9 incredible traditional Italian dishes you shouldn't leave Italy without trying

These traditional Italian dishes showcase the best of the countries produce

Traditional Italian dishes of pizza and coffee on top of an outdoor table in Italy
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Traditional Italian dishes just taste different when you're eating them in Italy, and although you can eat pizza, pasta and tiramisu without picking up your passport, it's worth the flight for the incredible local food (not to mention the culture, history, architecture and so much more).

Travel experiences are different for everyone. For some, it’s simply the thrill of booking into one of the world's most beautiful hotels (and who wouldn’t love a suite with an amazing swimming pool in Mexico?). But more generally, there’s one topic that unites travel lovers the world over, and that’s food.

There’s no doubt about it—food and travel go hand-in-hand, and like the best foodie cities in France, Italy is synonymous with great food. 

This Mediterranean country boasts more mouth-watering delights than most. So next time you’re in Italy be sure not to miss out on these incredible dishes...

9 'gustoso' traditional Italian dishes to eat in Italy

1. Pizza with stracchino

traditional Italian dish of Pizza with stracchino on a table

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An obvious, yet absolute must-eat when in Italy is pizza, but if you can hunt one out topped with stracchino—an Italian cow’s milk cheese—even better. Pizza really can be hit and miss, and there’s nothing more upsetting than a bad one, but get it right and you’ll be dreaming about it months after. 

The city of Naples is a good place to start for brilliant pizzas, or if you happen to be in Padua, a city not far from Venice and home to the incredible Scrovegni Chapel, be sure to book a table at Pizzeria Al Duomo. This charming restaurant specializes in pizza with a selection of weekly specials, and often uses stracchino along with other local ingredients such as porcini mushrooms, black cabbage, and mozzarella to top theirs.

2. Carbonara

traditional Italian dish of carbonara in a bowl

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Perhaps the most heartwarming dish on the planet, Carbonara is a sumptuous mix of handmade spaghetti, tangy Pecorino Romano, salty cured pork, black pepper, and egg. Simple but satisfying it combines some of Italy’s most beloved ingredients and is best sampled in Rome, or anywhere in the region of Lazio where Carbonara is said to have originated.

3. Garmugia

Traditional italian dish of Garmugia, a soup made with green vegetables

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This traditional Italian dish from Tuscany dates back to the 16th century and is hard to find outside of the region. It’s essentially a hearty soup that is fairly inexpensive to make using mostly green vegetables like fava beans, artichoke hearts, and asparagus along with a small amount of ground veal or pancetta. It’s the perfect dish to sample if you’re visiting the region over the colder months and really easy to replicate if you embark on a Tuscany cooking vacation to learn how to make traditional Italian dishes.

4. Testaroli with pesto

traditional italian dish of Testaroli with pesto on white plate

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It doesn’t seem much to look at but Testaroli is another unmissable traditional Tuscan dish that is simple to make but as delicious as any other pasta dish you’ll find throughout Italy. Believed to be the earliest recorded pasta, Testaroli stands out for its unusual shape—flat and triangular. It goes well with homemade pesto, or even simply splashed with olive oil and shavings of Pecorino cheese. The mountain town of Pontremoli is a great place to sample authentic Testaroli. 

5. Garganelli with ragu d’Anatra

traditional italian dish of Garganelli with ragu d’Anatra in a bowl

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It’s hard to find Garganelli outside of Italy which makes it all the more unmissable once in the country. The egg-based pasta is rolled into a tubular shape but is distinctly different from penne due to its rugged form. Head to Bologna to sample Garganelli in all its glory where you’ll find it paired with lavishly rich duck ragu.

6. Risotto al Barolo

traditional italian dish of Risotto al Barolo on a restaurant table

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Often served as a starter before the main meal, risotto is said to have originated in Milan in the mid-1800s. These days each area of Italy has their own risotto specialities, but perhaps the most delicious is served in the north-west, in the Piedmont region. Here rice is cooked with red wine, usually Barolo (the dishes namesake), Borlotti beans and sausage meat. 

It’s an unusual dish as risotto is typically made with white wine, but Risotto al Barolo stands out for its use of red which gives the rice a pink colour and intense flavour.

7. Insalata Caprese

traditional italian dish of Insalata caprese surrounded by basil leaves

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No one can deny the pure delight of pairing tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, basil and good olive oil. This world-famous salad, named after the island of Capri, allows the four ingredients to seriously shine, yet nowhere does it better than the Campania region from where it originated. Order as a starter before a pasta dish or two. 

8. Torta Caprese

traditional italian dish of a Torta caprese slice

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The Campania region not only does salads well but is also the best region for deserts including the amazing Torta Caprese—a traditional Italian cake usually made with hazelnuts or almonds and chocolate. In Capri try a slice at Gelateria Buonocore where they also fold the cake into homemade gelato. 

9. Tiramisu

traditonal italian dish of Tiramisu

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Creamy and decadent yet light and moreish, there’s a reason Tiramisu is Italy’s most famous dessert. Combining coffee, cocoa, and mascarpone cheese this traditional Italian dish originated in Venetia or Friuli Venezia Giulia depending on who you speak to, yet is famous across the globe, due to its delicious combination of flavors. 

Le Beccherie, a restaurant in Treviso is said to be the birthplace of Tiramisu so don't forget to snag a table should you find yourself in Northeastern Italy. 

Lydia Swinscoe
Travel writer & editor

Lydia is a travel writer and solo travel expert, based mostly in London. Her work has been published in print and online for the likes of Condé Nast Traveler, The Guardian, BBC Travel, Harper's Bazaar, ELLE, Marie Claire, Oh magazine, Town&Country, and woman&home.