I know it’s been a good long while since I’ve posted, but I’ve been a little busy. Specifically, I’ve been traipsing around Italy with my husband eating delicious food, drinking plentiful and delectable wine, and generally soaking in as much culture, history and art as humanly possible. It was an incredible trip, and we’ve created many memories to last a lifetime.
It may surprise you that I am not the type of person who takes pictures of my food in restaurants. A food blogger who just dives into her food without snapping a bunch of beautiful photographs first? Crazy! I know. However, when I eat out, I like to be in the moment and enjoy my food, the ambience and the company of whomever I’m sharing the table with.
So although I don’t have photographic evidence, we ate extremely well while we were galavanting around Rome, Venice and Florence, and I thought I’d share some words of wisdom about being a food-obsessed tourist in Italy. Of course, everyone says to “eat where the locals eat,” which is good advice, and I certainly tried to do that as much as possible. However, I found that once we were actually in Italy, there were a few additional things I liked to keep in mind when we were seeking our next great meal:
1. Do a little research.
For me, planning and researching for a trip is nearly as fun as actually travelling. Not quite, but nearly. I love reading about local specialties, checking out restaurant menus online, and poring over articles like “Where to Find the Best Pizza in Rome.” In the big cities, there are many, MANY “tourist trap”-type restaurants, especially adjacent to major attractions. They are more expensive and (often) less delicious than you can find elsewhere, and when you’re travelling you want the best value possible, right?
Nowadays, there’s a ton of useful information at your fingertips while you travel. We used TripAdvisor (TA) to help choose restaurants, as there are hundreds of unbiased reviews and rankings to help you narrow down your selection. I would estimate that we “stumbled upon” about half the places we ate, and chose the other half based on TA reviews, and TA never steered us wrong. For me, this was crucial because we had a limited amount of time and I wanted to have the best experiences possible. Which leads me to my next tip…
2. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
Italy is a famous food destination – for good reason – so it can be easy to expect every single food experience to be mind-blowing. Unfortunately, there are bound to be a few duds, or at least a couple of underwhelming experiences. Don’t let it get you down! Not every meal can be a winner, which I’m sure is true for any destination.
Our first meal out on our first day in Rome was just okay. It wasn’t bad, I didn’t feel ripped off, but it definitely wasn’t memorable. For a moment, I fretted that we wouldn’t fall in love with the food in Italy like I’d always imagined we would. Luckily, the rest of our meals in Rome were scrumptious, and overall the food in Italy lived up to its reputation (and then some!).
3. Go on a food tour.
I recommend this if, like us, you are not seasoned travellers, although I think some tours have something to offer anyone, world traveller or not. For instance, I lived in New York City for 2 years and liked to think I knew all there was to know about NYC cuisine. However, I went back on vacation with my husband and decided to do a walking food tour of Greenwich Village, and it remains one of the best food experiences of my life!
We did a food tour called Florence for Foodies, and it was a highlight of our time in Florence. Our fabulous guide taught us so much about Tuscan cuisine by taking us to local cafes, wine shops and the beautiful San Lorenzo Market. It gave us confidence to shop for ourselves at the market, and they also gave us some wonderful restaurant recommendations. A-plus.
4. Leave behind your preconceptions.
Try everything! If we had gone to Italy expecting to eat pizza, lasagna, and spaghetti & meatballs everywhere we went, we would have missed the mark entirely on what Italy has to offer. Some of our favourite flavours were entirely unexpected: a boiled beef sandwich called bollito with salsa verde and hot peppers, or a chicken liver pate on toasted bread called crostini de fegatini, for example, were a couple of our favourites.
The cuisine of Italy varies so greatly from region to region, and if you eat the exact same foods everywhere you go within Italy, I believe you’re missing out on some wonderful, unexpected surprises.
5. The house wine is good!
I don’t know about your hometown, but where I live the “house wine” just means the cheapest bottle on the menu, and it’s usually not worth trying. We were happy to find that house wine in Italy is generally cheap, but also very drinkable. A half litre of house red was something like 5-6 Euro, and the quality was much higher than we expected. Over and above the general insistence on high-quality wine we found in Italy, I suspect that restaurants have a certain amount of pride in the wine they choose to call della casa.
6. Don’t hold back.
When are you ever going to be in Italy again? Your Italian vacation is not the time to count calories, so don’t feel guilty about indulging. We ate like maniacs the entire time we were there – I’m talking at least 2 courses at every meal, with wine and carbs galore – and my husband and I both actually lost weight during our trip. We were on our feet for 8-12 hours a day, wandering the medieval streets of Florence or climbing the ancient hills of Rome, so a big plate of fresh, delicious pasta at lunch was essentially a requirement to keep us going.
That’s all I have to say. I think it’s nearly impossible to have a bad food experience in Italy, but hopefully if you get the chance to go, these tips will help you eat as well as we did. If you are visiting Rome, Florence or Venice and want to chat more about them, or want any recommendations (restaurants, tours, attractions, or otherwise), please get in touch as I simply love talking about our trip and sharing the wealth of knowledge.
And fear not, reader: we’ll be back to normal with some fantastic recipes very soon. Ciao!