The missing bite .. a discovery of tastes in Italy

Italy food experience - Food festival in Italy

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I thought I had planned the perfect trip to Italy’s lakes region. Our itinerary took in historic villas covered in wisteria, perfect lake views and pretty towns. I researched restaurants thoroughly and scheduled visits to local attractions.

Everything was going to plan and then we found out about this.. a local food festival. Why hadn’t I researched festivals in Italy?

The missing bite

Food festival Italy - flyer from ComoAs we wandered the streets of Como on the day of our arrival, I found this flyer and knew we had to change our plans immediately.

As far as flyers go, it was not that attractive, but the words “Pasticerria” and “mercatino prodotti locali” leapt off the page. I realised this was not an advertisement for an agricultural fair despite the cows.

My basic knowledge of Italian told me that this was a local food festival and celebration. Even better it seemed to have a farm to table focus. The emphasis was on fresh, seasonal and local food.

It is a strange person who visits Italy without some interest in its food culture. For me, it is probably the top reason for visiting Italy and I could not resist a nearby food festival.

READ:   Lake Como travel guide - la dolce vita on the Italian lakes

Sagre or food festivals in Italy

Some quick online research revealed the potential of the flyer. It seemed we stumbled on a sagra – a traditional Italian festival usually focused on local food and produce but often linked to historical and cultural events. Many have centuries-old origins and are steeped in local traditions in celebration of the harvest.

Each year at the beginning of autumn the Umbrian town of Cannara celebrates the onion during its week-long Festa della Cipolla. To the north, in Piedmont, the Fiera nazionale del Marrone is dedicated to the chestnut.

In Como, the community comes together annually to celebrate patron Saint Abbondio, who became the fourth bishop of the city in 448AD.

The Fiera di Sant’Abbondio – Como

The entire neighbourhood seemed to turn out for the local sagra. Our little family followed the trails of people snaking through a residential neighbourhood of Como. As we entered the grounds of the Basilica of Sant’Abbondio my heart sank a little.

There was a very long and chaotic.. let’s call it a “queue” and a huge white tent where it looked like food was being prepared on a mass scale. People were leaving the tent with take away containers. This wasn’t the rustic festa I had envisaged.

big crowds at lake como sagra food festival italy

I shouldn’t have worried. Italians have a wonderful knack of looking like they are out of control when in fact everything is as ordered and efficient as you’d like it. On entering the tent the queue split into 4 lines of hungry festival goers discussing the menu. How to choose? The menu was full of delicious sounding dishes from appetisers and starters to pasta, main courses and desserts.

On entering the tent the queue split into 4 lines of hungry festival goers discussing the menu. How to choose? The menu was full of delicious sounding dishes from appetisers and starters to pasta, main courses and desserts.

Como sits on the lake of the same name and the dishes of the region reflect the terrain. There is a strong emphasis on locally caught fish as well as game meats from the nearby hills and mountains. I was tempted, as always, by the fritto misto (mixed seafood) of the lake, cheeses as well as various dishes made with boar.

We decided we must try something slow cooked and with polenta. And of course, it would not have been right to skip the pasta course.

a sample of dishes from food festival in italy

In the end, we decided on the sharing plates – “Tastes of Como” and the other “Cold cuts of the Lake” followed by osso bucco with polenta. The kids chose gnocchi alla lariana.

We managed to squeeze ourselves onto a table with some other festival goers and savoured every bite of our meal. The fare at the festival was rustic, wholesome and incredibly tasty.

While we ate, we happily watched the local community discussing each dish with passion as traditional music drifted in from the stage outside.

READ:   A feast! Savouring the authentic tastes of Venice

I managed to track down and English version of the festival menu after the event. I took a bit of a gulp when I read the ingredients of the cold cuts plate.

Let’s just say the concept of nose to tail eating applied judiciously to this dish. Nevertheless, it was delicious and I was probably better off not knowing its origins.

The total bill including wine came to around €30 making it one of the cheapest meals of our holiday.

local produce at sagra lake como

After eating we spent time enjoying watching our children join the local kids playing on huge inflatable slides and browsing the stalls of local produce including cheeses, sausage, honey and baked goods.

I’m afraid we were too focused on our appetites to venture into the Romanesque basilica that I understand it is very beautiful.

We almost skipped back into the old town of Como, bellies full and cheeks glowing. It was a wonderful evening.

How to find a sagra food festival

We were lucky to find the festival completely by chance but next time we visit Italy we will be better prepared. Thanks to the marvel that is Google Translate, you can access this fantastic Italian resource for finding local food and other festivals in Italy. You can search by region, month and special events such as Pasqua/Easter.

local cheeses at como - food festivals in Italy

This article explains more about the origins of sagre and includes a favourite list of festivals in regions across Italy.

If you visit in the latter half of the year you might want to check this article on some favourite autumn sagre across Italy.

Sophia Loren famously said “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti”. Not all spaghetti is cooked equally though and having tried the local specialties on offer at the sagra, I now know this was an experience missing from my Italian food adventures.

Make sure you seek out these festivals on your next trip to Italy. You will no doubt enjoy a veritable feast and have ongoing memories of the tastes of the region you visited.

Lake Como sunset from Bellagio

Visiting the sagra was one of several memorable experiences we enjoyed when visiting Lake Como and Lake Orta. The area is an easy day trip from Milan but I suggest you linger a little longer and discover some of its hidden charms.

Some of my other favourite destinations in Italy: Venice | Hills of Tuscany | Lucca | Italian Riviera | Sicily

Learn about the unique cuisine and culinary heritage of Venice and Sicilian desserts

Food festivals are found throughout Europe. Check out this European food festival guide to discover the tastiest events showcasing local produce and traditional dishes.

Italy travel - Food festivals in Italy.Off the beaten path in Italy. Pasta. Fiesta

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39 thoughts on “The missing bite .. a discovery of tastes in Italy

  1. oregongirlaroundtheworld says:

    Um… yummm! I love local markets and food festivals – this is very popular in both Portland, Oregon and Copenhagen, Denmark. I love trying local specialties and think I would adore an Italian sagra – and PS – COMO? Yes please.

  2. Allison says:

    I love a good food festival, and this one sounds excellent! I’ve never been to Italy but I love Italian food and I can’t wait to try authentic Italian food when I finally make it to Italy. #farawayfiles

  3. daisythebus says:

    Local food, traditional music, community spirit – this is exactly the sort of thing that I, too, love to stumble upon during my travels. Another beautiful postcard from a region that I know very little about – thanks!

  4. Clare Thomson says:

    Sounds absolutely delicious, Katy! Seriously, a food festival in Italy? What’s not to like? I imagine stumbling across this made it all the more special.

  5. aandj8804 says:

    I didn’t have my best food experience during my first (and only) trip to Italy. I’m hoping to go again. I think I just went to all of the wrong places. 🙂 Maybe next time I should go when there is a food festival going on?! It sounds like a great way to experience some amazing food! 🙂

    • Katy says:

      Oh my! That’s a tragedy. The festival was amazing but I also recommend Elizabeth Minchilli’s app Eat Italy. She’s an American born travel writer living in Italy and knows the best restaurants/osterias/trattorias. You must have been very unlucky

  6. Ali May says:

    What a great local find! It looks like you’ve hit the motherload of food travel! I would have needed to be rolled out of the festival with a big smile on my face haha! #FarawayFiles

  7. MummyTravels says:

    How amazing to stumble across this – I love local festivals, such as great taste of real life on a trip. Literally in this case! Incredible food although a bonus to eat some of the sharing plate without knowing quite what it was… #farawayfiles

  8. bavariansojourn says:

    I do love a good food festival! That gnocchi looks incredible, I could eat it now even though I have just had breakfast! 😀

  9. Trish @ Mum's Gone To says:

    A food festival in Italy? That’s the icing on the cherry, though probably not literally! I don’t think I have ever had a bad meal in Italy and I agree, it’s one of the reasons I love the country so much.
    Now wondering how the children managed their full bellies on those inflatable slides 😉

  10. fifi + hop says:

    I wouldn’t have passed up the food festival either – good call in changing up the itinerary! I can only imagine what a food festival in Italy must have been like..the creme of the creme I’m sure! #farawayfiles

  11. WanderMum says:

    What luck to come across this awesome food festival. Eating the food in Italy is an integral part of the travelling experience. Sounds a great trip #farawayfiles

  12. Anisa says:

    Wow how lucky on your timing and spotting the flyer. I love Italy especially the food, so would love to experience a food festival there.

    • Katy says:

      Yes, Anisa, I think this one was meant to be. I am now trying to build whole holidays around festivals like these. Thanks for stopping by

  13. Karen says:

    Wow, this sounds fantastic! I haven’t been lucky with the timing of food festivals, but would love to visit the ones in Italy! This made me hungry!

  14. Cris says:

    I haven’t yet made it to a food festival in Italy but have checked out the markets. OMG yum!
    Yeah, no need to know the ingredients :)))))))))

  15. Bryony Clapperton (travelsandmore) says:

    That Gnocchi looks fabulous. One of my favourite things to do when I’m in Italy and Spain is to find hidden gem’s like food festivals, flamenco festivals, street parties etc that are filled with locals culture and delicious food and drinks. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Rachel ¦¦ A Nesting Nomad says:

    Sometimes things that look a bit basic turn out to deliver the best results! That food sounds absolutely fantastic, I can imagine the Italians really know how to put on a food festival. You’d have had a job to tear me away from all of that, too!

  17. Bumble Bee Mum says:

    LOL.. I would never have realised that was a pamphlet for a food festival if I had received it!! But yes, I would definitely make changes to whatever plans I had if I knew there was going to be a food festival in town. #FarawayFiles

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