Italian cuisine needs little introduction, with the mere utterance of the phrase "Italian food" immediately conjuring up a myriad of mouth-watering images; crispy, wood-fired pizza, luxurious risotto, traditional platters of antipasti, and countless delectable pasta dishes. While the cuisine of Italy varies between regions, each of which has different traditions and styles of cookery, generally, Italian cuisine stems from a simple combination of fresh and flavoursome produce, which come together to create colourful dishes that preserve the identity of individual ingredients, yet harmonise flavours perfectly. The people of Italy are enthusiastic about gastronomy, and the art of cooking is a highly regarded facet of Italian culture. Indeed, Italian restaurants are often an experience in themselves - relaxed, atmospheric, and usually with copious amounts of excellent wines on offer. But, while dining in a traditional trattoria or ristorante promises an unforgettable experience, we believe that there is no better way to sample the cuisine of a country than by eating what the locals eat, and indulging in some street food.
This is why we recommend taking the time to explore that little bit further, to the winding, colourful side streets where you will find bustling stalls, hole-in-the-wall cafes and food trucks, each offering up a delightful array of delectable, authentic street food offerings. With so much appetising fare on offer, you are guaranteed to find something delicious to tantalise your taste buds. However, if you'd like a nudge in the right direction, continue reading for our guide to the best street food to sample when you visit Italy.
A southern Italian special, Arancini are plump, deep-fried stuffed rice balls that originated in Arab-ruled Sicily in the 10th century. Arancini represent Italian street food at its most comforting; rich, leftover risotto is often used as a base and while other fillings vary, with meat ragù and peas among the most common, melted mozzarella cheese seems to be a constant. The rice balls are then deep fried in breadcrumbs until golden orange, earning them their jolly name (Arancini literally translates to "little oranges"). The result? An indulgent snack that is all at once crunchy, gooey and addictive. Sicily is the obvious go-to spot to sample Arancini at its most authentic, but as one of the most popular street foods in Italy, you'll never find yourself too far from an Arancini street vendor.
A large joint of deboned pork, heavily salted and seasoned with delicious herbs including garlic, rosemary and pepper, before being slow-cooked on a split until the skin is crispy and golden and the meat is juicy and flavoursome; porchetta is simply one of the greatest forms of the humble hog roast that you will ever try. Though popular throughout Italy, porchetta is especially adored in Ariccia, a small Roman commune which lays claim to the dish. In the markets here, porchetta hawkers are aplenty, serving delicious helpings of the tasty meat from their white-painted street food trucks. Porchetta is famously enjoyed as a panino (or sandwich) but can be served on its own, allowing the aromatic flavours to shine. Whichever way you order; this is irrefutably an unmissable culinary experience for meat lovers worldwide.
Hailing from Ascoli Piceno in Italy's Marche region, this unassuming looking gastronomic speciality translates to simply "fried olives" and dates back to around 1800 when it was reputedly conceived as a way for rich families to use up their leftover meat. The snack is traditionally made with large green Ascolana Tenera olives, which are stuffed with a delicately spiced ground meat filling (most commonly beef or pork), often combined with parmesan, and then deep fried in a crispy breaded coating. The delectable treats are often served as an appetiser in restaurants but can be found throughout the country in cafes, street food vans and stalls alike, where they are often served hot in paper cones - an ideal moreish snack for the on-the-go traveller.
Eating pizza in Italy is about as clichéd as it gets and really, you don't need us to tell you to try the pizza here, however it seems almost sacrilegious to talk about Italian cuisine without honouring the mighty dish! The quintessential Italian food, pizza is one of the most revered foods around, available in a multitude of enticing iterations and adored globally. And, pizza al taglio, or pizza by the slice, just happens to be the perfect street food - inexpensive, convenient and flavoursome. You'll find a pizza place or three on every street corner serving a range of deliciously topped pies, usually cut into square or rectangle slices and sold by weight. For true authenticity, opt for pizza Margherita which, legend has it, was invented in 1889 in honour of Queen Margherita and decorated in the colours of the Italian flag: with red tomatoes, white mozzarella cheese and green basil. If you're looking for the best Italian destination to indulge, we'd recommend a visit to Naples which as well as being a beautiful historic city, is heralded as the birthplace of modern pizza. True Neapolitan-style pizza is made with tomatoes from the nearby volcanic plains of Mount Vesuvius and Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, and is so exclusive that the art of its making is UNESCO listed!