Food /
Food culture /
Food /
Flavors of Italy

The Most Popular Street Food from Italy’s 20 Regions

“Consumed on your feet, in a piazza or quite literally on the street, these are just some of the most popular sweet and salty street foods from the 20 Italian regions.”

Since the rise of social media and trendy food trucks, the concept of “street food” has been surrounded by buzz, but it’s certainly not a new concept–at least not in Italy. I still have fleeting flashes of my first trip to Italy in 1985 as a six year old, when trips to the market were for buying porchetta from a truck and pizza rossa (a classic flat-bread pizza with a scraping of tomato sauce), something I’d never eaten, let alone seen, in Australia at that time. Cut to almost 40 years later and because of global supermarket expansion–which Italy has not been immune to–many food markets across the country have gotten a little smaller. That being said, there are still a multitude of places (especially in southern capitals like Naples) where you can grab some food on the run as Italians have been doing for at least a couple of centuries: even those of the Roman Empire enjoyed food cooked and served outside at the “thermopolia”. Through the 1800s, most (if not the only) eateries to be found in poor neighborhoods, especially in densely-populated urban centers, were vendors whose street food–quick, hearty and inexpensive–could feed the masses (the flatbread, ancestor of pizza, was ubiquitous).

Nowadays, the beauty of street food is that it can be eaten at any time really–especially because these establishments are often open when sit down restaurants are shuttered. And like the rest of Italy’s cuisine, which is not homogenous in any way, the street food offering varies not only from region to region, but town to town. While you’ll find the most popular varieties of street food in the south, there isn’t a region that doesn’t lay claim to its own. Consumed on your feet, in a piazza or quite literally on the street, these are just some of the most popular sweet and salty street foods from the 20 Italian regions. 

EMILIA ROMAGNA – Piadina 

A simple flatbread which is filled and folded, the piadina romagnola is a versatile snack sold from kiosks across the region. Fillings range from savory to sweet, and one of the most classic combinations features a local soft, mild cheese called squacquerone, salty prosciutto and peppery arugula. A similar dough is used to create the gnocco fritto, a pastry parcel stuffed with cured meat and cheese, fried in oil until golden, puffy and crisp.

VENETO – Cicchetti

The Venetian version of tapas, cicchetti can be found in the city’s many bacari wine bars and are eaten as an inexpensive snack throughout the day, but most often at aperitivo time. Cicchetti come in many shapes, but are always easy to consume in just a couple of bites. Try small crostini topped with creamy baccalà mantecato (whipped salt-cod), blocks of polenta topped with seafood, mini meatballs or tiny sandwiches, all washed down in the traditional way with an ombra, a small glass of wine.

TRENTINO-ALTO ADIGE – Pretzel

Once a part of Austria, the South Tyrol province’s heritage lives on in the bakeries where pretzels are a local favorite. Strips of dough are interwoven into the distinctive knot shape and sprinkled with coarse grains of salt before being baked until darkly golden with a light, fluffy interior. Deliciously simple, they are best eaten fresh from the oven while strolling the picturesque streets of Bolzano.

FRIULI-VENEZIA GIULIA – Cevapčići

An eastern border with Slovenia brings a Balkan influence to the food of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and cevapčići are a prime example. Sold in the street food joints of Trieste, Udine and Gorizia, these skinless sausages of ground meat are seasoned with garlic, onion and paprika then cooked on a grill and served in a pita-style bread with a spicy ajvar sauce, a relish made of bell peppers and eggplant.

LIGURIA – Focaccia

A speciality of Genoa, focaccia is a golden flatbread topped with salt and drizzled with olive oil until shiny. The dough is characteristically dimpled with holes before baking to catch the oil and salt. Known to the locals as fugassa, each bakery in town has its own style, ranging from thick and spongy to crisp and crunchy. There are countless variations to try, and many bakers sell versions topped with olives, rosemary or onion.

PIEDMONT – Hazelnutty Chocolate

Turin has been Italy’s undisputed capital of chocolate for almost five centuries, and the region of Piedmont offers a whole range of cocoa and hazelnut creations to satisfy a sweet tooth. The city is renowned for gianduiotti, individually wrapped prism-shaped chocolates made with ground hazelnuts, but don’t miss the triple-layered cremino and the nocciolatini, whole hazelnuts coated in chocolate.

LOMBARDY – Biscotti & Nougat

Sweets abound in Lombardy, where the local hazelnuts and almonds are used to create an array of nougat and biscotti. The renowned torrone of Cremona can be hard and brittle or soft and chewy, while the Coppetta Valtellina sandwiches a combination of nuts and honey between two thin wafers. In these parts, you won’t find a festival without a truck or stand selling torrone. Brutti ma buoni (literally “ugly but good”) are a macaron-style biscuit made with ground nuts which originated in the region, along with the famous Amaretti di Saronno made with almonds and apricot kernels.

VAL D’AOSTA – Tegole Valdostane

A trip to Normandy in the 1930s by local pastry chefs is said to have inspired these typical biscuits from Val d’Aosta. Wafer-thin rounds are flavored with ground nuts and baked until crisp, then sometimes covered in chocolate. The combination of earthy hazelnuts and sweet almonds gives tegole their particular nutty flavor, and it’s hard to stop at one.

LAZIO – Supplì

A delectable combination of rice, ragù and mozzarella, rolled into a ball, bread crumbed and fried, classic Roman supplì are eaten throughout the day in the Eternal City. Best consumed straight from the fryer when the coating is crisp and the mozzarella heart is melted and oozing, forming a “telephone wire” string of cheese, an effect that gives the snack their full name: suppli al telefono.

UMBRIA – Crescia Ripiena

Umbria’s signature stuffed bread is perfect for a quick snack or lunch. The crescia dough, made from flour, water and yeast, is a thicker, softer cousin of the piadina. It is shaped into disks and cooked in a wood-fired oven; the pillowy rounds are then sandwiched together and stuffed with charcuterie, cheeses, salad or vegetables.

ABRUZZO – Panino con la Porchetta / Arrosticini

A large piece of deboned pork loin which is seasoned, rolled and tied before being slow-roasted in a wood oven, Abruzzo’s aromatic porchetta is best consumed in a panino, where the combination of melt-in-the-mouth meat and crunchy crackling needs just a rustic bread to soak up the juices. Grab a couple of arrosticini, slim skewers of mutton or lamb, on the side for the ultimate Abruzzese lunch.

MOLISE – Pampanella

Hailing from the tiny town of San Martino in Pensilis, pampanella are chunks of pork seasoned with garlic and a mix of sweet and hot peppers, then covered and slow-cooked until tender, with a splash of vinegar added at the end to bring extra zing. Originally cooked wrapped in vine leaves (pampini, from which the name comes), the meat is kept moist nowadays with dampened paper. The resulting spicy snack can be eaten hot or cold, either by itself or thrown into a sandwich.

LE MARCHE – Olive Ascolane

Named for the town of Ascoli Piceno, olive ascolane are plump green olives which are pitted and stuffed with a filling made of mixed ground meat (beef, pork and sometimes chicken), lemon zest and seasonings before being rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. Best eaten piping hot, they are usually served in a paper cone to be devoured on the go.

CAMPANIA – Pizza Fritta 

Shortages after World War II caused the traditional pizza of Naples to become an expensive luxury and the pizza fritta was born. Nicknamed “the pizza of the people”, the fried pizza used less costly ingredients such as ricotta, salami and pork cracklings and could be quickly flash-fried, avoiding the cost of wood for the pizza oven. Try it along with a cuoppo, a cone of mixed fried specialities like potato or rice croquettes, for a true taste of Neapolitan street food.

PUGLIA – Rustico Leccese

These small puff pastry snacks of Puglia can be found from Lecce to the Salento coast. The savory pockets are filled with a simple yet delicious combination of tomato, mozzarella and bechamel to produce a parcel with a crisp exterior and sumptuous interior. While rustici Leccese are best eaten while still warm from the oven, they are also a fabulous beach snack.

BASILICATA – Panzerotto Fritto

Found in bars and takeaway shops all over Basilicata, the panzerotto fritto is a deep-fried calzone which brings together three of the principal ingredients of the south: durum wheat flour, ripe tomatoes and cheese. While the basic version is filled with just mozzarella and tomato, the options are endless with combinations of capers, olives, prosciutto, ricotta and spinach–all popular choices.

CALABRIA – Panino Cu Satizzu

Reggio Calabria’s staple snack is a hearty treat of sausage and vegetables. Piping hot grilled sausage is combined in a panino with Mediterranean favorites like silky soft peppers, sweet tomatoes, caramelized local red onion from Tropea, tender slices of potato or eggplant, and fiery ‘nduja. The appetizing result is a celebration of southern flavors wrapped up in a single sandwich.

SICILY – Arancine/i

Sicily is known throughout the world for its arancine/i, large balls of rice which are filled, coated and fried. They can be round or conical (inspired by the shape of Mount Etna) and while the most common version is made with ragù, mozzarella and peas, there are multiple interpretations found across the island. Arancine/i are best consumed along with Sicily’s other favorite street food: pannelle, chickpea fritters served in a sandwich with a squeeze of lemon.

SARDEGNA – Seadas

Sardinian seadas are large circular ravioli made with a pastry of semolina flour and lard. They are filled with young, local pecorino cheese and tangy citrus zest, then deep-fried until crispy and served with a drizzle of honey. The finished dish is a perfect balance of sweet, sour and savory that showcases the wonderful produce of Sardinia.

TUSCANY – Lampredotto

Florence’s lampredotto kiosks are part of the very fabric of the city and you can’t leave town without sampling this beloved local sandwich. Tripe from the fourth stomach of the cow is boiled in broth until tender, chopped and seasoned, then packed into a panino with a spoonful of herby salsa verde or a dollop of spicy chili sauce.

Maria Pasquale is an award winning Italian-Australian food and travel writer based in Rome. Author of I Heart Rome, How to be Italian and The Eternal City, she is founder of popular lifestyle blog HeartRome and her adventures can be followed on Instagram @heartrome.