For a nation that spends a lot of its time out on the streets, it’s hardly surprising that Italian street food is something of a proudly cherished tradition. Having grown from a basic need for cheap ‘fast food’ for peasants and working men, eating from food stalls has now become an integral part of any Italian experience. So head out onto the streets and let the regional cibo di strada whet your appetite for more culinary joy, as you travel round this famously gastronomic country...
Neapolitans love their street food, with kiosks, cafés and mobile stands cooking fresh food across the city. Best of all, you don’t have to pay much for spectacular food. The extraordinarily rich variety includes panzerotti (potato croquettes), arancini (fried rice balls coated with breadcrumbs), deep-fried courgette flowers or aubergine slices, calzoni (folded pizzas) and more. Most are served in cuoppo (paper cones) at the many friggitorie (from the Italian friggere ‘to fry’) which can be found on virtually every corner in the city.
The most famous street food in Florence is lampredotto, a kind of tripe, chopped and slowly cooked with seasonal vegetables and served on a bread roll. This classic Florentine sandwich is often topped with a spicy green salsa verde, for a real tripe-lover’s dream. After wandering round the art galleries head to the Piazza della Signoria. Here, you can enjoy your panino al lampredotto (the name comes from lamprey eels which the tripe is said to resemble) with a glass of Chianti wine, amid city gents from the nearby banks on their lunch breaks.
Typical of the southern province of Puglia, is the bombetta pugliese. This tasty morsel is made from slices of wild boar (or pork) wrapped around cheese, usually provolone, then roasted on a skewer over a wood burning stove or charcoal grill, often served with cardoncelli mushrooms or sun-dried tomatoes to enhance the flavour. It is believed to have developed in the region around Brindisi and today the nearby town of Cisternino is particularly famous for them. Call into one of the town’s small butcher's shops which serve bombette with rustic bread rolls, accompanied by wine served in traditional terracotta carafes.
The best way to enjoy a wide variety of street food in Venice is to visit as many bàcari as possible. These typically Venetian wine bars or osteria serve food called cichéti (from the Latin meaning ‘small’) and drinks called ombre (‘shadows’). Look out for rissoles, sarde in sàor (fried sardines topped with sweet and sour white onions), hard-boiled eggs with anchovy, boiled baby octopus, and crostini topped with a variety of fillings. As for drinks, the classic choice would be a spritz Veneziano – a cocktail of prosecco, with a dash of Aperol or Campari and topped off with sparkling mineral water – invented in Venice.
Originally a fishing village, Alghero, is one of Sardinia’s best-preserved medieval towns. What makes it fascinating is its mix of Italian and Catalan cultures, a hangover from when it was conquered by the king of Spain more than six centuries ago. Its culinary heritage comes as much from the land as from the sea, with the mountains containing possibly more shepherds than there were fishermen in the harbour. Among the most popular are su porcheddu, suckling pig served in a paper cone with potatoes; and seadas (or sebadas) once considered an entire meal, but now a popular snack. A square of thin dough – prepared with flour and lard but no yeast – is wrapped around a piece of pecorino cheese and deep-fried. Drizzle with honey and enjoy hot!
In the Sicilian capital of Palermo, the markets are the places to go and you’ll find everything from chickpea fritters to liver sandwiches. Seek out La Vucciria, the city’s most famous market whose name means ‘hubbub’; Ballarò, famed for its clothes but also a street eater’s delight, and the Mercato di Capo, where you can combine browsing with some mouth-watering morsels. A classic choice is pani c’à meusa. Not for the faint-hearted, it’s basically a spleen sandwich and those who have tried it (not yours truly) say it’s tastier than it sounds. Don’t forget though, to ask for a slice of lemon to squeeze over the filling – apparently this basic accompaniment makes all the difference!
In 1987, the Slow Food movement was founded in Bra, a place where traditional Italian and French cuisines collide. Famed for its white truffles and the great wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, Bra also boasts great street food including mac ‘d Bra, a sandwich consisting of rustic veal sausage (salsiccia) with local cheese and green salad, which was recently voted one of the ten best street foods in Italy; and agnolotti del plin, a small ravioli, stuffed with veal, rabbit or vegetables, pinched at the sides (plin means ‘pinch’) and served with ragu source or butter and sage – and occasionally, shavings of white truffle.
In a region justly famed for its gastronomy it’s no surprise that its street food includes many varieties of salami, sausages and cold cuts served with various kinds of bread, like the popular piadine, crescentine and a delicious savoury fried dough, borlengo. In Romagna, an aromatic cone of fried fish – pesce fritto al cono – can prove hard to resist, while thin and tasty potato pancakes tortelli sulla lastra – a potato batter flavoured with locally foraged wild herbs and filled with a combination of pancetta, spinach, pumpkin or cottage cheese – need only a glass of red wine to make a hearty meal.