Italian street food is a strong part of Italian culture, reflecting historic and regional traditions. Find out what each Italian city offers tourists to eat on the go, cibo di strada. From street vendors (venditori ambulanti) to local festivals (sagra) you can find delicious food, often Italian finger food sold in paper cones that you can eat with your hands. From gelati and rustici in the South to chicchetti and aperocena in the North, here are the best Italian street food recipes you can cook at home.
Italian street food has a long-standing tradition, starting with the Roman Empire.
In a nation of travelers, many people consumed their meals standing in semi-open rooms near the road.
We can still find important remains in Pompeii, from upmarket street food restaurants to downmarket ones, Cauponae (inn), Popina (wine bar, Pub) or Taberna (home kitchens opened to the street).
These structures served not only as a destination for passing travelers but also as a place where the poor could warm their food since they did not always have stoves at home.
You can read more about it in the article: The Fascinating Ancient Roman Recipes
Throughout Italian history, the urban working class mostly lived in the streets and would eat on the go on street stalls.
In more modern days, with more women entering the non-domestic workforce, the consumption of street food increased.
Regional street food specialties
If you are traveling to Italy, these are the street food specialties I recommend you try:
Venice is home to some historic wineries, known as bacari, where you can have glasses of wine, called ombre, and an assortment of culinary delights:
- Sandwiches with ossocollo, cured meat around the pig head
- Frico cheese cooked in a pan with butter and lard
- Chicchetti, croutons with various spreads
- Crab claws, moeche (small crabs),
- Fried meatballs, head, musetto, nervetti
- Baccala mantecato served on a crostino or polenta cake, and
- Sardines in saor
If you love seafood, street vendors are selling Venetian fish in street stalls, such as:
- Folpetti, small octopus cut into small pieces and seasoned with olive oil, salt and parsley
- Masanete, small crabs filled with delicious eggs
- Mantis shrimp, prawns, and sardines
Trieste has a tradition of buffets, also known as spacéti, meaning small shops.
These establishments are a hybrid of a bar, restaurant, and emporium where one can enjoy a meal at any time, similar to how travelers and merchants used to do in the past.
During the summer, these buffets set up a few seats outside. You can find:
- Pork dishes like: cotechino, zampone, pancetta, carrè, lingua, luganeghe, frankfurters, trotters, and head.
- Sandwiches, canapés (similar to Venetian croutons) with creamed cod baccala mantecato
- Selection of fried fish
In Liguria street food is an important part of its tradition
- Ligurian focaccia with holes, filled with EVO oil, containing grains of coarse salt. Soft inside and crunchy on the outside, with a fragrant crust, cut into quadrangular pieces to be enjoyed with cappuccino, caffellatte or with a glass of white wine (u gianchettu alla Genovese).
- Focaccia di Recco is different from focaccia. It comprises two layers of very thin dough between the stracchino cheese. In some pizzerie they add truffles
- Farinata: chickpea flour pancakes
- Panigacci are small flat bread like piadine served with cheese, ham or salami
- Fritto misto: a selection of fried food served in a paper cone: seafood, zucchini flowers
- Torte salate: different types of pie like torta pasqualina, polpettone ligure (made with potatoes and green beans), castagnaccio. You can buy a slice and eat it on a bench
Emilia Romagna, famous for its refined cuisine, is home to some exceptional street food:
- Piadina is a flatbread made with water, flour, salt and lard. Once, it was cooked on the fireplace, today more simply on a pan, stuffed with raw ham, squacquerone cheese, all cured meats, cheeses and vegetables.
- Tigella or Crescentina a small round bread (looks like a pancake) cut in two and stuffed with pork: the classic is the beaten lard, also called Modenese pesto (lard blended with garlic and rosemary) with a teaspoon of Parmesan, but also ham, ciccioli, culatello, culaccia
- Gnocco fritto, crescentina, torta o chisulèn is a square of fried bread dough also served with ham, culatello o culaccia.
- Torte salate: various types of quiche, tarts and pies filled with vegetables, eggs and cheese, artichokes, swiss chard, spinach, shallots, onion, garlic and parmesan
Marche and Abruzzo
Marche and Abruzzo street foods are known for their pork, stuffed vegetables and seafood.
- Crescia is a flatbread cooked depending on the area, on the grill, under the embers, or on a frying pan. These tasty flatbreads are filled with sausage, field herbs, ham, loin, and cheese.
- Fried Ascolana finger food: "fritto all'ascolana", fried stuffed olives, fried custard, zucchini, artichokes, courgette flowers, and cutlets.
- In San Benedetto del Tronto freshly caught fish is sold raw (coquillage) and fried, but also prepared in a thousand ways: fried squid, prawns, paranza, octopus, seafood, mackerel salads, snails, cod, marinated anchovies, baked cuttlefish, dogfish with tomato sauce.
- Panini con le spuntature the intestines of the suckling veal, the same ones used in the Lazio pajata.They are roasted on the grill, seasoned with garlic and rosemary and stuck in the middle of a rosette.
- Torcinelli is a roll of liver and tripe and lamb intestines seasoned with salt, pepper, chilli pepper and parsley cooked on the grill.
- Arrosticini mutton or lamb meat is cut into small squares, placed in skewers and cooked on charcoal.Traditionally the shepherds' meal
Tuscany and Umbria
These two regions offer a delicious variety of street food through their agricultural and pastoral tradition.
- Lampredotto is one of four cow stomachs - cooked with tomato, onion, parsley and celery. It's the most classic Florentine street food. It can be eaten as is or cut into slices in a sandwich called "semelle". The same sandwich can have many other fillings. Unlike the classic Tuscan bread, the semelle is a salted bread.
- After the second world war, many stalls started selling and cooking tripe, but also centopelle, matrix, nervetto, poppa, snout, tongue and the legendary lamprey.
- Cecina, Torta or Farinata: pancakes made with chickpea flour
- Torta al Testo Perugina: similar to the piadina, crescia, borlengo, tigella, it is a flat bread cooked on a flat pan called Testo. It is stuffed with cured meats, sausages, vegetables, porchetta, and cheese.
- Schiacciata is the Tuscan version of focaccia, thin, chewy, full of flavors and olive oil
Street food in Rome is a tradition going back to the Roman Empire. Now updated to the new lifestyle and tourism, it has a lot to offer.
- Panino con la porchetta: Porchetta is a roasted pork flavored with herbs cooked on a spit cut in slices and served inside a bread roll. The most famous is the Porchetta d'Ariccia around the Roman castles
- Suppli similar to the Sicilian arancino, the suppli is cooked rice mixed with meat, coated with bread and fried
- Pizza al taglio are large rectangular pizza cooked in trays and served with different toppings. You can buy a square and eat them on the go.
- Gratta checca a glass filled with crushed ice and fruits sold in shacks around the streets of Rome, perfect for the hot days
For Napoli, street food is an institution.
- The panini Napoletani are like strudel, a dough with salami, provolone cheese, eggs, pepper, and pig fat.
- Taralli are round savory biscuits made with lard and almonds.
- Fresh mozzarella can be bought directly from the producer and eaten in place, Battipaglia is famous for its local producers, caseifici.
- Pizza al portafoglio is folded pizza served on wax paper.
- Fried pizza was born after the second world war when most ovens were destroyed, and ladies on the street started frying the pizza dough in caldrons placed outside their front doors. They were served with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, ricotta, pork fat, ham, or salami.
More fried street food served in the friggitoria are:
- Crocche fried breaded potato mash
- Arancini fried rice balls
- Zappole fried pasta
- Fiorilli fried zucchini flowers
- Scagliozzi fried polenta
- Cuoppi di pesce (mixed fried fish) served in paper cones.
- Other street foods from the cucina povera are tripe and octopus broth; the wealthy eat the boiled octopus, and the poor drink the water.
Puglia is famous for its simple cuisine made with fresh local ingredients:
- Pucce are soft semolina buns enriched with black olives and stuffed with capers, anchovies, tuna, tomato, provolone cheese, oil
- Sgagliozze, which are slices of fried polenta
- Popizze are chunks of bread dough cooked in hot oil, similar to the Genoese frisceu or gnocca from Emilia. They can be stuffed with ham and mozzarella.
- Panzerotto is a disc of pizza dough stuffed with tomato and mozzarella (or ricotta, bacon, or other variants), folded in two, sealed, and fried.
- Frisa is a toasted bread that is hard as a stone and has a very long shelf life. This dry half loaf is soaked a little in water to soften it and then seasoned with tomatoes, oil, and salt.
- Focaccia Pugliese is a simple, very thick focaccia mixed with boiled potatoes and has the characteristic of being stuffed with fresh halved cherry tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, and oregano.
- Seafood: A plate full of freshly caught mussels, oysters, hairy mussels, and clams served with half a lemon at a ridiculous price in a shack on the beach.
Around Alberobello, over the years, large local butchers have sparsely equipped themselves. In the evening, they set up a very simple grill outside called fornelli, with a few tables and some chairs to cook the poor cuts leftover from the shop.
- Bombette are rolls of capocollo, salt, pepper, rosemary, parsley and cheese cooked on a spit.
- Gnummareddi (from the Latin glomus: ball of yarn): they are rolls of liver, lung and kidney tied with lamb or kid casing, refined with parsley and wild fennel.
Sicily is home to some of the most notorious Italian fried street food.
- Panelle are rectangles of fried chickpea fritters eaten alone or in mafalda bread.
- Arancino Rice Arancini Recipe Gluten Free and Vegetarian (in Palermo, called arancina) is a bowl of saffron risotto with a heart of ragù with peas (or also with cheese, spinach, or aubergines), breaded and fried.
- Crocchette fried breaded potato mash
- Crispelle fried dough filled with anchovies.
Sicily is also famous for its cucina povera street food.
- Pane cunzato is a sourdough filled with fresh tomato, and anchovies,
- Pani câ meusa a sweet bread with a yummy filling, spleen and lung.
- Sfincione is the Sicilian version of the pizza. High, spongy, soft, light, lightly seasoned with tomato, onion, caciocavallo.
- Frittola is made by boiling and drying leftovers from pig such as bolds, centopelle, and cartilage, which are then revived by frying them in lard. This dish can be enjoyed on its own or as a sandwich wrapped in greaseproof paper.
Exploring Italian street food is a crucial component of a journey to uncover the various regions of Italy.
One can truly "taste the local area" not only by dining in restaurants and traditional trattorias but also with street vendors and stalls.
For more information about regional cuisine, you can read: Traditional Italian food by region
32 Italian street food recipes
Here are some recipes for the most common Italian street food: panini, pizza, finger foods, and desserts.
Panini (plural, panino singular) in Italian is a sandwich made with fresh bread rolls like michette, rosette, mafalda, ciriola, puccia or panini al latte, traditionally filled with cheese, salami, and/or some vegetables.
Usually, they are made with a few fresh ingredients without too many sauces.
They are simple and not necessarily grilled. When a sandwich is grilled in Italy, we call it "toast".
Eating bread with a filling in between became widespread in ancient Rome.
A famous street, now known as via Panisperna, was named after the popular snack of sandwiches made with ham and must, cooked in water from dried figs, a favorite among the locals.
During Italy's prosperous period in the 1960s, when Sunday trips out of town in the FIAT 500 were a popular ritual, the sandwich became a symbol of a packed lunch.
We would buy our freshly made Panino in the local food shop or bakeries, Panificio, Pizzicagnolo or Salumerie.
In the 1970s, with the emergence of sandwich shops like bars and Paninoteche, they became an opportunity for gathering, particularly for the younger generations.
The type of bread and fillings varies across Italy depending on the region's local produce and traditions.
Here are some recipes if you want to reproduce them at your home
- Piadina romagnola: Italian flatbread, emilia romagna
- Toast and tramezzini
- Panino con la Porchetta (pork roast)
- Bruschetta with mozzarella
- Bruschetta with mushrooms
- Panini al latte
- Pane consato meat lover, different fillings
- Pan Bagnat
The most famous street food worldwide is the Napolean pizza.
Since the late 18th century, this exceptional example of humble cuisine has been steadily rising in popularity from the alleys of Naples to all corners of the world.
Despite its distant resemblance to Indian nan, Arab pita, and Hispanic tortillas, the pizza has surpassed all its competitors.
There is only one true pizza, the Neapolitan-style pizza, characterized by its soft dough and cooked quickly at high temperatures in a wood-burning oven.
This pizza is typically served as a slice with fresh tomato, basil, and mozzarella cheese, and should be enjoyed while piping hot, straight out of the oven
Around Italy, pizza has changed some of its classic Neapolitan characteristics like thickness and crunchiness but always kept the soul of its simplicity.
The further it moves away from its place of birth, the more it becomes an approximation of its origin.
True pizza must come directly in contact with the oven's base to achieve its distinctive texture and flavor.
Thin and crunchy, thick or soft, stuffed, enriched or flavored, focaccia is an ancient popular recipe.
The Italian variants of focaccia with filling on the surface are countless, from the focaccia Barese in the South to the Ligurian in the North.
Here are some of the pizza and focaccia varieties around Italy
- Pizza with veggies
- Farinata made with chickpea flour
- Pizza al taglio
- White pizza
Fried finger food
Each region has a variety of fried finger food you can eat on the go.
On a Saturday night, they are often served with a cocktail as an aperitif and other finger food.
Apericena, as it was first called in Northern Italy, is an informal happy hour to meet up after work and savor various finger foods with a special cocktail.
Here are some recipes you can make for your own apericena
- Arancini Supplì (rice balls)
- Fried eggplant balls
- Calzone o Panzerotti
- Gnocco fritto
- Fried pizza fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce (campania region)
- Mozzarella in carrozza: fried mozzarella sandwich
- Fried mozzarella
- Pasta a frittata
- Stuffed olives
- Fried custard
- Fried seafood
- Fried zucchini flowers
- Fried chicken nuggets
Sarge are village fairs and celebrations of local fresh produce, and it is an excellent opportunity to taste some great food.
Here are some of the most celebrated ingredients
- Porcini or wild mushrooms
- Wild boar
We cannot forget the sweet street food that is an essential part of Italian cuisine and tradition.
During hot summer afternoons, people often enjoy the classic gelato as they take a leisurely walk.
In the mornings, pastries are paired with an espresso, cappuccino, or creamy Italian hot chocolate for breakfast on the go at the local caffe.
Carnival is the feast of fried sweet food on the go like:
More sweet street foods are:
- Sicilian fruits made with almond paste
- Midnight cornetto (a late night snack after the nightclubs before the sunrise)
More articles you may like
To find out more how Italian food tradition changed throughout history you can read the article: Italian food history and cultural influence.
For more information about Italian cuisine history, tradition, and culture, you can read: 77 traditional Italian ingredients and best brands, 36 Essential Herbs And Spices Used In Italian Cooking, history of traditional Italian food by region, 22 Italian breakfast recipes, Italian Sunday dinner a 6 meal courses, Italian table setting and etiquette
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