Italian cuisine is known for its simplicity and quality ingredients. Italians pride themselves on making everything from scratch and using produce from their own garden. It is also where the Slow Food Movement started. Just because Italy is the head of the Slow Food Movement doesn’t mean it doesn’t have fast food or Italian street food. Actually, it has the best street food. Each region of Italy has its very own street food specialty. There are so many to try but I’ve narrowed them down to six that range from the north to the south of Italy. One day I will have the Ultimate Italian Street Food List but until then, here are the top six.
6 Types of Must-Try Italian Street Food
This is a specialty street food from the area I live in, Lombardia. I’ve found some English translations of this and the best one I have seen is “Italian dough parcel.” It’s fried dough that puffs up and has a hollow center. It is golden and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Gnocco fritto is usually eaten together with salumi (cold cuts) like prosciutto crudo and coppa or cheese, like gorgonzola. The stand in the picture below was serving gnocco fritto with Nutella too!
One of my all-time Ligurian favourites: Battered and fried seafood with a bit of salt and lemon served in a paper cone (usually). The seafood includes shrimp, squid, and anchovies. While you’re at it, you might as well get french fries to accompany your fried seafood. Make sure to eat it while it’s hot!
We head to central Italy in the Marche region to find these specialty olives from Ascoli. They say that the original recipe for Olive Ascolane is from the year 800!
These olives are stuffed with meat (beef, chicken, and pork), vegetables, bread crumbs and cheese, breaded and then fried. It’s a long process but it is so worth it. Luckily, we have some dear friends in the Marche region that were so kind to send us a huge package of homemade Olive Ascolane ready to be fried.
PANINO COL POLPO ALLA BRACCE
Almost two years ago, my husband, my brother and I went to Puglia to stay with some friends in the beautiful town of Ceglie Messapica. We had an abundant seafood lunch at a wonderful restaurant with the view of the sea and were rolling out of the restaurant at around four’o’clock in the afternoon. Just when we though we couldn’t eat anymore, we found a street food stand that was selling Panino col polpo alla bracce: Freshly grilled octopus in a bun. Everyone was stuffed but our Pugliese host was insisting that we try and if we didn’t, he would be offended. I’ll be honest, I didn’t get one myself because it was physically impossible for me to fit anything else in my belly but I did try a bite of my husband’s and it was gooooood!
POLENTA E GORGONZOLA
We go back up north for this street food: Polenta and Gorgonzola. For those of you who don’t know what Polenta is, it’s corn grits (a terrible name so let’s refer to it as Polenta from now on). As with many traditional and tasty dishes in Italy, Polenta is a ‘poor man’s dish.’ If you eat it with a melt-in-your-mouth gorgonzola, it goes from poor to rich. It’s actually the perfect pairing because ‘zola is quite savory strong and needs to be balanced with either something ‘neutral’ like Polenta or something sweet like pear compote.
Heading down south, way south and off the continent into Sicily we find another fried specialty, Arancine. It’s a ball of rice, flavoured with saffron, stuffed with a ragù (sautéed carrots, onions, ground meat, cheese, wine, herbs and tomatoes), breaded and fried! Yes, it is as good as it sounds. In the west of Sicily, they are usually round in shape whereas in the east they are shaped like a pear. If you find yourself in Sicily on December 13th, for the celebration of Santa Lucia, you will find millions of Arancine being served. You can find Arancine in Sicily all year-round but December 13th is THE day of Arancine.
HOP HOP STREET FOOD FESTIVAL
What if you’re traveling to Italy and you’ve only got a couple weeks to visit? How are you going to travel from the north to the south trying all these tasty specialties?
You can actually find them all in one spot if you can coordinate your travel itinerary with the Hop Hop Street Food Festival.
The Hop Hop Street Food event is a traveling festival of food trucks that specialize in Italian street food. You will find treats from Trentino all the way down to Sicily. But not only that: They also include International food trucks.
I underestimated my small town of Broni because a couple of weeks ago, Hop Hop Street Food came to Broni! For real! They usually go to bigger cities in and around Milan but decided to visit us, small-town folk, as well. I went with a few of my friends and enjoyed some chicken wings from the American stand, Gnocco Fritto, Empanadas from the Argentinian stand, craft beer from Belgium and a very, very interesting dessert from Hungary called, Kurtoskalacs:
“Kürtőskalács is made from sweet, dough, of which a strip is spun and then wrapped around a truncated cone–shaped baking spit, and rolled in sugar. It is roasted over charcoal while basted with melted butter until its surface cooks to a golden-brown color. During the baking process, the sugar stuck on the kürtőskalács caramelizes and forms a shiny, crispy crust. The surface of the cake can then be topped with additional ingredients such as ground walnut or powdered cinnamon” – definition according to wikipedia. Sounds about right, though.
It’s a short list but it’s enough if you don’t have a lot of time in Italy but want to try something different. What Italian Street Food specialties have you tried? Where did you try them?