By now you know that Chef Stefano ate his way across Italy this summer with his family… and he did it for you! So that you could learn about the best pastry spots from north to south, and now so you can read about both the newest trends in Italian street food (“cibo di strada”) and the tried and true “chat and chew” bites that Italy has to offer.
Though we traveled from the very north down to the tip of the Itailan boot and across the Messina bay, our favorite street food eats were in and around Rome, as well as on the street-food-filled streets of Sicily, historically the hub of Italian street food. And as Sicily modernizes the tried and true arancini (deep fried rice balls with ground meat, tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese), fritti misti (fried seafood) in paper cones and pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) wrapped in wax paper and served to go, in food hubs in Rome and beyond, we found entirely new or newly redesigned cibo di strada for Italians and tourists alike. Whether on foot or out for an evening stroll and a glass of prosecco or wine (or some of the new Italian microbrews) and a few bites of cibo di strada from the many enoteche, we ate over 100 meals (you’re welcome) to bring you this month’s “best of.” Here we go:
Chef Stefano and the team at Cordova Food Design are biased: Rome has some of the most delectable restaurants in the world, bringing local Roman cuisine into alignment with the best of Italy and the best of the world. From Japanese fusion to southern and northern delicacies, to a smattering of new haute African restaurants, Rome is where it’s at if you want to eat anything well. But few tourists know of the exceptional eating south of Rome in the Castelli Romani, or the Roman hills. If you’ve been to Italy, you’ve probably passed by the Catacombs. Keep going, and you’ll be in the heart of the Castelli Romani. We focus our first batch of Italian street food faves on Rome and the Castelli (with exceptional towns like Nemi, Frascati, and Ariccia), and then to the coast and inner cities of the magical island of Sicily.
Porchetta Tramezzini (best in the Castelli Romani)
Porchetta is the Italian version of pulled pork: deeply brined and moist, roasted slowly and with hundreds of years of experience, savory and best found in the porchetterie of the Castelli Romani. The tramezzini (literally, sandwich) is the pork sandwich you’ve been searching for all your life. Next time you’re in and around Rome, hit up Chiosco della Porchetta (porchetta kiosk) in Ariccia for some of the best porchetta (and salami, prosciutto and olives) anywhere. It’s a casual establishment, well off the beaten path. Ariccia is known for its pork and it’s food overall. The area is well worth the trip: charming, smattered in gorgeous lakes, and with fresh weather even in the dead of summer.
Supplí (best in and around Rome)
If you don’t have a Roman grandmother to make them for you, hit the streets to find the next best thing. Supplí are a smaller and salteri version of arancini and you can’t leave Italy without savoring them in and round Rome. Most high-end pizzerias and enoteche will serve them as appetizers. When given the chance, order supplí - every time.
Fiori di Zucca Fritti (best in and around Rome)
If you have a home garden, chances are you grow squash of some sort and you’re tossing the squash flowers away… tragically. Instead, you can wash them, stuff them with mozzarella and an anchovy (or not), batter them and fry them in at least an inch of oil, lightly salted. Or, you can skip the arduous garden and instead stake out the best fiori di zucca fritti in restaurants all over Rome. They don’t need to be fancy, and they are our #1 favorite street food of all time. If you’re home cheffing, you can jazz them up with other salty treats if you like: olives, capers, you name it. But we recommend investing in the plane ride and walk through Rome. Roscioli’s new pizzeria Emma has a delectable option, but any old pizzeria or forno offering this age-old street food likely will be a great choice.
Pizza al Taglio, con patate
There’s not just one kind of pizza in Italy, there are many. First, there’s Neopolitan in Naples, known for the long-style pizza a metro (or, pizza by the meter). If you want the best pizza in the world, wander the streets of Naples, or head to Pizza a Metro in Vico Equense on the Amalfi coast. That’s the quintessential pizza, but there’s also the thick-style Sicilian, the saltless but delicious crusts of the north, and a multitude of toppings and styles for each and every type of crust. But, if you want exceptional walk-and-eat pizza (square style, thin with a salty crust), head to the Campo De’Fiori in Rome’s city center for lunch (NOTE: it’s not open for dinner) at Forno. Every darn slice is heaven, but our favorite is with roasted potatoes (con patate) and rosemary. You can eat and enjoy the beautiful daily flower market in the square, which turns into a lovely Roman hotspot every evening around 9 p.m.
Fritti Misti in a paper cone (best in Sicily)
Combine the freshest seafood in the world - shrimp, sardines, octopus and usually some veggies - with deep fried crustiness and perfect seasoning and you may have the world’s most perfect meal or snack. We sampled fritti misti (mixed fried… the “seafood” is implied) all over the Italian islands. Sardinia has the best plated version, but Sicily boasts the best street food variety. We didn’t get over to Bari and the like, but we bet it’s good there, too. We like Sicily because the variety of shrimp, the famous gambero rosso (red shrimp), ups the game.
Arancini, with a twist (best in Sicily)
It may be odd that we’re featuring both supplí and arancini, but it’s not. Because while they sound familiar if described (deep fried rice balls), the eating experience is completely different. First, supplí are about 1/4 of the size. Second, arancini are a complete meal and come in many different flavors. The standard is a tomato and meat combination, often with mozzarella cheese. But our favorite was pistachio and cheese. If you are wandering around Sicily any time soon and come across a busy arancineria, get two.
We also came across new ways to eat both new and old street foods: food trucks, street chefs, and enoteche that allow you to get a glass of wine and street food bites (arrostini, panini, supplí, and more) in cities like Rome, Bologna, Lucca and Parma.
Lastly, we couldn’t help but mention some amazing sweet treats al mano (by hand) that should never be passed up:
· Fragoline di Nemi in tarts con panna (tiny and sweet strawberries in and around the town of Nemi, baked into tarts and topped with unsweetened Italian whipped cream)
· Bombe Calde alla Marmellata di Fragole (hot and fresh doughnuts with strawberry jam)
· Stecca Natura in Taormina and around Sicily (incredible new build-your-own gelato bars topped with fresh and delicious ingredients - very great for kids)
· Ciambelle al Vino Dolci di Frascati (sweet doughnuts with sweet Frascati wine flavoring)
Have you booked your ticket to Italy yet?