cibo da strada street food

Discovering Italian street food and regional recipes

Who invented street food? what are the regional differences in recipes? Let’s discover together the tradition turning into lifestyle.

This tradition or habit, increasingly in vogue, has its roots in antiquity. The food of wayfarers and pilgrims, shepherds, and peasants, today becomes a modern and nonconformist style. Street food was, in fact, popular in Rome already in ancient times. Bread and cheese for sure, as well as bread and dried meat were  classic street foods for centuries. Often using waste ingredients, like meat offal generally fried outdoors and sold on the street. In Naples, meanwhile, the ancestors of the “motorway service stations” already existed. It may seem absurd, but in the long road that connected Rome to Naples, refreshment points were necessary. In those stations, called caponae. In the caaponae the horse rested, and travelers found special dishes, such as caponata. A delicious recipe, popular even nowadays, that could be stored a few days without refrigerators.

vucciria street food palermo

Street food in Palermo. The Vucciria is the traditional market for street food

Regional cuisine in Italy.

Being a unified country for only 153 years, Italy presents an exciting cultural diversity for food and wine lovers. At the time of the unification of Italy, the regions of the south ate, spoke, and lived in a completely different way from those of the north. The wealth of the former kingdom of the two Sicily, gradually gave way to poverty. Differently, northern regions industrialized faster, creating new social dynamics. While the Southern countryside was progressively emptied of the new generations. In the 70s the vast majority of workers in the tertiary sector came from the South. The integration was slow and difficult, the worried mothers of southern Italy sent Il pacco da giù for their son to Turin. The “package from South” contained the essentials to remember the flavor and scent of their origins to the emigrant: caciocavallo, sausages, or marzipan sweets.

pizza bianca on mortadella - roman best pizza

Pizza Bianca with mortadella is the typical mid-morning snack

Everything you can put in a sandwich automatically becomes street food.

Bread and something else, or pizza with something in
. But there are many other recipes, all over the country. Seriously connected with local history and culture. Roman people, as well as Neapolitans, do not love rice. Considered a sad food intended for those suffering from digestive problems. They much more prefer pasta indeed. But, for a long time, rice was cultivated in Salerno, until the cultivation switched to Lombardy. The presence of rice to the south remains in the most popular recipes such as Supplì, arancini or arancine, the sartù in Naples or the tiella in Puglia.

supplì al telefono

Supplì telephone style is the most important street food in Rome

Rome and its street food.

The Supplì in Rome is not a snack, but an institution. You must eat your Supplì strictly with your hands. With at least two bites so that the surprise (the mozzarella inside) materializes in the famous telephone wire. Traditionally it is a walking food that is now mostly found in traditional rotisseries and trattorias. We cannot fail to mention the famous Roman pizza by the slice (Pizza al Taglio). Classic is thin and crunchy (crispy) that folds into a sandwich and is eaten while walking. Typical is also the fillet of cod covered with a crunchy batter. A new type of stuffed pizza ideal for street food was invented by Trapizzino. It is a pocket of pizza stuffed halfway between the sandwich (but only as a shape) and the pizza. Grand final: sandwich with porchetta, is a must to try for meat lovers.

montanara fritta pizza fried

The montanara is the most typical pizza in Naples: the fried pizza to be eaten in the street

Street food in Naples

Speaking of Naples you can not ignore the fried pizza. The famous montanara that brings with it a romantic and delicious tradition. Frying for the less well-off has always been a cheaper cooking method. It was easier, in fact, to find a little fire and grease than wood for an oven. The fried pizza was cooked at home or on the sidewalk in front of the house. So became a recipe prepared by the women to round up their husband’s salary by a few pennies. Similarly to Rome, even in Naples the food of the fifth quarter is popular. The most famous fifth quarter recipe in Naples is either O’ Père e O’ Musso, the foot (of the pig) and the muzzle (of the calf). Finally, we cannot fail to mention the mozzarella in carrozza. In Naples you still eat the famous cuoppo which is a foil full of fried of different types.

panino pere o musso

The “pere o musso” panino: made with the fifth quarter ingredients.

Palermo: the capital of street food

In Palermo we find another rich series of recipes from arancina (final “a” for a strictly feminine name) to bread and panelle. Pane e panelle is a sandwich stuffed with chickpea pancakes, seasoned with oil, salt and lemon. One of the most famous street recipes are the panini ca meusa. That is bread  with a recipe reminiscent of the Roman coratella. Even in Palermo, therefore, a recipe of the fifth quarter dominates the scene. The sfincione is, instead, a tall and soft focaccia, with a dressing on top of your choice. Typical of Palermo is also the Polpo rosticciato (octopus), served in the street with lemon juice. Also in Palermo, similarly to Naples, there is a typical recipe similar to o’ pere o’ musso. They call it the Mussu e carcagnuolu.

Street food in Sardinia

Sardinia island is generous in street food choices. In addition to the classic sandwich with sausage or anything that you can pass to the barbeque, the recipes are varied. The Sardinian esplanade is a kind of stuffed bread. The Sardinian street food par excellence is the panadas which is a baked pie with various cuts of meat or vegetables.

fritto di mare street food bari

Fried food is typical in many maritime cities in Italy like Bari, Napoli, Venezia and Genova

Bari and its street food

The focaccia barese is one of the street food to try. It is precisely a focaccia with fresh tomatoes and olives on top. Panzerotti is another irresistible fry-recipe with a filling of tomato and mozzarella. Fried polenta also for Bari, but here it takes the name of sgagliozza. Obviously octopus, sea urchins, and other fish that, clearly in Bari is not lacking. In the other capital of Puglia, Lecce, street food changes into puccie, rustici and pettole. The rustico is a pie in layers , full of mozzarella cheese, tomato and besciamel. La puccia invece è una specie di pane, fatto apposta per essere farcito. The rustic is an overlap of puff pastry, mozzarella, tomato and béchamel. The puccia instead is a kind of bread that you can fill up.

lampredotto firenze street food

Panino con il lampredotto: a must-to-try when in Florence

Florence and street food

In Florence you certainly can not ignore the stuffed schiacciata. The schiacciata is a very soft focaccia with oil. Another recipe to try at least once in your life is the sandwich with lampredotto. Lampredotto is bovine tripe, obtained from a specific part of the stomach. They cook it stewed or drier, it is delicious. So, even Florence do not like to waste ingredients creating its own fifht quarter recipe.

crescentine e tigelle bologna street food

Crescentine and tigelle goes perfectly with cheeses and salami in Emilia Romagna region

Street food in Bologna

Bologna is mortadella. Bologna is piadina and many other delicacies. Traditional street food, however, comes to us from some traditional and high-level recipe books, such as The Artusi. The fried  fifth quarter is always present. The traditional focaccia, which corresponds to the schiacciata (they call it crescente) and which represents a bit of a fridge-emptyer. In fact, it includes a mix of various ingredients. The fried dumpling (gnocco fritto) is a kind of savory pancake of water and flour. You can season it in various and delicious ways, even with jams and chocolate spreads. In Modena, on the other hand, they cooks the tigelle, which are a kind of swollen crescentine. On tigelle you can spread soft cheeses and sumptuously lay delicious cold cuts.

arancina palermo sicilia street food

O scartoss de pesce, the amazing street food in Venice. Taste it while walking along the amazing canals of Venice

Venice and its street food

Street food is also popular in Venice. Everyone knows the famous cicchetti. Amazing choice for the aperitivo time in Venice. One of the oldest typical dishes, however, is the scartosso de pesse (fried fish wrap). Obviously in Venice you eat fish, this is a mixed fry that also includes some shellfish and a few slices of fried polenta. The scartosso is to Venice as the cuoppo is to Naples. The similarity with Naples does not end here, in fact in Venice there is mozzarella in carrozza. Differently from Naples, where they use stale bread to guard mozzarella, in Venice they use sandwich bread.

What about Milan?

Milan is cosmopolitan, so street food differs greatly, it becomes refined, gourmet and looks to the East. Green light to sushi, poke bars, kabab and a myriad of small bistros from Puglia, Sicily, Naples, Rome … in short, in Milan you can find all the aforementioned specialties.


The tramezzino is a creative street food recipe you can find all over Italy

Turin and street food

Even Turin is nowadays a cosmopolitan city and it seems that street food is above all oriented towards exotic recipes. However, Turin citizens are proverbially elegant and usually eat sitting. But we cannot mention a local creation that become famous throughout Italy: the tramezzino. This is the Italianization of the sandwich in the good sense of the term. The Nebiolo family invented it, returning from the States in 1926. They decided to create this flat sandwich without crust, stuffed in amazing ways. In those days, the Futurist movement and technological progress were changing style and habits. This tasty snack fitted perfectly into the taste of the time. The name tramezzino is due to the great Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio. Recalling the hunger-breaking function: in the middle between breakfast and lunch. Tramezzino is, perhaps, the most consumed Italian street food without regional border.

best gelato in rome gunther tour

In a top quality gelato you can see the link with the basic ingredients. Gelato is dense, not too flat, with natural color and seasonal.

Grand final: gelato!

This is the perfect end of every street food experience in Italy. From North to South, from East to West, Island included (Sardinia and Sicily and all the others). Gelato is a dream in Italy, the happy end for all meals. The comfort food par excellence and one of the most popular street foods. You cannot miss it. But look for quality. There are millions of ice-cream shops and very few artisan gelato shops (gelateria artigianale). To discover the difference follow our blog or come on board of our Espresso, Gelato and Tiramisù food tour of Rome.