Postcards from Italy
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Street Food in Italy

Italy is a country founded on leisurely sit down meals, which begin and end with drinks, but which are all about quality food in the middle. If you want to savor the best dishes this country has to offer, it is best done slowly around a raucous table of friends and family. Or slowly around a quiet table overlooking the Mediterranean. Or slowly around a tiny table in the Dolomites. But, in any case, slowly and seated at a table.

street food(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

That said, sometimes when you are feeling a bit peckish or simply don't have the patience to sit through a long meal, you need to cut to the chase and top off your tank with a mobile snack. Despite the insidious growth of international fast food chains in Italy, there are still a number of excellent and traditional street foods that will appease your appetite, satisfy your palate, and hardly slow your pace at all.

Pizza et al


pizza al portafoglio(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Pizza al Portafoglio
: Yes, pizza by the slice is the most obvious go to street food in Italy, but pizza al portafoglio takes this fallback favorite to the next level. Found primarily in Naples, pizza al portafoglio is simply the perfect Neapolitan pizza - made with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, a drizzle of olive oil, a leaf or two of fresh basil, and a cooking time of no more than 90 seconds - taken steaming from the wood-burning oven, folded in half (thus the “wallet” name), wrapped in a sheet of brown paper, and thrust into your hand while you are hustled away from the counter so the next person can be served. Lines in Naples can stretch down the street for the best pizza al portafoglio, but the pies come out of the oven so quickly that the wait is never very long. A humble taste sensation, quintessentially Italian.

Panzerotto: In southern Italy, you can usually find a deep fryer turning out crispy-on-the-outside-chewy-on-the-inside panzerotti, which are circles of dough topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella, folded in half and crimped closed, and fried until golden. The dough is softer than pizza crust, but the combination of flavors is similar. These fried treats will test your willpower: you'll have to wait a few minutes for the filling to cool before biting in, which will be some of the longest minutes of your life, or risk sporting molten mozzarella scars on your chin for the rest of your trip.

Rustico: Trust the Puglians to steal the pizza margherita template from Naples and make it just that much better. The Rustico is a local delicacy from Lecce, a flaky puff pastry tart stuffed with tomato sauce, mozzarella, oregano, bechamel sauce, and a generous grind of pepper, baked until golden and served still warm. With this as your main course and a custard “pasticcione” tart for your desert, you'll be set for a meal.

Fried Treats


arancini(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Arancine e Supplì: these two fried delicacies are distant cousins, linked by their common denominator of rice and boiling oil. Arancine are small spheres of rice, cheese, ground beef, and peas...breaded, fried, and served to Sicilians of all ages as they take their evening stroll. Romans, on the other hand, snack on an oval supplì, made with rice, ground beef, tomato sauce, and a bit of egg to keep it all together, breaded and fried while they indulge in the traditional passeggiata. Both will claim that their version is better, and both are right.

street food(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Olive all'Ascolana: Originally from Le Marche, these succulent green olives stuffed with spicy ground meat, breaded, and fried are now commonly found on appetizer menus across Italy. But the Marchegiani still do them best, especially when made fresh and sold directly from the specialty trucks in and around Ascoli Piceno. No bigger than two bites a pop, these tiny delights are addictive and surprisingly filling.

street food(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Pesce Fritto: From north to south, this is the one street food that you'll find at every seaside and port town in Italy. This fried fish and seafood - either tiny whole fish or a mix of calamari, squid, and whole shrimp - tossed in a light batter, fried, and served in paper cones is an excellent repast for a meander along the boardwalk. You can't get fish that's more fresh than this, and a light squeeze of lemon on top is all you need for the perfect snack.

Sandwiches


Piadina: Though most common in Emilia-Romagna, this simple flatbread can be found in much of central Italy. Cooked on a hot griddle and filled with the best local charcuterie and cheese before being folded in half and served, this is a perfect halfway point between a pizza and a sandwich, where the quality of the ingredients takes center stage and everyone from vegetarians to picky toddlers can be satisfied with their made-to-order combination.

lampredotto(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Lampredotto: Everything sounds better in Italian. Case in point: Florence's most beloved sandwich, made of tripe stewed in a tangy tomato sauce, heaped onto a chewy roll, dressed with a bit of “salsa verde”, and topped with a broth-soaked crusty top. Before you turn up your nose, note the long lines at the numerous lampredotto carts parked across the historic center of Florence...all of those people can't be wrong about tripe. If you are feeling adventurous, the stands serve a selection of stewed offal to choose from, or straight beef for the wary. A close cousin to Florence's lampredotto is Pani ca meusa (stewed spleen sandwich), which can be found in Palermo.

Pani ca meusa - spleen sandwich palermo(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Porchetta: One of our favorite street foods is this traditional mobile dish of Umbria and Tuscany, a whole roasted pig, boned and flavored with a paste of rosemary, fennel, garlic, salt, and pepper. The tender cooked meat is sliced thick and served on a fresh roll. Porchetta can be purchased from the white porchettaio trucks parked in most town squares on market day, or directly from the butcher on days when it is advertised as available.

Related links:
Italy's Street Food: Porchetta
Gelato: Secrets and Discoveries
Italy's Best Frozen Treats



Contributor: Rebecca Winke

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Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy