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If you’re looking for unique, wholesome, and authentic food when in Italy, Italian street food will open up your culinary intrigue to a world of history and flavor far beyond the bubble of restaurants and fine dining.
Street food across Italy is a true testament to the resourcefulness, innovation, and passion Italians from all walks of life have when it comes to food. The dishes are humble, simple, and packed with heat, intensity, and big flavors.
So let’s dive into the world of Italian street foods under the guidance of a local and take a closer at 16 of Italy’s must-try street foods and where best to find them.
Italian Street Foods
There’s a never-ending debate that divides Sicily between those who call it arancino and those who insist the correct spelling is arancina.
But despite the gender of this popular Italian street food, it’s undeniably a must-try when in Italy, and especially in Sicily, its land of origin.
Usually, the female version arancina is round, shaped like the orange, the fruit that supposedly inspired the name, while the male version arancino is slightly conical, a shape that is said to be inspired by the Etna volcano.
The traditional recipe is pretty much the same: a ball of rice covered in breadcrumbs and deep-fried, with a heart of tasty ragù (tomato sauce with minced meat), peas, and “caciocavallo” cheese.
While the recipe is traditionally Sicilian, arancini are popular all over Italy. They come with many different fillings, from ham and mozzarella cheese to spinach and mozzarella, or even pistachio if you’re in the Sicilian town of Bronte.
Related: Sicilian Foods You Should Try
Simply put, a calzone is a pizza folded in two and stuffed with various fillings, from ham and cheese to vegetables, ricotta, parmesan, and even eggs.
The calzone originates in the region of Campania, somewhere around the 18th century. In Naples, it was commonly referred to as a folded pizza.
The traditional calzone recipe is oven-baked, though certain regions have their own version of it, like the Apulian panzerotti. However, the two are quite different and should not be mistaken for one another. A traditional calzone does not contain tomato sauce.
You’ll find the calzone pretty much everywhere, though it’s more common in the southern regions of Italy, from Lazio to Campania, Basilicata, and Sicily. But if you want to try the true calzone, head to Naples and its surrounding areas.
3. Mozzarella in Carrozza
Literally meaning “Mozzarella in a carriage”, this curiously named street food is originally from Campania.
It is usually served as a starter, and it consists of slices of mozzarella wedged in between two slices of bread (the carriage) that are dipped in egg and milk, covered in flour or breadcrumbs, and then fried.
This recipe was supposedly first invented to use up mozzarella leftovers so that they wouldn’t go to waste. The name is believed to refer to the shape of the bread at the time this recipe was first invented, which was circular, like the wheels of a carriage.
Nowadays, you’ll often find triangular mozzarella in carrozza, as they are often made with square-shaped bread sliced cut diagonally.
No matter the shape, mozzarella in carrozza is a dish best served flaming hot so that the mozzarella is melted and stringy.
Made from chickpea flour, farinata is a typical dish in the region of Liguria, in northern Italy where it’s also known as fainà. The dish is renowned also in other northern regions of Italy, such as Tuscany, where it’s usually called cecìna, or torta di ceci (chickpea cake).
The Sardinian version is especially renowned in Sassari, and it’s called fainè, usually with the addition of ingredients like onions, sausage, or anchovies.
The farinata looks like an unleavened tart. In its simplest form, it consists of chickpea flour, water, salt, and olive oil. It can also be topped with rosemary, onions, artichokes, cheese, sausage, or even “bianchetti,” the whitebait typical of the Ligurian cuisine.
The origins of this dish may date back to ancient Greece, though Arabic countries are renowned for using chickpeas in their dishes.
Since Liguria’s capital city Genova used to be a powerful marine republic, chickpeas may have made their way into Italian cuisine through commercial trade with Arabic countries.
Focaccia is probably one of the most renowned Italian street foods, though it can come in many different varieties, each typical in its region. The most popular type of focaccia is the one that originates in Genova, where you can also dip it in your cappuccino for breakfast.
The classic Genovese focaccia is often drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt, while in other areas you’ll find it topped with rosemary.
It is used to replace bread to make sandwiches or as a stand-alone snack. In Rome, it’s simply called “pizza bianca” or white pizza. While it may look like pizza, the dough is left to rise so it’s thicker and more fluffy.
If you go to Bari, focaccia will look completely different. The traditional focaccia barese is even thicker, and it’s topped with cherry tomatoes and olives.
Typically, Sicilian panelle are chickpea fritters, commonly served in a sandwich, and simply referred to as pane e panelle (bread and panelle). This street food is especially popular in Palermo, where you can find it virtually anywhere in the city.
The use of chickpeas in Sicily is likely due to the Arabic influence, given the Arab rule. Panelle are believed to have Arabic origins.
The fritters are made of a few simple ingredients of chickpea flour, water, salt, pepper, and parsley. They are deep-fried and served hot, traditionally in sesame buns.
For the traditional Italian street food of panelle, you should no doubt go to Palermo, although you’ll find them all over Sicily.
7. Pani câ Meusa
Sicily is, without a doubt, one of the best regions of Italy to visit when it comes to food. ‘Pani câ meusa,’ in Sicilian, is a unique dish of bread with spleen, known as ‘panino con la milza’ in Italian.
This delicacy consists of a soft bun, topped with sesame seeds, filled with pieces of veal lung and spleen that have been first boiled, then fried in lard.
There are two types of pani câ meusa: single and married. The married dish also has a filling of caciocavallo or ricotta cheese. It is called maritatu, while the simple version is called schettu.
You’ll typically find pani câ meusa sold by street vendors. The now popular street food is attributed to the Hebrew community of Palermo, who used to work as butchers and sold the veal entrails together with bread and cheese.
8. Panino con la Porchetta
Porchetta is a pork roast stuffed with garlic, black pepper, rosemary, and other herbs. It originates from the town of Ariccia, near Rome, although it is popular all over Italy.
Panino con la porchetta is an extremely popular street food in the towns surrounding Rome, especially during local festivals and events, such as the popular Sagra della Porchetta (Porchetta Feast) in Ariccia, a food festival dedicated to the famous pork roast.
The feast also takes place in other parts of Italy, and you can find porchetta pretty much anywhere. The roast usually comes inside a rosetta or ciriola bread roll.
The Apulian version of the calzone is called a panzerotto. Unlike its counterpart, it’s fried and traditionally filled with mozzarella cheese and tomato.
A panzerotto is usually smaller than a calzone, but that doesn’t mean it’s less filling in any way. The Italian for the belly is “pancia,” and “panza” is a regional variation of the word. So, the name panzerotto literally translates to “little tummy,” probably due to the swelling of the pastry that may resemble a bloated belly.
The origins of the panzerotti are believed to be related to the traditional use of leftover bread dough, often filled with cheese and tomatoes and then folded in a half-moon shape to be fried.
The use of very few and simple ingredients was quite common in the southern regions of Italy. Nowadays, panzerotti can also be filled with ricotta cheese and bacon, or with mortadella or ham and cheese.
10. Pizza e Mortazza
Pizza e mortazza is as Roman as it gets. It is simply focaccia filled with mortadella, the traditional cold cut from Bologna.
Mortazza is the Roman dialect for mortadella, and since the focaccia in Rome is called pizza bianca, this alternative sandwich is simply called pizza e mortazza.
You’ll find this simple but satisfying street food almost anywhere in Rome. It makes for an easy and fast lunch option, or just a snack as you’re sightseeing.
The ideal pizza e mortazza should be eaten with freshly baked, warm pizza and a generous amount of mortadella. If you happen to go to any local festival in Rome, you’ll likely find pizza e mortazza. Romans love it, and tourists can’t truly say they have been to Rome until they have tried it.
A piadina is a thin flatbread typical from the Italian region Emilia Romagna, made with white flour, olive oil, salt, and water. While it’s traditionally from the cities of Rimini, Cesena, Ravenna, and Forlì, through the decades, it became popular all over Italy.
As street food, the piadina is usually filled with a variety of cheese, cold cuts, and vegetables. The combinations of ingredients are endless, and depending on where you’re eating it you will find special versions of it.
The best thing about the piadina is that it’s so versatile and you can get the perfect version for your taste. You can also find it as a dessert, filled with jam or Nutella.
At a crossroads between a pizza and focaccia, there’s the Ligurian sardenara. Similar to focaccia, this street food from Italy is thick and fluffy but covered in tomato sauce.
However, unlike pizza, it has no cheese. Depending on the city, you may find it with different toppings, including anchovies, olives, garlic, or cappers.
The sardenara is much older than the Neapolitan pizza, dating back to the 14th century. Because it originates even before the Columbian Exchange, some traditionalists don’t even add tomatoes on top.
The name of this particular focaccia has many variations, such as pissadella or pizza all’Andrea, the latter in honor of Andrea Doria, a Genovese admiral whose favorite dish was the sardenara.
Scaccia or scacciata is a type of Sicilian flatbread, stuffed with several different ingredients and folded on itself. The stuffing varies from ricotta cheese and tomato to onion, potatoes, sausage, anchovies, and different types of vegetables. You can eat the traditional scaccia in Ragusa or Siracusa, although you will find it in many variations all over Sicily.
The scaccia was originally just another way of using leftover vegetables. In time, it became increasingly popular, especially as a Christmas dish. Nowadays, you will find this wholesome Sicilian street food in many bakeries, all year round.
Traditionally from Palermo and the surrounding areas, sfincione is yet another version of the famous focaccia. Made from a soft and fluffy dough, with a sponge-like texture, sfincione is topped with tomato sauce, onions, anchovies, oregano, and caciocavallo cheese.
Unlike other street foods that have traveled to many towns and cities across Italy, sfincione has largely stayed in Palermo and nearby towns. Usually, you’ll see this wholesome dish sold by street vendors, or on display in bakeries and pizza shops.
Another street food originating from Sicily, stigghiola is a cut of gut, usually, lamb, goat, or chicken, washed and seasoned with onion, parsley, and other herbs, then rolled on top of spring onion.
Once prepared and seasoned, stigghiola is grilled and served hot, topped with salt and lemon.
The dish is served all over Sicily, usually by street vendors, or stigghiulari, who grill it on the spot. If you’re on the streets of some Sicilian city and you see smoke, it’s probably from the grill of a stigghiularu.
It is believed the dish is derived from the Greek Kokoretsi, a dish made with lamb or goat intestine, wrapped around a mix of entrails, usually served at Easter.
While Sicily has arancini, Rome has supplì. Both recipes are similar, as supplì are also balls of rice covered in breadcrumbs and deep-fried.
However, there are two main differences. First, the rice in supplì is combined with tomato sauce, and second, the shape of the Roman supplì is more cylindrical.
Supplì has a thick, gooey centre filling of melted mozzarella. If eaten piping hot, when split, the melting mozzarella stretches from one half to the other. This led to the funny nickname “supplì al telefono,” or supplì on the phone, as the two halves, connected by the mozzarella, resemble the shape of an old-fashioned telephone.
In Rome, supplì is the perfect companion to your pizza, or to enjoy while you’re waiting for the pizza to be served.
Italian Street Foods Summary
When it comes to food, Italy is the country that keeps on giving. Beyond the classic recipes that have traveled across the globe, there is a world of humble, fiery, and authentic food that has been eaten and enjoyed by natives for generations.
Italian street foods reflect the honest, hard-working nature of local Italians across the country. It is diverse, rich, hearty, and packed with fresh ingredients and glorious flavor combinations.
Street food gives you an opportunity to see and experience a side of Italy beyond the generic tourist spots and eateries. From the cobbles of Rome to the beaches of Sicily, always keep your eyes peeled for street food vendors and markets. There’s a world of intrigue and deliciousness waiting for you.
One final time, before we leave Italy, let’s take one final look at all the street foods we covered in this article:
- Mozzarella in Carrozza
- Pani câ Meusa
- Panino con la Porchetta
- Pizza e Mortazza
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Contributor: Roxana Fanaru is a journalist and content writer from Rome, originally from Romania. She writes for a number of publications and websites on fashion, travel, and cuisine.
Images licensed from Shutterstock
Saturday 31st of July 2021
A delightful, informative read...fuel for my Italian travel fantasy. Thank you.