A beginner’s guide to the food of Italy
One of the most popular cuisines around the world is the food that comes from Italy. Let’s take a look at what makes Italian cooking so delicious.
The food of Italy traces its history back across the centuries. A lot of the regional variations that we’re familiar with today, began to emerge around the time of the fall of the Roman Empire – around the year 395 AD – when powerful city-states emerged and began to develop distinct regional identities and traditions.
Over the years, food in Italy was influenced by invading armies such as the Moors from Northern Africa, and the Germanic tribes from Northern Europe. Ingredients discovered during the European colonisation of the Americas were also readily incorporated into traditional Italian dishes.
One of the hallmarks of traditional Italian cooking is simplicity - a few high-quality, seasonal ingredients combined to make hearty and delicious food. Some of the most commonly found ingredients in Italian dishes include:
- Olive oil
- Fresh herbs
- Cured meats
Most popular dishes
- Minestrone - a soup made with meat and vegetables
- Pizza – possibly the most popular food to have originated from Italy
- Risotto – a signature rice dish that can be adapted to be flavoured with seasonal ingredients
- Arancini - stuffed rice balls
- Lasagne – sheets of pasta layered with meat and cheese
- Osso buco alla Milanese - slow-cooked veal
- Saltimbocca – veal cooked with prosciutto and herbs
- Gelato – one of the world’s favourite desserts
- Tiramisu – a dessert constructed from sponge, cream, and coffee
Where to find Italian food in London
Apulia is a small, cosy Italian restaurant on Long Lane – just next to Smithfield’s meat market. They specialise in the food of Puglia – it’s simple, not expensive, and really good. A great option for a relaxed meal and comfort food.
Arancina is a Sicilian cafe, with a range of food on offer.
Caffe Caldesi isn’t the sexiest option in London’s West End, but it’s a little oasis of classy calm. It’s a good option if you need a break from shopping, or if you’re looking for somewhere quiet for a glass of wine and a catch up with some friends.
On Sundays, this whole area is overwhelmed by the flower market - it’s almost impossible to get anywhere or buy anything. During the rest of the week, things are a lot more civilised. Most of the shops are closed, but Campania Gastronomia is open. This is a beautiful little slice of Italy in the nice part of Bethnal Green - great coffee, breakfasts are great, and they’re serving up a range of snacky Italian options – breads, hams, cheese. Everything feels fresh and inviting. Rustic communal wooden tables, a busy open kitchen and friendly staff.
I have a soft-spot for the Smithfield branch of Carluccio’s - the food can always be relied upon, and it seems to be open when everywhere else is closed. Breakfasts are always good – the scrambled eggs and mushrooms are great, the coffee is better than average, their evening meals are substantial, and they can also organise a take-away service. Staff are generally friendly and efficient and I can quite happily spend hours there.
Relaxed and casual, this is a place that is easy to love. The service was outstanding – friendly, welcoming, professional - and the food extremely tempting.
It is perhaps a little too easy to be hyper-critical of chain restaurants like Jamie’s Italian, but if I was Jamie Oliver, and it was my name above the door, I’d be disappointed that this outpost of his empire is lacking in soul. The whole thing is somehow a little depressing.
They can cope with a big group, the staff are always welcoming, the menu has enough options in order to please everyone and it always works out pretty good value.
There’s a number of Polpo restaurants in London, but it’s a successful concept that still retains a sense of individuality for each of its restaurants that specialise in Venetian-style of small, sharing dishes.
Amidst the sex shops and gay bars of Rupert Street in London’s Soho, you have to search for the discrete entrance to Spuntino – a small, counter-style restaurant that’s serving up some New York classics.
Perfectly lit, with an emphasis on booze, music, and good times, this is a place best enjoyed as a party of two where you can perch on a couple of stools and drink and eat and laugh the night away.
With its Venetian heritage, Tozi specialises in cicchetti - small snacks or side dishes that are often described as an Italian-style of tapas. This is the kind of restaurant where you could meet meet friends for a relaxed catch-up, or business colleagues or clients. If you’re heading to the nearby theatres, then this is the ideal place for a pre-theatre meal.
A high-end wine bar that always impresses with spectacular food.