Visiting Italy is not just admiring wonderful art sites, sunbathing on beaches lapped by a crystal clear sea or getting to know hospitable and fun cities. Visiting Italy also (and especially) means eating, eating, eating. And if you want to eat real Italian food you don’t need to spend a lot of money in Michelin starred restaurants: real Italian food also means street food, locally known as "cibo di strada".
The problem with street food is that it is everywhere, and each city has its specialty. So we asked Mauro Rosati for help. Mauro is a food sector expert journalist, General Director of the Qualivita Foundation, and food editor for Cibodistrada.it, but he is a street food enthusiast above all (he has published in Italy the book "Street Food Heroes. Guide to the best Italian street food").
In ancient Rome, street food was the only way the poor could eat. Nowadays street food has become the main subject to be revisited by chefs, both starred and not, representing a real fashion. Forget the typical dirty pickup truck, serving sandwiches made of peculiar ingredients: "Street food is now quality food," says Mauro. And the most important fact is that eating in the street means knowing locals and pretending somehow to be Italian for good: "Street food also helps to socialize. Among young people, perhaps because of social networks, there has been a kind of alienation during meals. Now people are more inclined to talk and eat together, and I think street food has helped in that. Now we are not just talking among tablemates, but also with the caterer!"
Here is a list of Italian street food to try at least once in your life, according to Mauro. There are many more for sure, but if you have to choose ...
WHITE FLATBREAD PIZZA WITH READY-SLICED MEAT - ALL’ANTICO VINAIO (Florence)
Visiting Florence is mandatory, but trying the white flatbread pizza with ready-sliced meat is even more compulsory. All'Antico Vinaio offers local meat (which is not found elsewhere in Italy) at honest prices, which has made it a place of worship.
MEAT AND FISH STUFFED SANDWICHES - IL FURGONCINO (Pesaro)
It is not a place but a yellow van that serves sandwiches inspired by the sea (anchovies, swordfish, tuna...), or by the earth (Prosciutto di Carpegna, bologna, mozzarella...). If you see it don’t let it go away!
PIZZA A PORTAFOGLIO - DI MATTEO (Naples)
All the taste of pizza with the convenience of take-away, because you can grab it as a sandwich. What else do you want? Also Bill Clinton likes it...
FOCACCIA DI RECCO - PANIFICIO MOLTEDO DAL 1874 (Recco, Genoa)
No one can leave Liguria without trying it: taste it as it is, with soft cheese. Warning: it ends immediately.
POLPETTA - BOLPETTA (Bologna)
Do you remember the meatballs in “Lady and the Tramp”? Maybe it could be hard to believe it but Italians do not usually put them in spaghetti... but they eat them, for sure. And these are the best.
SFOGLIATELLE - MIGNON ECCELLENZE NAPOLETANE (Milan)
Are you in Milan but you’d like to taste something from Naples? The two cities are far apart, but this blue, little pickup truck will take them straight to you. If you see it try the “sfogliatella riccia”: it is known worldwide and is made of handmade phyllo dough, with a fragrant filling of sweetened ricotta, flour, cinnamon and candied fruit.
FISH STREET FOOD - LA FOLPERIA DA MAX E BARBARA (Padua)
Padua is not known by tourists that much, but you should definitely visit it for its art ... and then try Max and Barbara’s "folpetti". They are salted boiled octopus, left to rest in warm pots and served with parsley sauce, oil, pepper and freshly squeezed lemon juice.
PIADABURGER - CINEMADIVINO (Faenza – Ravenna)
This nice truck proposes the "piadaburger": two flatbread discs stuffed with sausage, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, paprika, caramelized onions and fresh chips.
PANI CA’ MEUSA - NINO U’ BALLERINO (Palermo)
Seeing Nino while he prepares this dish is a feast for the eyes, because of his crazy gestures. The "pani ca 'meusa" is a bun with sesame seeds stuffed with spleen steamed in lard.
WHITE PIZZA WITH BOLOGNA - PIZZA & MORTAZZA (Rome)
Oh, Rome! If you go there (we all should), try the white pizza, not to be confused with the traditional Neapolitan pizza. It is served hot with bologna.
TRAPIZZINO - 00100 PIZZA (Rome)
The trapizzino is a triangle of white pizza cut in the middle and stuffed with a few tablespoons of “coda alla vaccinara” (oxtail cooked with tomatoes): strange, but delicious!
CHIANINA HAMBURGER - I TORELLI (Florence)
The Chianina is one of the best qualities of meat. I Torelli serves it in a bun covered in sesame seeds, prepared with Gentil Rosso soft wheat, stuffed with Chianina burgers cooked on a griddle, onion sauce stewed with craft beer, grilled vegetables, ketchup and mayonnaise.
SPYRAL POTATOES - APE MAGNA (Rome)
A funny shape, isn’t it? It is a bamboo spit prepared with ready-sliced potatoes with a particular tool in order to obtain a single one foot long spiral fried in hot oil.
PUNKCAKE - TA DA, MICROCUCINA GIROVAGA (Lecchiore – Imperia)
Italian gastronomic tradition has allowed Marialaura to reinvent a classic American breakfast, pancakes, turning them into "punkcakes". They are made of five different doughs: wheat, classic or cocoa, chestnut flour, chickpea flour.
TAKE-AWAY MOZZARELLA CAPRESE CONE - MOMÒ FOOD (Caserta)
You can easily eat this take-away caprese (mozzarella and tomatoes salad) on the street, because of the cone. Simple but good, Italian-style ingredients.
Street food restaurateurs are not easy to spot and you'll have to commit to find them, because they often roam the city. Then follow them on their Facebook profile...and have a nice hunting!