A trip to Italy isn’t complete without one thing: good food. Pastas, pizza, gelato, wine – there’s so much to taste and so little time! What sets food in Italy apart, though, is simply the quality of local products.
A simple sandwich from a corner bar will be more flavorful and delicious than you could’ve imagined. Because of that, you can eat well in Italy even on a budget, if you know the right places to go. Here are some tips to help you get started:
Italian street food is, in one word, epic. Some of Italy’s best, most traditional foods can be found on a cart or behind a counter, meant to be carried away and eaten while you walk.
- Pizza al taglio (sometimes called pizza rustica) is pizza by the slice, often sold by weight. Simply tell the person behind the counter how big of a piece you’d like; they’ll weigh it and charge you accordingly. Pizza in Italy doesn’t always have tomato sauce and cheese – experiment by trying some of the variations!
- Panzerotti are little pockets of dough, almost like mini calzones, that originated in Puglia but have spread through other parts of Italy in the past 75 years. Classically, they’re fried and filled with tomato and mozzerella, but you can find them will all types of fillings, now – savory and sweet! – and can sometimes even find them baked instead of fried.
- Panino, singular for “panini”, simply means “sandwich”, not a particular type of sandwich like it does in the U.S. You can pick up a tasty sandwich with local meats, cheeses, and veggies for around €5 or €6 in most big cities.
- Battered and fried foods that are easy to grab and eat on-the-go abound in Italy. Depending on where you are, you’ll see everything from fried chickpea bread, cones of deep-fried seafood and fried balls of rice filled with various meats, cheeses or vegetables. Find out what the local specialties are and try them!
- Gelato might be everyone’s favorite street food! All over Italy, you’ll see tourists and locals alike walking the streets, cone or cup in hand, in every season. For insider tips on how to find the best gelato, check out my 99-cent guide, “Planning Your Dream Trip To Italy: Tips & Tricks”.
Restaurant Tips & Alternatives
A restaurant isn’t always the best place to eat, though is usually is the most expensive. Restaurants that call themselves “Osteria” or “Trattoria” are typically more casual (and the prices lower), but there are some important budget-friendly tips that will help you enjoy a sit-down experience without the high price tag that can sometimes come with it.
- “Aperitivo” is what Italians call a pre-dinner drink, but in many places in Italy – particularly in northern Italy – it can be much more. Many bars will offer a small tray of food with your purchase of a drink, perfect for a light dinner if you’ve had a heavier, later lunch. Still others, though, will offer an unlimited buffet of food with just the purchase of a drink! The buffet may consist of all cold foods, like charcuterie or finger sandwiches, or may even feature hot food like pasta. There are usually certain non-alcoholic aperitivi that come with these benefits, too.
- A pizzeria is a great budget option if you want a casual, sit-down meal without feeling pressured to order multiple courses. Pizzas in Italy are all “personal”, meaning each person orders their own, and usually cost somewhere between €7 and €15, depending on where in Italy you are, the types of ingredients you order on your pizza and how “upscale” the pizzeria deems itself to be. Keep in mind: unlike in the United States, a pizzeria’s menu will offer a selection of pre-set pizzas; you’re rarely (if ever) offered the option of choosing toppings from a list.
- A “Tourist Menu” is sometimes a great option at a sit-down restaurant. Be warned, though, sometimes touristic menus (particularly ones that feature photographs of the food) are simply that: touristic – i.e. of a low quality that locals would never eat. Sometimes, though, very good, local restaurants will offer a “fixed menu” in which you can pick from two or three items from each course (starter, main, desert), for a reduced price.
- At a bar or caffé, it’s not necessarily expected that you order multiple courses, making it a great option for the budget traveler who wants to take a seat to eat. A caffé may have a large-ish menu of hot food but a bar will usually have simple fare like sandwiches, soups, and salads. Note: you’ll still be charged the €2 or €3 coperto, the per person service charge you’ll see at any sit-down establishment.
- If you have your heart set on dining at a certain restaurant but your budget is protesting, try going for lunch instead of dinner. Prices are usually lower at lunchtime, and if you have a large lunch it may allow you to go lighter on dinner. Plus, studies have shown that, particularly in the summer months, you sleep better if you have your biggest meal in the middle of the day rather than in the evening.
Do It Yourself!
If you have a kitchenette, try picking up some things at a street market or at your corner grocery store to prepare a simple meal yourself. Get recipe ideas on the “Blog” section of OneDayInItaly.com.
- Italian street markets and local specialty shops are things of beauty. You can find flavorful, fresh produce, locals meats and cheeses, and an extraordinary array of specialty items at street markets any day of the week.
- Supermarkets in Italy have products you won’t find anywhere else – at least, not at the low prices you’ll find at the source! One of my favorite things to do when traveling is check out the supermarket to see what types of foods the locals eat every day. Before you buy gifts for friends and family back home at a specialty store, check out the supermarket – you’re guaranteed to find quality products at much more reasonable prices.
- Picnics are a great idea, especially in good weather. Pick up some salumi and cheeses, add a good loaf of Italian bread and bottle of wine (even inexpensive wine in Italy is goo!) and you’ll got yourself a meal fit for a king!
“One Day In Italy” offers expert travel planning services to help you make the most out of your next trip to Italy, giving you the information and insight to create authentic experiences you will remember for a lifetime. Check out the travel blog, full of great insider tips and tricks, at OneDayInItaly.com.
Budget, Featured, Food, Italy