Europe & Britain | Food

Northern Italian food vs Southern Italian food: What's the difference? 

Loved around the world, Italian cuisine is famed as one of the very best in the world. While we all know and love Italian pizza and pasta, that’s just the surface of what this country has to offer. This small country may only be the size of California, but it has a diverse cuisine, with the Northern and Southern regions dishing up very different foods. While the Northern Italians love juicy lamb, creamy sauces, polenta and risotto, Southern Italians are famed for their pizza, tomato sauces, olive oil, and seafood. To get a better understanding of the Northern Italian vs Southern Italian food debate, we look at the differences in the cuisine and the best dishes to try in each region. Buon appetite!

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Is Northern or Southern Italian food better?

This is one of the most controversial questions you can ask about Italian food… But it gets even more complicated. Italy isn’t just about Northern vs Southern Italian food. The country is made up of 20 regions across the North, Central and South of Italy, each with its own unique dishes and specialities. Often, the debate isn’t about if Northern or Southern Italian food is better… it’s about if two neighbouring towns do it better! The people of each region take a lot of pride in their food, so we’re taking a deeper dive into the difference between Northern and Southern Italian food. 

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creamy pasta parmesan Italian food

Northern Italian Food

Northern Italian food is driven by the land. Many Northern regions have ideal land and mountain terrain that is ideal for raising cattle, sheep, and goats. Meats like beef and veal are key in Northern cuisine, along with buttery and creamy sauces. Cheese is all-important too. From pecorino, asiago, and gorgonzola to the mouthwatering Parmigiano-Reggiano, Northern Italians know their cheese.

If you’re eating traditional Northern Italian food, you’ll find lots of rich flavours and hearty soups and stews, succulent breaded veal cutlets. There’s also plenty of soul-warming risottos, polenta, and stuffed pasta, along with tasty hard sausages like salami and prosciutto. You’ll also get to sample some beautiful ingredients like truffles, chestnuts, and porcini mushrooms. 

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Food in the different regions of Northern Italy

Emilia Romagna

As the producers of Parmigiano Reggiano, Proscuitto di Parma, and fresh, hand-made pasta, the Emilia Romagna region is the icon of the culinary world. Some of their best dishes include Tagliatelle al Ragu and Lasagna Verde alla Bolognese.

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spaghetti and meat ragu Northern Italian food

Veneto

As the home of Amarone, sparkling Prosecco, fresh seafood, and the city of Venice, the Veneto region is an unmissable stop. You’ll also find lots of risotto, polenta, and cheeses like Asiago. Some of their most beloved dishes include Risotto all’Amarone and Baccalà Montecato.

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Liguria

This coastal region is famed for its beautiful Cinque Terre, along with its fresh basil and pesto, quality seafood, fluffy focaccia, and olive oil. Try a classic Pasta alla Genovese or Fritto Misto di Mare, a mix of fried seafood, often served in a cone.

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foccacia with herbs and lemon

Lombardy

Lombardy may be one of the most scenic regions in Italy, but it’s also one of the tastiest. It produces cheese like Gorgonzola, Tellegio, and Grana Padano, and butter, rice, polenta, and stuffed pasta are the order of the day here. Go for the Osso Buco or the Risotto alla Milanese.

Piedmont Region

The Piedmont region is famed for its white truffles, along with world-class wines, Piedmontese beef, and cheeses like Castelmango. Be sure to try their gnocchi and Brasato al Barolo.

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risotto Italian food

Friuli-Venezia Giulia

The cuisine here is influenced by lots of different cultures from Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria. You’ll find ingredients like pork sausages, fermented and pickled vegetables like turnips and sauerkraut, and their famous Proscuitto San Daniele and olive oil. Be sure to try the heartwarming Goulash Triestino and Gnocchi di Prugne.

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Aosta Valley

The Aosta Valley is another region influenced by Alpine cuisine from Switzerland and France. Their food is all about stewed beef and goat, different charcuterie like Jambon de Bosses ham, and cheeses like Fontina. Don’t miss out on fonduta, a rich cheese dip made from Fontina. You should also try Carbonade Valdostana and Zuppa alla Valpellinentze.

prosciutto Italian food

Trentino-Alto Adige

Dishing up a blend of Italian and German cuisine, this region in the Dolomites mountains has some of the most flavoursome food. Speciality ingredients include smoked Speck ham and cow and sheep’s milk cheeses. Be sure to try Canederli dumplings, Strangolapreti dumplings, and Spatzle Tirolesi.

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seafood cone Italy

Southern Italian Food

While Northern Italian food is all about the land, Southern Italian food embraces the sea. The Mediterranean plays a key role in Southern Italian cuisine and the sunny climate means there are lots of fresh herbs and vegetables, like olives, eggplant, basil and tomatoes. As you travel from Northern to Southern Italy, you’ll find the olive oil taking the place of butter and tomato sauces instead of creamy alfredo.

Southern Italy is also the inventor of the most popular Italian dish – pizza. Neapolitan pizza takes the best of Southern Italian ingredients (tomatoes, basil and mozzarella) and turns it into something magical. You can also expect to find other delicacies like anchovies, fish, sweet sausage, an abundance of olive oils, and crusty bread. 

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pizza

Food in the different regions of Southern Italy

Campania

Campania is the home of Neapolitan Pizza, so you know they’ve got the best buffalo mozzarella. They’re also known for their fresh seafood caught straight off the Amalfi Coast, especially their tasty clams. After finishing your fill of pizza, go for a Caprese salad or Spaghetti alle Vongole.

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Sicily

This gorgeous island region takes classic Italian ingredients like pasta, olive oil, and oregano, and mixes them with flavours like saffron and pistachios to create mouthwatering dishes. You’ll also find lots of fresh seafood and produce harvested from the nutrient-rich volcanic soils near Mount Etna. Be sure to try Arancini and Caponata… And have cannoli for dessert!

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cannoli with raspberries

Puglia

Famed for its incredible seafood, lamb, pasta, and Burrata cheese, Puglia is sure to satisfy any visitor. The region also produces 40% of Italy’s olive oil, so it’s the perfect place to sample some fine olive oils. Be sure to try dishes such as Puccia and Panzerotti.

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Basilicata

While the northern Emilia Romagna region is the king of egg pasta, Basilicata is the master of durum wheat pasta. Their cuisine also features lots of lamb and delicious cheeses like Pecorino di Filiano and Cacioricotta. They also produce Caciocavallo Podolico, Italy’s most expensive cheese made from Podolico cow’s milk. We love to eat Spezzatino di Agnello and Pasta Mollicata.

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seafood pasta Southern Italian food

Sardinia

This Mediterranean region has a very unique cuisine, with traditional dishes like Porcheddu (whole roasted suckling pig), salted fish eggs, and tasty sheep’s milk cheeses. Go for dishes like Suppa Cuata and the sweet Seadas.

Abruzzo

This region is a delicious blend of both inland and coastal areas, where lamb goes hand in hand with anchovies and salt cod. You’ll also get a touch of spice here with fresh and dried chillies popping up in many dishes. Try the Pasta alla Chitara, the Crespelle in Brodo, and the Arrosticini, grilled lamb skewers.

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Southern Italian food by the water

Molise

Molise food is one of the lesser-known cuisines to travellers, but it’s well worth sampling. You’ll find rich dishes featuring meats like lamb and goat, and they also make some mouthwatering pasta. Go for Fusilli alla Molisana and Pampanella.

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Calabria

If you like bold flavours like pepperoncino chilli peppers, onions, and salami, you’ll have a blast in Calabria. The region is also known for its fresh seafood and great cheeses. Be sure to try the Ravioli Calabrese and Maccheroni col ferretto.

What are your favourite Northern and Southern Italian foods? Let us know in the comments below…

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