meat is the main ingredient for this recipe with different body parts (fillet, brain and testicle).
In addition, it’s made by cooking rooster crest, chicken breast, peas, cucumber, onions and porcini mushrooms. I’m sure your mouth is watering right now.
Liguria: it’s the smallest region in Italy. This long, narrow region is very famous for beach locations such as Cinque Terre. Let me introduce you to the scucuzzu’, an exquisite recipe made with pasta, monkfish, clams, tomatoes, chickpeas, red onion and parsley.
It’s a dish usually served summertime for dinner, so you’ve got another reason for visiting Cinque Terre.
Lombardia: situated at the top-middle of Italy, Lombardia is famous for its main city Milan.
Thousands of tourists head to Milan every year to shop and take selfies around its renowned boutiques. And also dine in the many Italian Restaurant.
There are other tourist locations but I guess this city plays the main role in this region. So after you’re done with your shopping, why don’t you taste the nervetti in insalata?
Made with calf’s paws, onion, carrot, celery, vinegar, parsley, borlotti beans and spring onion. Buonissimo!
Still in the North
Veneto: Venice is located in this region. But it’s also known for its excellent wine brands and food. Here is the dish called sopa coada. You won’t believe it but this dish is made from pigeon meat.
And after you’ve tasted this dish, you won’t yell at this bird because you’ve found your car painted with its shit.
Ingredients: pigeon meat, bread, parmesan cheese, butter, white wine, meat broth, carrot, onion and celery.
Trentino Alto Adige: We are now travelling to the north-east, close to the Austrian border. Here we have 5 different official languages: Italian, German, Ladin, Mocheno and Cimbrian. Amazing! Skiers from all around the world love this area because there are some of the best skiing slopes in Europe.
You must try the grostl alla Tirolese, that is roast meat with potatoes, onion, speck (Italian salami), beef, porcini mushrooms and meat broth.
Friuli Venezia Giulia: at the very north-east of Italy, this region was part of Slovenia before being aggregated to my country after the end of the II World War.
Its history is ancient and fascinating as its traditions and foods are top-level. I’d like you to try the jota triestina, a very popular soup in this area.
It’s made with borlotti beans, potatoes, pork meat, smoked bacon, bay leaf and flour. Enjoy!
Emilia Romagna: I moved here from Piemonte (remember?) and I lived in this area for 10 years before going to Australia. This region plays a crucial role in the Italian economy and some of its regional products are famous on the world stage as well:
I think you probably know Ferrari and Lamborghini, don’t you? Now you know where lasagne, gnocchi and spaghetti Bolognese come from.
But here you should also taste the friggione: prepared with few ingredients such as onion, sugar, tomatoes and lard it takes 3-4 hours to be cooked. It’s a very simple dish dating back centuries.
Hey guys we’re not in North of Italy anymore! We are in the centre now, there’s still a lot to see and to eat.
Marche: located in the mid-east, this region faces the Adriatic sea. It’s a stunning area to visit because of its sandy coves, limestone cliffs and medieval villages.
If you’re a salami lover, here there’s ciasculo maceratese which is a regional product perfectly befitting a glass of red (Italian) wine.
Toscana: in a blink of an eye, we’re on the west side, in front of the Tirrean sea. In fact, Italy is long in shape, but its width is very short.
Toscana or Tuscany is the region where the famous Florence and The Leaning Tower of Pisa are located. It’s a perfect place to go if you love history and architecture.
However, here the cuisine has profound traditions as well, one of those dishes is the scottiglia maremmana.
Made with chicken, pork, lamb, beef, tomatoes, onion garlic, thyme, hot pepper, marjoram and celery. Try it!
Umbria: this region is the situated exactly in the middle of Italy, in fact, it doesn’t touch any shore and we often identify this place as our country’s green heart.
In addition, its medieval sites make this area a unique place to visit, you’ll love it. Here I want you to taste a classic dish of this region called gallina all’ubriaca.
Ingredients: chicken, red wine, flour, carrot, celery, onion, garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage and parsley.
Abruzzo: this region is a mix of national parks, nature reserves, hilltop towns and a long coastline with amazing spots.
The food here is superior too, so you should taste the mazzarelle teramane made with lamb’s lung and intestines, parsley, garlic, white wine, onion and marjoram.
Molise: this tiny region is mainly mountainous with a stretch of coastline on the Adriatic sea. It’s probably the most underrated Italian region in terms of tourism, in fact here there are terrific landscapes, great history and ancient local traditions.
So go there and taste the funnateglie because it’s a must. Ingredients: eggs, sausage, capsicum, tomatoes, onion, hot pepper, basil and lard. Mmmmmmmm!
Lazio: everyone knows ROME, but not many know Lazio. Rome is inside the Lazio region. It’s definitely one of the most important areas in my country in terms of history.
Moreover, if you zoom Rome’s map you’ll spot The Vatican State, where the Pope resides. Probably you need a microscope because it’s minuscule. Here millions of tourists (mostly Catholic) visit every year.
While in Lazio, you have to try the vignarola romana: peas, broad bean, lettuce, artichoke, spring onion, cheek lard, mint and pecorino cheese. Fantastico!
Welcome to the south!
Campania: welcome to my region! If you’re very curious try to spot Casapesenna, my beloved hometown. My region has been named ‘Terra Felix’ since the Roman Empire, or maybe before.
In English means ‘happy land’ because of its supreme fertility and unique weather conditions.
My region is the birthplace of pizza, mozzarella, tomato sauce and the homeland of Naples, the Amalfi Coast and Capri. I better stop…Anyway, have you ever tied O’ per e O’ muss?
It’s simply pig’s paw, calf snout, salt, pepper, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. This traditional street food is a great piece of our history.
Puglia: this region forms the heel of my country. It’s also famous for its whitewashed hill towns, ancient farmland and hundreds of miles of coastline.
Food is excellent because of its favourable weather conditions, for example, the extra virgin olive oil’s quality is superior.
Have a taste of the torcinelli di San Severo: this recipe is made with calf’s internal organs, parsley, salt, pepper and grated Pecorino cheese. Delicious!
Basilicata: it’s the region of deep forests and dense mountains and Matera Sassi district, one of the 54 Unesco world heritage sites. So what are you waiting for?
When you get there, ask for the rafanata lucana, an epic local dish made with eggs, potatoes, bread, Rhaphanus root, grated Pecorino cheese and lard. I’m hungry now!
Get Down Low and Go Go Go
Calabria: Calabria is the toe of Italy and it’s in a strategical position in the Mediterranean sea for shipping operations. It’s a sun-baked region of rugged mountains, popular beaches and old villages.
Among other exquisite local foods, you should taste the struncatura ammollicata which is made with pasta (struncatura), anchovy, black olives, garlic, capers, bread and parsley. Yummy!
Sicilia: here we’re in the largest Mediterranean island, a few kms off from the Italian toe, in fact, you can see the opposite shore with the naked eye.
This region is rich in history with majestic scenery, active volcanos and century-old traditions. Food is extraordinary and I hope you’ll taste the tonno alla cipollata one day, you won’t regret it. Ingredients: tuna, onion, water, sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil.
Sardegna: Last but not least in our tour of Italy. Sardinia island has nearly 2000 kms of pristine coastline, sandy beaches and impressive mountains in its interior.
History and food traditions are legendary. Therefore, you have to try the seadas del Nuorese: semolina flour, lard, salt, oil, sheep cheese, lemon and sugar or chestnut honey. Splendido!
We made it!
Unfortunately, our Italian-food-tour has come to an end. How many broken hearts out there? I hope you guys have enjoyed reading my article.
The reason I listed the above Italian recipes that are hard to find anywhere but in traditional Italian restaurants, it’s because I want to encourage you, my friends, to try some original dishes in my country.
And not only the common dishes you can have every day in Sydney, New York or London.
I am counting on all of you to venture out of your culinary comfort zones and try some testicles for once in your life!
Ciao and…Buon appetito!
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