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Want to know some fun Italian food facts? For many people, myself included, a love of the food of Italy is key reason why they return to Italy again and again. While I enjoy the rich culture, picturesque villages, exciting cities and incredible landscapes, Italian food always inspires my trips to Italy. Here are some of our favorite facts about Italian food to tickle your taste buds and help you dream of Italy.
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Italian pasta facts
1 | There are over 350 varieties of pasta – from various sizes of spaghetti, stuffed ravioli, penne or tubes, to flat long fettuccine noodles and curly spirali there is a pasta shape to match to your favorite sauce
2 | Dry pasta is made with durum wheat semolina flour and water while fresh pasta uses flour, water and eggs
3 | Many people believe Marco Polo brought pasta back from his travels to China in the 13th century. But, in fact, there is evidence that Italians were eating pasta a century before the merchant traveled to the Far East
4 | Pasta is eaten with a fork, never a spoon in Italy
5 | Italians eat 27 kg or 60 pounds of pasta per person per year says research by the International Pasta Organisation (IPO)
6 | But serving sizes are a lot smaller than what we are used to at only 100 grams or 3.5 ounces per serve
7 | According to legend, chef Maestro Zafirano created tagliatelle pasta for the celebration of the marriage of Lucrezia Borgia to the Duke of Ferrara in 1487. Apparently, he was inspired by the bride’s long blonde hair,
8 | Fettuccine Alfredo is not a dish Italian chefs are familiar with. The pasta favorite was adapted in New York in the 1970s from a base recipe of pasta bianco – pasta tossed with butter and parmesan. Learn more about the origins of fettucine alfredo
9 | The history of pizza can be traced back to the Ancient Greek, Roman and Persian Empires. Flat breads were piled with toppings long before our favorite tomato and cheese toppings were added
10 | Pizza as we know it today evolved in the 18th century when tomatoes were introduced to southern Italy10 | Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba in Naples is thought to be the world’s first pizzeria. Its doors opened in 1830 and it’s been popular ever since.
11 | Marinara pizza, topped with tomato, oregano, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil, is named for “la marinara”, a fictional Neapolitan fisherman’s wife who made the dish for her husband. The other famous pizza Margherita is said to be named for one of the last Italian queens – though this is a matter of dispute
How to make pizza Neapolitan style with Chef Gennaro Contaldo
Favourite Italian dessert facts
12 | Gelato is Italian for ice cream but the method it is made and the final product are completely different. Gelato has less fat, is churned slowly and stored at higher temperatures than ice cream
13 | If you want to try cannoli at its best, head to Sicily where they have perfected the recipe using fresh whipped ricotta.
14 | Tiramìsu is a modern Italian dessert that first appeared in the 1970s. Made by layering savoiardi biscuits or cookies with marscapone cream, this sweet treat comes from the Veneto region near Venice and its name means “little pick me up”
A typical Italian meal
Italy’s food culture revolves around the long and leisurely meal. Dishes are meant to be shared, savoured and enjoyed and with the exception of gelato, never eaten on the go.
15 | An Italian breakfast, known as colazione, is usually light and consists of coffee and pastry – called brioche or cornetto
16 | Aperitivo is a tradition of pre dinner drinks accompanied by small snacks. Usually served between 7 and 9pm, the classic aperitivo drink is Campari or Aperol spritz
17 | The main meal is served at lunch or dinner time and usually consists of several courses, especially for celebrations
18 | Served cold or hot, the antipasti course is the first course of an Italian meal and is served as a platter of bite sized pieces to share. The platter will usually have cured meats, sausages, cheeses, olives and specially prepared savory dishes
19 | The primo, or first course, of an Italian meal, is when pasta or risotto is served. Primi piatti (first courses) are often vegetable based and pasta is served in small portions
20 | Meat, poultry and fish are always the main course of meals in Italy, known as secondo. The secondi piatti (second courses) are usually served with vegetable-based dishes known as contorni or sides
21 | Dolce or sweets are served last during an Italian meal and they are always served with coffee which is known as a digestive
22 | There are over 450 varieties of Italian cheese called formaggi – at least 100 more than are produced in France
23 | Grana Padano is a hard cheese from the north of Italy made to a 1,000 year old recipe
24 | Traditionally, the stringy mozzarella cheese used on pizza is made with buffalo milk, not cows milk
25 | Pecorino refers to a hard full fat cheese made from sheep’s milk and is found throughout Italy – especially in the Lazio region near Rome, Tuscany and Sardinia
26 | Known as the “King of Cheeses”, Parmigiano Reggiano is the most popular cheese in Italy and is used in a wide variety of dishes
Italian coffee facts
27 | Coffee was brought to Italy from North Africa and Malta by the merchants of the Venetian republic
28 | The first coffee shop in Italy was opened in St Mark’s Square Venice in 1683
29 | Italians typically drink cappuccino and caffè latte or milky coffee drinks in the morning, and espresso in the afternoon and evening. This is because they believe drinking milky beverages in the afternoon is bad for digestion
30 | At home, Italians make their coffee using an iconic Moka coffee pot, invented in 1933 by Alfonso Bialetti
Famous Italian food regions
Italian cuisine varies by region and its available natural resources. There are 20 regions in Italy, each with its own specialties and cooking methods. Generally speaking food in the north is heartier and uses cream and butter more than in the south where the emphasis is on olive oil and tomatoes.
31 | In Tuscany the emphasis is on simple rustic fare including legumes, pulses and grains grown in the Tuscan Hills that you find in the delicious soup ribollita
32 | Stuffed pasta like popular ravioli comes from the northern regions of Lombardia (Lombardy) and Emilia-Romgana. There are many different varieties of stuffed pasta throughout the regions where each town seems to make their own version – like tortellini and casoncelli from Brescia
33 | Naples is not just famous for pizza. From the Amalfi Coast, Isle of Capri and region near Naples, come classic dishes like spaghetti alle vongole and Caprese salad – basil, mozzarella cheese and tomato
34 | Bar snacks in Venice are known as cicchetti and, like Spanish tapas, can be combined to create a meal and are served with small glasses of local wine
35 | Pesto – a sauce made from basil, pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil – comes from the region of Liguria, also home to the Italian Riviera
36 | Sicilian desserts are famous worldwide but Sicily is also famous for its seafood and pasta. In fact, Sicily is sometimes described as the heart of Italian cuisine
37 | Truffles are a delicacy found throughout the year in mountainous regions, especially Piedmont, Tuscany and Le Marche. Here famous local dishes include pasta and risotto dishes made with abundant shaved truffles
Italian food traditions, festivals and superstitions
38 | Italians eat seasonal produce and some foods are only available at certain times of year. In this tradition, artichokes are found in spring, while chestnuts are available in the fall and winter.
39 | Food festivals, known as sagra, are popular community events dedicated to particular foods and produce throughout Italy, especially in the Fall. One of the most famous food festivals is the White Truffle Festival in Alba, Piedmont.
40 | Italians are very superstitious. If you’re toasting a friend over dinner, make sure to look them directly in the eye. Otherwise, it is said you will have seven years of bad luck.
Food travel in Italy
Are you inspired to eat your way around Italy? Italian cuisine is diverse and varies from region to region, and relies on local ingredients. We have spend months nibbling our way through several regions and have so much more to taste. Here is what we have discovered and written about so far:
- Rome food guide – head to Italy’s capital for specialty pasta dishes and tastes of the Jewish ghetto
- Venice food guide – feast on seafood and Italian style tapas as you watch the canal traffic pass by
- A cooking class in Florence – a market visit and hands on cooking were the highlights of our trip to the Renaissance city
- Italian food festivals – regional gatherings celebrating local food are so much fun
- Sicilian desserts – cannoli is just the beginning. They know how to satisfy a sweet tooth in Sicily
- Gelato – how to choose and find the best in Italy and the world
- Slow food Brescia – a celebration of the food culture in Lombardy
We hope you enjoyed these interesting facts about Italian food and are inspired to go on a journey of food discovery in Italy!
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