As you will quickly learn when you study in Italy, Italian food is literally proverbial: Many Italian phrases revolve around eating. For instance: “One must be an idiot to speak badly of macaroni”, and: “When we talk bread we mean bread, and when we talk wine we mean wine”. And what bread - what wine! It’s the excellence of the ingredients and its simple congeniality that set apart the Italian cuisine.
Follow our culinary trip from North to South to learn what treats you will experience as an international student at one of Italy’s universities:
In the Lombardy region, food is influenced by Italy’s northern neighbours France and Switzerland. Milanese cuisine is comforting food relying on local products such as rice from the Po river valley, which features in the saffron-flavoured speciality risotto alla milanese. Another local favourite is polenta, a type of porridge made from maize flour, eaten hot and cold.
Learning about food and drink is a great way to build up your Italian vocabulary and engage confidently with Italian people, as international students of the SDA Bocconi, the Milan Polytechnic and other local universities can confirm.
Turin, home to the traditional University of Turin and the renowned Polytechnic University of Turin, is famous for its outstanding cheeses, cakes and chocolate. The city stakes a claim as the originator of the delicious zabaione (zabaglioni), an egg-based dessert, but this is contested by Sicilians. The piedmontese fritto misto, an Italian classic, is a mix of deep-fried ingredients, usually meats, fish or vegetables like aubergines or artichokes.
It’s hard to imagine Italy without coffee or gelato (ice cream). Coffee was first imported through the port of Venice in the 17th century, making it the home of the original coffee shops. Today, the Veneto region is host to coffee festivals and also the Vinitaly wine trade fair in the university city of Verona. Fish is popular in the local cuisine. The region takes its culinary heritage and responsibilities seriously. The University of Padua, some 30 kilometers inland from Venice, offers a unique Masters programme in Italian Food and Wine, with the aim of understanding and managing heritage products that are “profoundly linked to traditions and place of origin”.
The venerable city of Bologna is home to Italy’s (and the world’s) oldest university and today welcomes nearly 80,000 students. It also gave the world that dietary essential known to English-speakers as “spag bol”: Spaghetti Bolognese served with Parmesan cheese. However, as locals from the Emilia-Romagna region will be quick to point out, internationally popular sauce-heavy variants of spaghetti bolognese are much different from the real local pasta served with meat sauces (ragù).
The authentic ragù alla bolognese should include celery and pancetta bacon and be served with the local flat ribbon-style pasta tagliatelle, preferably freshly made with eggs. Fish stews and tomato-based dishes are popular here, along with the famous aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar) of the region. In Italy, Bologna is not only known as La Dotta, the learned one (thanks to its famous university), but also La Grassa, the fat one. Combining intellectual thought with culinary expertise - what’s not to like?
Located at the center of the country, the cuisines of both North and South mingle in Rome, Italy’s capital. And while food is not the only reason why you will love international student life in Rome, it’s a pretty convincing one. As throughout Italy, amazingly good food can be found in the smallest osteria (inn), and usually at student-friendly prices, too.
Pecorino romano, the local alternative to parmesan cheese, flavours the excellent soups and pasta dishes of the Lazio region. Onions, garlic and many different herbs give Roman dishes their rich body. Roman gnocchi (dumplings) made from flour or semolina are a local speciality, and a favourite not only of students at Rome’s Tor Vergata University. They are a great hunger-appeaser and also invite an afternoon nap to recover from intensive studies and exam preparation.
Napoli (Naples) is known as the birthplace of Italian pizza, and the popular pizza margherita: Its ingredients basil, mozzarella and tomato represent the colours of the Italian flag (green, white, red). Neapolitan pizza has made such an impact in the world’s food culture that it is recognised by UNESCO as an “intangible world heritage”. And in Naples, it surely isn’t only students at the local University of Naples Federico II who regularly flock to traditional pizzerias like the famous Da Michele.
Sicilian and Southern Italian cuisine are more focused on fish rather than meat. A popular choice not only for vegetarians is caponata, a sweet-and-sour vegetable dish made from aubergines and olives, best combined with pasta. Sicily is also known for its tasty cannoli: crispy dough tubes filled with sweet ricotta cheese. And just the right snack in-between lectures!