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What inspires you to take a trip to Italy?
Is it the rich culture, picturesque villages, exciting cities or incredible landscapes?
For many people, myself included, a love of the food of Italy is key reason why they return again and again.
Here are some fun Italian food facts to inspire your next trip to Italy
Italian pasta facts
1 | There are over 600 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 favourite 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 travelled to the Far East
4 | Pasta is eaten with a fork, never a spoon in Italy
5 | Italians eat 25.3 kg of pasta per person per year says research by the International Pasta Organisation (IPO)
6 |According to legend, inspired by the bride’s long blonde hair, chef Maestro Zafirano created tagliatelle pasta for the celebration of the marriage of Lucrezia Borgia to the Duke of Ferrara in 1487.
7 | Fettuccine Alfredo is not a dish Italian chefs are familiar with. The pasta favourite 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
8 | 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 favourite tomato and cheese toppings were added
9 | Pizza as we know it today evolved in the 18th century when tomatoes were introduced to southern Italy
10 | Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba in Naples is thought to be the world’s first pizzeria. Its doors opened in 1830
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
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 savoury 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
25 | Pecorino comes from the region near Rome and is a hard full fat cheese made from sheep’s milk
Italian coffee culture
26 | Coffee was brought to Italy from North Africa and Malta by the merchants of the Venetian republic
27 | The first coffee shop in Italy was opened in St Mark's Square Venice in 1683
28 | Italians only drink cappuccino and caffè latte or milky coffee drinks in the morning, and espresso in the afternoon and evening
29 | 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 specialities 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.
30 | 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
31 | Stuffed pasta like popular ravioli comes from the northern region of Lombardia (Lombardy). There are many different varieties of stuffed pasta throughout the region where each town seems to make their own version - like the casoncelli from Brescia pictured above
32 | 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
33 | Bar snacks in Venice are known as cicchetti and, like Spanish tapas, can be combined to create a meal
34 | Pesto - a sauce made from basil, pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil - comes from the region of Liguria, also home to the Italian Riviera
35 | 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
I hope you are hungry for a visit Italy now. What's your favourite Italian food?
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
A guided tour through Italy's gastronomic heartland
Make sure your Italian eating journey is full of great tastes and avoids the tourist traps. Join a tour of gastronomic discovery with small group tour specialists Intrepid Travel.
This 8 day real food adventure takes you from Venice to Rome via San Gimignano and Bologna. Along the way you experience the local specialties and highlights of regional Italian cuisine.
Why Intrepid? Over the years we have done several tours with Intrepid and appreciate their attention to detail and respect for local culture and businesses.
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