Sorry, But Your Italian Food Doesn't Exist in Italy

by Christopher Atwood

When you go to Italy, how will you know you're noshing on actual authentic Italian food?  It shocks many Americans that what they think of as Italian food doesn’t at all exist in Italy.

The pizza? Yes.

The pasta? Yes. 

The chicken parm? Well, no.

In Rome, you won’t find spaghetti and meatballs. You will find pasta alla carbonara. In Florence, you won’t find pepperoni pizza. You will find la fiorentina—Tuscan steak. In Venice, you won’t find fettuccine alfredo. You will find squid-ink risotto.

It turns out that authentic Italians food is not the same as Italian-American cooking. Italy is more like a federation of different countries than a uniform place. In fact, Italy is made up of 20 regions – each with their own histories, dialects and foods. The food you’ll find in Naples has nothing to do with the food you’ll try in Milan.

To help you make sense of the difference between American “Italian” and the food in Italy, below you'll find our helpful primer to authentic Italian food. Read all the way to the bottom to find our ULTIMATE PIZZA GUIDE TO ROME.


When Americans think of Italian restaurants, spaghetti and meatballs spring to mind. Italians find this very funny, since in Italy you won’t find meatballs on a pile of pasta. Italians serve polpette on their own – either with or without tomato sauce. Depending where you are in Italy, you can find “meatballs” made from eggplant, zucchini or even seafood. Read all the way to the bottom to find our ULTIMATE PIZZA GUIDE TO ROME.

Italian Meatballs


There is no “Parmesan” cheese in Italy – at least not the stuff in the green can. In Italy, you’ll find parmigiano reggiano. Called the king of cheeses, parmigiano is produced near Parma. The cheese is aged for at least 10 months. In Italy, fresh parmigiano gets grated on pasta or is an ingredient in savory dishes. Despite being a staple of Italian-American cuisine, "chicken parmesan" is nowhere to be found in Italy. Instead, Italians nosh o n parmigiana – eggplant layered with tomato sauce and cheese.

Parmigiano Wheel


Lasagna – layered with red sauce and ricotta – is common in Italian-American kitchens. Many Italian immigrants came to the U.S. from Italy’s South. Not coincidentally, Southern Italian lasagna is made with tomatoes and ricotta. American lasagna is actually a Southern Italian offshoot. For most Italians, lasagne comes from the northern city of Bologna. Bologna-style lasagneare made with spinach pasta, meat sauce, and grated parmigiano. If you order lasagna” in Italy, don’t be surprised when green pasta lands on your plate.

Lasagne alla Bolognese


Italy is synonymous with pizza. Chewy crust. Zesty tomatoes. Regional varieties of pizza abound in Italy. In Naples, you’ll find the world-famous margherita – a marriage of mozzarella, tomato and basil. In Sicily, you’ll nibble on sfincione, a thick “pizza” with no tomatoes. And, in Rome, you’ll encounter thin-crust, crispy pizzas. Traditionally, Italians do not serve pizza by the slice. You get a whole pizza to yourself. Fair warning: “pep peroni” in Italian means bell peppers. If you want spicy salami on your pizza, you’ll need to ask for a pizza alla diavola. 

Neapolitan Pizza

There is no one Italy, there are many flavors to Italy. Click the image below to watch our ULTIMATE PIZZA GUIDE TO ROME:


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