Italy is a food lover's paradise with an endless variety of interesting regional dishes to try. Between the hearty Florentine steaks, the slow-cooked ragus and the endless pasta variations, you will be lucky to leave with your waist-line intact.
However, not every dish you'll find in Italy is worth your time, in fact some are downright skippable. Here are three foods to avoid so that you can focus your efforts on more worthy dishes.
Red Sauce Restaurant Staples
One of the biggest shocks for first time visitors to Italy is that many of the classic dishes we associate with Italian cooking aren't authentically Italian at all. Many of these red sauce restaurant dishes evolved after Italian immigrants came to America. Spaghetti and meatballs in tomato sauce, for example, is a distinctly American creation. While Italians do eat meatballs they would never serve them on top of pasta. Spaghetti Bolognese is a big no-no too - instead of ground beef, real Bolognese is a slow cooked pork ragu served on top of a much sturdier pasta like tagliatelle. Fettucini Alfredo was invented in Rome specifically to serve to clueless American tourists.
While none of those dishes taste bad, they are categorically not Italian. If you can even find them on the menu in Italy it is a sure sign you are in the wrong kind restaurant, the kind that caters only to tourists.
Ubiquitous shops selling creamy, flavorful gelato are one of Italy's greatest selling points. Unfortunately not all gelato is created equal, and some of the less savory shops make a tidy profit selling sub-par gelato created from powdered mixes. This fake gelato will never taste as good as the real, hand-made kind. Follow these guidelines to make sure you're spending your precious money and calories on the real thing:
- Shops with the word artiginale prominently displayed are more likely to have hand-made gelato.
- Gelato should be a normal color, not unnaturally bright. For example, pistachio gelato should be a muted green, not neon green.
- Be suspicious of containers of gelato piled into high fluffy mountains. This is a sign that the gelato has been pumped full of air. Denser gelato is tastier gelato every time.
More gelato information can be found in our Guide to Italian Gelato post.
Italy is really, really excellent at Italian food. However, with only a few exceptions, it's not particularly great with international cuisine. No matter how tempting it seems, that all-you-can-eat sushi bar in Milan is never going to live up to even moderate expectations. The same goes for the rare Mexican, Chinese or Thai restaurant you might stumble across.
So save yourself the trouble and stick to Italian. Luckily the country has enough culinary variety that it's nearly impossible to get bored.
Have you been to Italy? Did you make any foodie mistakes?