Regional Flavor

It turns out there’s no such thing as Italian cuisine—not with 20 diverse regions in the country and a population of almost 60 million. Northern Italy has a whole different set of influences than Southern Italy, and Sunday gravy is simply not the national dish. Here’s a look at Italy’s 10 most prominent regions—and a typical dish from each.

Region: Abruzzo

Where it is: Central east coast

What it is known for: This mountainous port city makes “guitar pasta” and likes hot chile peppers and saffron to spice things up. It is also known for seafood and an annual massive feast called “La Panarde” numbering 35 to 50 courses that lasts all night. Top that.

Typical dish: Agnello cac’ e ove (lamb with cheese and eggs)

Region: Basilcata

Where it is: The arch of the boot

What it is known for: This is a sparsely populated and modest part of Italy with a simple peasant cuisine. 

Typical dish: Làgane (the ancestor of today’s lasagna) with olive oil and chickpeas

Region: Calabria

Where it is: Central/South-Central

What it is known for: This mountainous region has 500 miles of coastline and Greek, Arab, and Albanian influences, with dishes accented by chile peppers and noted for their sweet and sour flavor combo. Calabria also features a wide variety of eggplant dishes. 

Typical dish: Macaroni with pork, eggplant and salted ricotta

Region: Campania

Where it is: Southeast coast

What it is known for: This ancient land was settled by the Greeks and is the site of Mt. Vesuvious and Pompei; its fertile volcanic soil produces bountiful vegetables like famous San Marzano tomatoes, figs, lemons. This is where Naples is, the hallowed birthplace of pizza (see sidebar.) 

Typical dish: Pizza, buffalo mozzarella

Region: Emilia-Romagna

Where it is: North central

What it is known for: Known as “Italy’s food basket,” this is foodie heaven, with bragging rights for Proscuitto, mortadella, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Balsamic vinegar. Many consider this region to offer “classic Italian” dishes. 

Typical dish: Bolognese sauce, tortellini

Region: Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Where it is: Northeast corner

What it is known for: This region is known for great beaches. But back to the food: Friuli has a northern bent with Slavic, Hungarian, and Austrian influences characterized by hearty pork and cabbage dishes. 

Typical dish: Spiced frico cheese and toast

Region: Lazio 

Where it is: West central coast

What it is known for: Rome is here, with three coins in the fountain, Julius Caesar, the Coliseum, tiny fiats and more but the cuisine is relatively simple, with lots of lamb and pork, vegetables and sheep’s milk cheese.

Typical dish: bruschetta, spaghetti alla carbonara, artichokes alla Roman

Region: Liguria

Where it is: Northeast coast

What it is known for: Mediterranean foods including porcini mushrooms, pine nuts, anchovies and a “delicate” olive oil. The bread here is typically focaccia bread. 

Typical dish: Chickpea flatbread

Region: Lombardy

Where it is: North central

What it is known for: Italy’s industrial region and its fashion capital Milan favors risottos and polenta, veal, beef, butter, cow’s milk cheese and freshwater fish. 

Typical dish: Risotto, osso bucco

Region: Le Marche 

Where it is: Central east coast 

What it is known for: Fried stuffed olives from ancient Salt Road town Ascoli Piceno, seafood soup, flatbreads

Typical dish: Ancona spicy fish stew

Region: Molise

Where it is: Central south

What it is known for: This unspoiled and little-known region with a rural population uses chile and garlic heavily for seasoning and is known for dishes with olive oil, rabbit, pig, lamb and garlic bread.

Typical dish: Tripe dumplings

Region: Piedmont

Where it is: Northwest corner

What it is known for: This region—and its white truffles—has somewhat elegant cuisine, lovely wines like Barolo and Barberesco, and makes great chocolate desserts.

Typical dish: “Warm dip” (Bagna caôda) made by slowly cooking chopped garlic with oil and butter, anchovies, peeled walnuts and served with Jerusalem artichoke, endive, sweet pepper and onion in a terracotta pot.

Region: Puglia

Where it is: The heel of the boot

What it is known for: This is southern Italy’s “bread basket” with wheat, semolina flour, vegetables, olive oil, fava beans, broccoli rabe and lamb dishes.

Typical dish: Orecchiette pasta with turnip tops; rustic breads

Region: Sardinia

Where it is: Island off central western cast

What it is known for: This island offers wild game like boar and mountain goat as well as lamb dishes, sheep’s milk cheese and a spiral-shaped busiati pasta. Seafood is also plentiful.

Typical dish: Pilau, a “couscous-like” dish, made much the way risotto is

Region: Sicily

Where it is: Island off the southwest ciast

What it is known for: The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily hearkens back 10,000 years before Don Corleone lived there. Its food has Greek, Arab, Spanish and French influences and favors antipasti, pasta and rice dishes and stuffed and skewered meat. It is also known for its candied fruits and marzipan.

Typical dish:  Caponata, veal Marsala, , pasta with sardines

Region: Trentino-Alto Adige

Where it is: Northernmost region 

What it is known for: This region’s food shares Germanic, Hungarian and Italian influences in dishes like goulasch, fruit-stuffed gnocchi, pasta and risottos. This is where the coveted Speck ham is from.

Typical dish: Strudel

Region: Tuscany

Where it is: North central coast

What it is known for: This is one of Italy’s art and cultural treasures, highlighted by Florence, home of Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, the Medicis. Its food has been described as the “art of understatement” with spices like thyme and fennel, and is well-known for its ravioli, tortelli and fish and seafood. Not to mention Chianti, Dr. Lecter’s favorite.

Typical dish: Pecorino cheese, steak alla fiorentina, panzanella (bread salad to you) 

Region: Umbria

Where it is: Central

What it is known for: Called “the green heart of Italy” its specialties are pork, black truffles and guanciale (cured pork jowl.)

Typical dish: Tagliatelle with truffles

Region: Val D’Aosta

Where it is: Northwest tip

What it is known for: This region is replete with French and Swiss influences, beef and game, Fontina cheese, grains like rye and buckwheat and grappa-spiked braises. Sign us up. 

Typical dish: Polenta with beef stewed in wine

Region: Veneto

Where it is: Northeast

What it is known for: Venice is the standout here, of course, but this region is also known for its Amarone wine, seafood soups and risottos and cured meats and aged cheeses. 

Typical dish: Rice and pea risotto, traditionally served at the annual Doge’s banquet, held on April 25, the saint’s day of the city’s patron, St. Mark.

This Web Extra was inspired by the September/October issue of Boca magazine. To stay up to date with all things Boca, subscribe today!