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Italian street food is not only delicious, easily available and budget-friendly but it is also a reflection of the local culture and traditions. In Italy, the locals have developed their own traditions and snacks based on what produce is available and often to help the workers quickly fuel up while on the go. Compared to restaurant dining it is cheap and fast, but also super tasty and will keep you energized for hours for your sightseeing adventures in Italy.
In this episode, we take you on a little culinary journey from the North to the South of Italy with the original fast food that has been developed over the centuries and based on the produce from the area, with many interesting quirks and stories on their origins. From pizza (of course), breads, fried goodies and sandwiches, to a plethora of sweet treats – there is a huge variety of options, so keep an eye out wherever you visit for their local specialties.
What you’ll learn in this episode
A great option when you are on the go, street food is much quicker and easier than eating in a cafe or restaurant and allows you to try things you won’t get during a sit-down meal. It is also generally great for your budget. It is the original fast food but not to be compared with the mass-produced fare you might think of. Alongside using amazing, locally sourced ingredients, a lot of care and attention goes into making street food in Italy. Make sure you make at least one pitstop on your trip to Italy to enjoy both the flavors and experience of eating street food there.
Naples is the undisputed home of pizza but you will also find many different varieties up and down the country – with different toppings and techniques, for instance, pizza bianca with shaved truffles in the middle to north of Italy or with pistaccio paste in Southern Italy.
Classic pizza napoletana is made with just a handful of ingredients – flour, yeast salt and water to make the dough. The dough is allowed to rest (sometimes for days) before its topped with crushed san marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil and then cooked in a very hot wood-fired oven for around 90 seconds. If you want to learn more about Neapolitan pizza we did a deep dive with Untold favorite Pierpaulo (who eats about 5 a week!) in episode 73.
Pizza a taglio
Head on up to Rome and you’ll find a completely different style of pizza with a much thinner crust that’s usually cooked in an electric oven, sold by the slice and usually cut up with scissors. You’ll find different toppings too. Pizza Bianca (white pizza) is made simply with salt and olive oil.
Trapizzino/stuffed pizza is a meal on its own and this modern take on pizza was introduced to Untold founder Katy by Untold favorite Nesim (who talks about Roman cuisine in episodes 182, 181 and 169). Fillings include eggplant parmigiana, polpette (octopus), meatballs and chicken cacciatore.
In Sicily, pizza is also called sfincione. The Palermo version is rectangular with a thick crust and is usually topped with tomatoes, onions, herbs, strong local cheese and anchovies.
From Ascoli Piceno in the Le Marche region, these are olives stuffed with meat, coated in breadcrumbs and fried. Usually served at aperitivo they are the perfect snack.
Fritto misto can be a variety of things – from fish and seafood to zucchini flowers to little dough balls. Often served in a cone from a roadside stall. You can also try fileti di baccala in Rome which are much tastier than your average battered fish – fish and chips style.
Scagliozzi is fried polenta from Puglia. It has a crunchy crust and creamy center and is very moreish.
In Emilia, the Gnocco fritto is fried dough that’s served with the rich cured meats of the region.
Pizze fritte are pizza dough rounds stuffed with tomato and mozzarella cheese cooked in the fryer, originating in Naples and popular all over Campania.
Savory pastries and breads
You will find savory pastries and breads in various forms all over Italy. These are usually sold from a forno (bakery).
Rustico, from Puglia, is made with flaky puff pastry and filled with tomato and creamy bechamel sauce.
Liguria is known for its use of chickpeas and Farinata are a kind of chickpea flour pancake flavored with onion and rosemary.
This well-known flatbread is best straight out of the oven. Ligurian style serves it simply with olive oil and salt or the equally delicious Barese (from Puglia’s capital Bari) style with tomato and olives.
In the Northern Emilia region, tigelle is a disc-shaped bread that is made in special clay molds and served with a spread made with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese as well as other delicious flavors. The lucky guests on our Untold Italy Beyond Bologna Tour learn how to make this bread while getting to hear the stories of its history and origin.
In Milan, there’s a famous shop around the corner from the Duomo called Luini that sells panzerotti – small pastry pockets filled with various things like cheese, salami, tomato and even Nutella. Originally from Puglia, these tasty treats are a great refueling option while exploring Milan.
From Umbria, Crescia is a flat bread perfect for stuffing with cured meats and cheeses but also tasty on its own.
Protein based snacks
These foods were traditionally created to feed hungry workers cheaply so many involve a lot of carbs – but there are also some tasty protein-based street foods to look out for.
In Abruzzo, Arrosticini are barbecued cubes of skewered meat, usually lamb or mutton, simply dressed with some salt and olive oil.
In Puglia, bombettes are rolls of capocollo or pork neck, salt, pepper, rosemary, parsley and cheese, cooked on a spit.
Also in Puglia Crudo are fresh seafood straight from the water. Raw seafood such as sea urchins (a delicacy that is considerably cheaper than you will find at home).
In Naples, cheese lovers can stop by little stores for little bowls of the most amazing Mozzarella – simply drizzled with olive oil and with a few juicy small tomatoes for color and flavor.
To combine both carbs and protein, a sandwich is a great, fast and filling option.
This is the traditional sandwich of Florence. It is filled with meat that is part of a cow’s stomach, slow-cooked with tomato, onion, parsley, and celery until it is tender and is served in a panino – a type of bread roll. It’s topped with a zingy salsa verde green sauce. You can find stalls selling this Florentine delicacy all over town or head to the San Lorenzo market with Untold favorite Toni Mazzaglia from Taste Florence on one of her tours and she’ll help you select a super tasty version. Listen to Toni in episode 146.
This very thin flatbread is from the Romagna region is filled with meats and cheeses.
Umbria has the Porchetta panino which is a roll filled with juicy slow-cooked roast pork that has been stuffed with herbs. You can also find this sandwich in various places around Rome.
A staple of Sicilian street food, Arancini balls are made with cooked rice and stuffed with meat, peas and cheese, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried for a delicious afternoon treat.
In Rome, Suppli are similar to Arancini, however, are a bit smaller and generally only filled with mozzarella cheese which oozes out when you bite in. You’ll find Suppli all over Rome and often in pizza places for the ultimate pre-pizza snack!
Sweets and Desserts
Perhaps Sicily’s best-known sweet treat, cannoli are tubes of crunchy pastry filled with freshly whipped ricotta. You’ll never be able to eat a cannolo at home again after you’ve tried a proper Sicilian one. You won’t find a Sicilian cannolo pre-filled – that would make the pastry soggy.
Naples – the Kingdom of Sweets
In Naples, they have a penchant for sweet treats due to the ruling Bourbon dynasty of the 18th century and their queen Maria Carolina (sister of Marie Antoinette of “let them eat cake” fame). The Kingdom’s international influence and the chefs they brought in, meant there are lots of delicious sweet treats to try in Naples.
A Naples must-try. Flaky layers of pastry are cooked until crunchy and then filled with cream or ricotta.
These small yeast cakes are drenched in syrup (typically rum) for a moist and sticky treat.
Il fiocco di neve
A more modern creation – il fiocco di neve, meaning snowflakes in English, are little dough balls filled with cream and dusted with sugar. You can try those at Pasticceria Poppella in the city’s Sanita district.
In Puglia, the treat of choice is pasticciotto which is a shortcrust pastry filled with custard and jam, often eaten for breakfast and best served warm.
Italians love a sweet breakfast and in Rome, Maritozzo, the decadent cream-filled buns are a must-try. There’s a lovely pasticceria right near Piazza Navona called Pasticceria Cinque Lune where they’ll prepare your Maritozzi and wrap them beautifully in a gorgeous gold-colored tray with red paper.
Perhaps the street food to rule all in Italy is Gelato. Made to be eaten on the go, gelato is for strolling along the street, taking your time and savoring the flavors. Whether you like creamy or fruity gelato you will find the perfect option. But beware – not all gelato shops are created equal. Be wary of stores with fluorescent-colored ‘gelato’ piled up high. We have an entire episode on gelato (episode 157) explaining where to find the best and our favorite spots.
Food & Drink
- Pizza a taglio – pizza you’ll find in Rome with a much thinner crust than standard or Naples pizza that’s usually cooked in an electric oven. Sold by the slice and usually cut up with scissors
- Trapizzino – half sandwich, half pizza. The dough is pizza dough and shaped in the form of a triangle
- sfincione – a thick doughed pizza from Sicily
- Olive all’ascolana – fried, stuffed olives from Le Marche
- Fritto misto – mixed fried food, often served in a cone. Can be fish, or vegetables and often sold in vans
- Scagliozzi – fried polenta from Puglia
- Gnocco fritto – from Emilia Romagna, is a fried dough served with the rich cured meats of the region
- Pizze fritte – from Naples and popular in the Campania region, this is fried pizza
- rustici – a puglia speciality of puff pastry, béchamel, mozzarella
- Farinata – chickpea flour pancakes from Liguria
- Focaccia – flatbread from Liguria popular all over the world
- tigelle – from Bologna, a disk-shaped bread made in special clay molds
- panzerotti – looking like a small calzone, it’s a savory turnover of oven-baked pastry and various fillings
- Arrosticini – skewed, grilled meat from Abruzzo
- crudo – fresh, uncooked seafood from Puglia
- lampredotto – a tripe sandwich beloved in Florence
- piadina – flatbread from the Romagna region, filled with meats and cheeses
- porchetta – hailing from Umbria and popular in Rome, this roast, stuffed pork is the perfect sandwich
- arancini – Sicilian stuffed rice balls
- suppli – smaller Roman version of stuffed rice balls with only mozzarella as the stuffing
- cannoli – Sicily’s best-known sweet treat – tubes of crunchy pastry are filled with freshly whipped ricotta
- sfogliatelle – Naple’s speciality of flaky layers of crunch pastry filled with cream or ricotta
- rum baba – The Neopolitan small yeast cakes drenched in syrup – typically rum
- il fiocco di neve – meaning ‘snowflakes’ in English, little dough balls filled with cream and dusted with sugar
- pasticciotto – shortcrust pastry filled with custard and jam, often eaten for breakfast, from Puglia
- Maritozzo – Rome’s bun filled with cream
Resources from Untold Italy
- Discover some of Italy’s foodie wonders on an Untold Italy small group tour, specializing in unique experiences and finding connections with the land and the people
- Find more on food in 40 Italian food facts, Truffles in Italy, Piedmont foods to try, Best pizza in Naples, Cicchetti in Venice and the best Sicilian desserts
- Listen: to our other episodes dedicated to eating in Italy in Episode #185 Venetian Cicchetti – a food lovers guide, Episode #182 A tale of Roman pastas – part 2, Episode #181 A tale of Roman pastas part 1, Episode #173 From tree to table – the olive harvest in Umbria, Episode #169 How to find authentic restaurants in Rome, Episode #163 Pesto pasta and the dishes of Liguria, Episode #160 Delicious dishes from Capri, Episode #157 All about Gelato, Episode #152 Dishes to try in Bologna and the Emilia region, Episode #149 Pasta grannies – Preserving traditions across generations, Episode #148 Dishes to try in the Lagoon city, Episode #146 Best food and wine gifts to bring back from Italy, Episode #143 7 delicious local dishes from Abruzzo, Episode #142 Tale of 3 cities – a food tour adventure in Italy, Episode #133 Delicious products to try in Liguria, Episode #117 Porchetta, pasta and panzanella – dishes from Umbria, Episode #113 Spring dishes from Tuscany, Episode #107 Tastes of Sicily, Episode #105 Dishes to try in Piedmont, Episode #94 8 Cheeses you need to try in Italy, Episode #073 Pizza from Naples – the full story, Episode #70 Cooking pasta with Nonna, Episode #046 Foodie adventures in Puglia, Episode #37 Unearthing truffles in Le Marche, Episode #34 Lifting the lid on Bologna’s food culture, Episode #33 Foodie finds in the Sabine Hills near Rome, Episode #29 What to eat in Rome and Episode #21 Savoring Sorrento – A food lovers guide to Italy’s city by the sea and Episode #04 Food and eating in Italy
- How to plan a trip to Italy – our article that takes you step-by-step through trip planning so you can avoid our mistakes
- Italy Travel Planning – our FREE online community where you can ask questions and get inspiration for planning your trip
- Travel shop where you’ll find items mentioned in the show
Prefer to read along as you listen? You can download a PDF version of the full transcript of this episode.