Italy is one of the world’s top street food destinations. Every town has its own specialities to savour as you wander the streets, sit on church steps, admire a mountain view or gaze out over a seascape.
On any Italian sojourn, the street food experience is a great way to dive into local culinary traditions. So, here’s a brief guide to the most iconic, delicious delicacies from the length of the ‘boot’ – snacks that will give you an authentic taste of the regions. Not a Michelin star in sight.
Palermo is the Italian street food capital, positively buzzing with stalls, kiosks and markets (Ballarò, Vucciria and del Capo). Don’t leave without tasting a ‘pani ca meusa’ (a soft bun filled with fried calf’s spleen). Try one at local institution Antica Focacceria San Francesco (www.afsf.it), or at the Pani ca’ meusa kiosk (panicameusa.it).
‘Sfincione’ is Sicily’s take on pizza: thick and soft, with tomato, onion, local cheese or anchovies.
Sicilian fried delicacies are among Italy’s best and most imitated: ‘crocché’ or ‘cazzilli’ are potato croquettes with parsley; ‘pannelle’ are rectangles of fried chickpea flour. But the most mouthwatering kind are ‘arancine’, as they’re known in Palermo (or ‘arancini’ on the rest of the island). These breadcrumbed, deep-fried bombs of saffron-flavoured rice with meat sauce and peas – alternatively cheese, spinach, aubergine – are delicious. Sample some at Ke palle (kepalle.it) or Passami Ù Coppu (passamiucoppu.it).
Also try ‘pane conzatu’, hot bread baked in a wood-fired oven and topped with fresh tomato, cheese, anchovy and a drizzle of oil.
‘Stigghiola’ are twists of lamb intestine you’ll find grilling on barbecues outside trattorias. Another specialty here is ‘quarume’, a hot stew of veal offal. Gioacchino Campanella’s family has been selling it for 30 years in the Capo district.
Last but not least, try a ‘frittola’ (fried offal) and ‘sfinci’ (semolina fritters with anchovy or ricotta) at the Antica Friggitoria Andrea Stella.
Lecce is the undisputed home of ‘pucce’, bread pockets made of pizza dough but with shorter leavening time. They lend themselves to all sorts of fillings: charcuterie, cheese, grilled vegetables, meat. Try one at L’Angolino on Via Matteotti, Lecce.
While there, don’t miss the ‘rustico leccese’, two discs of puff pastry filled with bechamel, mozzarella and tomato sauce.
In Bari, try the ubiquitous mozzarella and tomato-filled ‘panzerotti’, ‘popizze’ (fried balls of savoury dough) and ‘sgagliozze’ (fried slices of polenta). You’ll find them all at Le Sgagliozze di Maria on Strada del Carmine.
In central Puglia, Valle d’Itria is known for its excellent pork, especially the famous ‘capocollo’ ham from Martina Franca, where butcher shops flame-grill meat over charcoal barbecues, ‘al fornello’. Local specialities are ‘gnummareddi’ (rolls of lamb offal) and ‘bombette’ (roulades of ‘capocollo’ filled with caciocavallo cheese and parsley, barbecued on skewers). Visit I Piaceri della Carne in Locorotondo, you won’t be disappointed.
Offal occupies a special status in Florence, the home city of the Medici dynasty. One prime example is ‘Lampredotto’, a centuries-old institution with its culinary roots in the tripe stalls that can still be found in the city. Lampredotto is a stew of cow’s stomach in vegetable broth, flavoured with herbs and served in a bread roll with salsa verde or hot sauce.
Then there’s tripe ‘alla Fiorentina’, sautéed with tomato. A fun place to try it is at the Mercato Centrale at San Lorenzo, at either the historic Da Nerbone or Lupen e Margo stalls (lupenemargo.it). For tripe and mixed boiled meat, I can also recommend Trippaio di Gavinana (trippaio-di-gavinana.it): Leonardo Torrini is an authority on it.
Fried bread dough is also popular in Florence, an example being ‘coccoli’ (dough balls traditionally stuffed with creamy stracchino cheese and Parma ham, served in paper cones). Find them at the Pugi bakery (fornopugi.it).
Naples is practically synonymous with street – every street has a food counter somewhere; every pizzeria has its own roadside stand; every bar serves snacks to go.
The queen of street food is classic tomato and mozzarella Neapolitan pizza folded over ‘a portafoglio’ – get yours from Da Attilio.
Campania also boasts an array of fried specialities: ‘crocché’ (potato croquettes), ‘scagliozzi’ (chunks of fried polenta), ‘zappole’ (fried dough), rice ‘arancini’, pasta frittata and deep-fried pizza. Get your fill at da Fernanda on Via Speranzella, or at local institution, Pizzeria De’ Figliole.
The ‘cuoppo’ is the traditional paper cone filled with scrumptious deep-fried treats, and it’s irresistible: enjoy courgette flowers (‘sciurilli’), breaded mozzarella, potato croquettes and fish. Grab one at the Friggitoria Vomero or Friggitoria Verace.
For takeaway mozzarella I can recommend A Muzzarella Mia Parla (amuzzarellamiaparla.it).
Crispy baked bread ‘taralli‘ are a classic Neapolitan snack – try them at Taralleria Napoletana.
Tripe is eaten cold in Naples, dressed with lemon and black pepper – try it at Le Zendraglie.
And for patisserie, rhum babàs, biscuits and flaky pastries head to Attanasio (sfogliatellecalde.com).
Visitors to this crescent shaped region, where scenic coastal villages compete for attention with pretty hillside hamlets, are always struck by the aroma of focaccia wafting through the narrow lanes, known as carrugi.
Genovese focaccia, ‘fugassa’ in the local dialect, is a cult street food: thin, springy, slightly crispy on top and soft on the inside – try a slice from Focacceria Revello (revellocamogli.com).
Recco is famous for its ancient cheese focaccia recipe: two thin layers of unleavened flatbread made from water, extra-virgin olive oil and flour, filled with a creamy layer of crescenza. Taste this delicacy at La Baracchetta di Biagio (labaracchetta.com).
Another Ligurian classic is ‘farinata’, a mouthwatering chickpea flatbread served in slices. Chickpea flour also features in another specialty: ‘panissa’, which resembles fried polenta and is served wrapped in paper to eat on the go. One of Genoa’s oldest eateries is L’Antica Sciamadda, where you can sample farinata, panissa, and quiche (another local takeaway staple).
Head to Antica Friggitoria Carega for fried fish and ‘friseu’ (savoury fritters), wrapped in paper to go.
‘Merenda sinoira’ is a traditional afternoon ritual, Piedmont’s answer to high tea. It’s a picnic of anchovies in parsley and garlic sauce, soft cheeses, Russian salad, jardiniere salad, Piedmont antipasti, vitello tonnato, salami and cheese, all laid out on a tablecloth in a garden or meadow. You’ll find everything you need at Caffè Vini Emilio Ranzini, a quaint and cosy family-run place.
Make sure to taste ‘gofri’, waffles made from water, flour and yeast, cooked on cast iron hotplates. They’re eaten alone or with cold meats and cheese, jam or hazelnut-chocolate spread. Erica and Marzia are gofri ambassadors, so visit them at Io Mangio Gofri.
You might also indulge in some ‘miasse’, cornflour wafers, to pair with cheese or cold cuts. Make sure to visit Gofreria Piemontèisa (gofreriapiemonteisa.it), where you can try them as well as ‘miacce’ from Valsesia, made from buckwheat flour.
Veneto has always been a cultural crossroads of commerce and trade and where there’s movement, there’s always food to eat on the go. As you wander through Venetian lanes, you’re bound to come across tiny osterias known as ‘bàcari’, serving ‘cicchetti’ – slices of bread or crostini with various toppings such as creamed salt cod, crab, cuttlefish, pickled sardines, vegetables, mozzarella and meatballs. Try some at one of the most emblematic bàcari, Cantine del Vino già Schiavi (cantinaschiavi.com): perch on the wall along the canal and admire Venice as you eat.
One of the oldest traditional Venetian dishes is ‘scartosso de pesse’, mixed fried fish and seafood served with a slice of polenta, all wrapped in a yellow paper cone. Drop by Acqua e Mais (acquaemais.com) for a hearty serving to go.
Padua is home to a Veneto street food mecca: La Folperia run by Max and Barbara is a kiosk that sells ‘folpetti’ – baby octopus in a parsley, garlic and lemon sauce, served hot with bread.
Romagna’s ‘piadina’ is a prime example of cuisines with a strong local identity and is one of the few street foods that has become famous worldwide. A round flatbread of water, flour and salt and – depending on where it’s made – lard, oil and yeast, it is heated and filled with cold meats, cheese and vegetables. In Cesena, Al Chiosco di Maria Cedioli is a failsafe option, serving up some of the region’s best handmade piadinas.
Emilia holds its own with its variety of fried dough specialties, ‘crescentine’ and ‘gnocco fritto’, which vary from province to province but always come filled with an unbeatable selection of Emilian charcuterie.
Down on the plain the food tends to be fattier, while up in the hills and the Apennines around Modena you’ll find the ‘tigella’, made with dough similar to the ‘gnocco’ but cooked on thick cast iron plates rather than fried. They’re sliced open and filled with a special mixture of minced bacon, garlic, rosemary and Grana Padano cheese. Get your fill at La Chersenteria in Modena (lachersenta.it).
Our street food tour of Le Marche begins in Ascoli Piceno, known for the famous ‘olive ascolane’ – olives stuffed with a paste of minced meat, lemon rind, egg, parmesan and nutmeg, then rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried. Head to Migliori (miglioriolive.it) for your olives to go.
Down on the coast, at San Benedetto del Tronto, you’ll find a wealth of raw and cooked fish served at stalls on the seafront; a foodie’s delight. Nudo e Crudo and Olio Pesce Fritto are two reliable options to call on.
Meanwhile, Urbino has ‘crescia’, a flatbread made with lard, eggs, milk and pepper, filled with traditional local salame,’ciauscolo’, Urbino cheese, and more. Try one at the Ragno d’Oro.
All roads lead to Rome, and that includes food! Street food is a fantastic way to enjoy the capital without stumbling into its tourist traps. Rome is the home of the pizza slice, soft and springy, covered in all manner of tasty toppings. Don’t leave without visiting Pizzarium di Bonci. (bonci.it).
L’Antico Forno Roscioli (anticofornoroscioli.it) is another must-see, the best bakery in the city centre for pizza and more.
But if you want to discover the true star of Roman street food, venture out to Ariccia in the Castelli Romani area and try the ‘porchetta’. This speciality, made with spiced, deboned pork meat, has ancient roots and a noble tradition that has been passed down the generations. Try it at Chiosco Pepparone.
Finally, for ‘supplì’ (tasty, fragrant rice croquettes), La Casa del Supplì is the place to go.