Eating in Italy: It’s Not Just Pasta!
“You’re gonna gain so much weight eating pasta in Italy for two weeks!” a friend said to me before my trip, a bit too gleefully. She, like me, loves pasta, and envisioned my trip full of carbonara, cacio e pepe, risotto…
While I had my fair share of pasta, it was too hot to eat it every day. And, being in the south by the sea, I had plenty of seafood. No matter what you love eating in Italy, you’ll be happy! Here are a few of my favorite dishes.
1. Caprese Salad
I’ve decided that the Caprese salad will be my patron saint of summer. It’s the perfect medley of creaminess, with mozzarella di buffala, if you’re lucky, combined with the juicy sweetness of locally grown tomatoes, topped off with a twang of basil. Heaven.
The salad, as you might have gleaned, was created on the island of Capri (which I visited), and it’s no coincidence that its colors match those of the Italian flag.
Another great summertime Italian item is the spritz. Traditionally, it’s an Aperol spritz, which is prosecco, Aperol liqueur (which accounts for the neon color; it has a slight bitter taste), and soda. It’s refreshing and not overly alcoholic. But in Capri, I discovered the limoncello spritz, which is amazing. It’s limoncello, prosecco, soda, and maybe mint. So refreshing.
Here’s a tip: order one in the early evening for an aperitivo, and you’ll get free munchies. Sometimes it’s something not-so-exciting like bland potato chips and nuts, but other times, it can be a meal in and of itself. The two friends I made who live in Milan said that aperitivo hour has become quite trendy, with bars offering full buffets of snacks (no word on whether that’s happening after COVID).
I stopped for many, many a spritz as a way to cool down from walking all day, get access to wifi at the restaurant, and enjoy a little sip and munch. Given that most Italians don’t eat dinner until 8 or later, having an aperitivo around 6 was perfect.
3. Fresh, Fresh Seafood
Eating in Italy by the sea necessitates eating seafood. I’m allergic to mussels, clams, and oysters, so I had to be wary of some of the mixed seafood dishes, but if that’s not an issue, you should try them. There’s fritto misto, which is a mixed cornucopia of various types of seafood. There’s also plenty of grilled fish (be aware that in Italy, the fish usually comes whole with head and bones, and you have to pick it apart). Shrimp. So much.
Interestingly, in Scilla, they had swordfish, but not as we cook it. Instead, it was a very thin steak. I didn’t care for it. It seemed a bit overcooked for my tastes.
4. Meat and Cheese Boards
I don’t eat a ton of meat back home, but when I’m in Italy, I sure do! The country is known for its cured meats like salami and prosciutto, so I’d be a fool to pass them by.
One day in Salerno, I was hungry but not too hungry (peckish, as my new friend from Iran would say). The waiter suggested this sumptuous meat and cheese board (which, to be fair, was probably designed for more than one person, but I did my best to devour it!).
One of the cheeses was called caciocavallo, or horse cheese. The reason being was that it was tied up and thrown over a rafter, a bit like saddlebags on a horse. But the best part? Inside the cheese was butter. It could also have meat in it. It was scrumptious.
The waiter explained what everything was…except one meat (bottom left). He said, “Let me know what you think of it. It’s very particular.”
I knew it was probably not something I’d normally eat, but hey, when in Rome Salerno…I really enjoyed it and didn’t even gag when he came back to say it was made with TRIPE!!
Surprisingly, I had some meh pizzas until the end. When I arrived in Rome, I had one and sent a picture to my friend in Naples. His response? “I’m sorry for you. That’s not pizza.” Neapolitans are insanely proud of their pizza! For good reason, as you shall see.
The pizza in Rome has a flat crust. I wasn’t impressed.
At the end of my journey, I passed through Naples and had a couple of hours to kill, so my friend, Mario, sent me to Pizzeria Pellone near the train station. I ordered a pizza with my new love, mozzarella di buffala, and though I couldn’t finish even half, was in heaven!
6. And Finally, PASTA!!
You didn’t think I was going to talk about eating in Italy without bringing up pasta at all, did you?? I did have some amazing pasta, from the strozzapreti pasta I bought at the store and cooked in Tropea (it means priest strangler!!)…
To the delicate ravioli with zucchini and shrimp I had in Capri…
And the amazing creamy risotto with shrimp I had near the airport in Rome on my last night…
Pasta rarely disappoints anywhere in Italy!
This was but a mere drop in the bucket. We didn’t cover the delicious and cheap wine or gelato! La prossima volta!