Ten of the most delicious street foods in Italy

As two Italian cities were named on a list of the world's top street food hotspots, we take a look at some of the most delicious classic Italian snacks to eat on the go.

Ten of the most delicious street foods in Italy
Photo: Unsplash/Sarah Wardlaw

Italian cuisine might be more closely associated with long, lazy sit-down lunches with multiple courses, stretching out over many enjoyable hours. But Italiy also excels at street food, a fact that's just been recognised in a new index published by travel site My Late Deals.

Rome and Palermo were named as some of the top 20 street food cities in the world, alongside places like Bangkok, Berlin and Sydney. Rome took 6th place on the list, while Palermo was 16th.

The cities were ranked on the number of street food vendors, affordability, number of street food tours or experiences, and sanitation.

Wondering what exactly Italian street food looks like? Here's a round-up of just ten of the best-loved sweet and savoury dishes to go from around the country.

Pizza al taglio

Origin: Rome

We all think we know Italian pizza, but Rome has another way of doing it. Pizza al taglio, or pizza by the slice, is baked in large rectangular trays and cut up, often with scissors, and slices are sold by weight on the streets of Rome.






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Origin: Sicily

These crunchy deep-fried rice balls, usually stuffed with meat ragu, cheese, and peas, originated in Sicily in the 10th century and are now known around the world. They remain the pride of Sicilian cuisine and make the perfect snack.






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READ ALSO: Sicilian arancini listed in the Oxford English Dictionary


Origin: Rome

Rome's favourite budget-friendly snack, trapizzino is what you get when you turn a slice of pizza bianca into a sandwich. It's slit down the middle, almost like a pita bread, then filled with your choice of delicous filling; popular choices include polpette in sugo (meatballs in tomato sauce) or parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant parmigiana) While some Italian street foods date back centuries or longer, trapizzino was only invented in 2008 by a local chef – and it quickly became a fashionable favourite.






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Olive Ascolana

Le Marche

These breaded olives, stuffed with meat and fried, originated in the town of Ascoli Piceno in the southern part of the Le Marche region. The particular green olive used is a special variety found only in this area. They're a staple at wine bars and trattorie in the Le Marche region, and can often be bought in cartoccio (a paper cone) to eat on the go.






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Porchetta Romana

Origin: Ariccia

Pok stuffed with garlic, rosemary and other herbs and slowly roasted on a spit, then sliced and sold on a panino (sandwich) or by the kilo from food trucks. It's popular all throughout Italy, but it originated in Ariccia, near Rome, hence the name.

READ ALSO: Thank the ancient Romans for 'street food'


Origin: Florence

The fourth and final stomach of a cow may not sound immediately appetising, but when in Florence it's the must-try local street food; slowly simmered in a herb-infused tomato broth and served on a bun. You'll see Florentines buying their panino con lampredotto from vans around the city centre; and we strongly recommend you give it a try.






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Origin: Sicily

If you like falafel, try these crunchy, golden fried chickpea fritters, which can be eaten alone or on a bread roll like a sandwich. Like so many Sicilian specialties, they're thought to have Arab origins.

Sfogliatella riccia

Origin: Campania

These crunchy shells of flaky, ricotta-filled pastry are the ultimate sweet snack. The name refers to a thin layer, or leaf, because of the layered effect of the pastry, however sfogliatelle are far from light. The rich pastry is traditionally made with lard, then filled with thick, cinnamon and lemon-spiked ricotta. Made well, they're worth every single calorie. They're beloved in Naples and the surrounding region, and they're best when freshly baked.






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Origin: Sicily

One of the most classic Italian desserts, cannoli are known worldwide – but you'll only get the real thing in Palermo. The pastry is shaped into a tube and fried, then filled with sweet ricotta, often with chocolate chips, all topped off with pieces of candied orange peel and cherries. Warning: this gets messy, so take a few extra napkins!






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Gelato brioche

Origin: Sicily

While there's no doubt gelat is one of Italy's best-selling street foods, here's another way to eat it. Brioche buns stuffed with gelato are the go-to snack or even breakfast treat during summer in Sicily. Said to originally hail from Messina, they're now eaten all over the island and also found in parts of Calabria and Salento. While you can just order the brioche on its own, you'll generally be encouraged to pile it high with plenty of gelato.






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READ ALSO: The common Italian food myths you need to stop believing

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OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

Michelin-starred food has its merits but it doesn't fit with the Italian tradition of cuisine, argues Silvia Marchetti and some frustrated Italian chefs. There's nothing better than a plate of steaming lasagne, she says.

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

I’ve never been a great fan of sophisticated dishes, twisted recipes and extravagant concoctions that leave you wondering what is it you’re actually eating. T-bone steak with melted dark chocolate as topping, burrata cheese with apples, spaghetti with blueberry sauce aren’t my thing.

Hence, I never eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, and it’s not because of the exorbitant bill – paying €200 for a salad simply because it was grown in the private garden of a chef which he personally sprinkles with mountain water each morning, is a bit over the top.

I just don’t think such fancy food has anything to do with the real Italian tradition.

The ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as the name suggests, was invented in France by chef Paul Bocuse. And it’s ‘nouvelle’ – new – not anchored to past traditions.

The philosophy of serving small morsels of chic food on humongous plates as if they were works of art is the exact opposite of what Italian culinary tradition is all about.

We love to indulge in platefuls of pasta or gnocchi (and often go for a second round), and there are normally three courses (first, second, side dish, dessert and/or coffee), never a 9 or 12-course menu as served at Michelin establishments (unless, perhaps, it’s a wedding).

Too many bites of too many foods messes with flavours and numbs palates, and at the end of a long meal during which you’ve tasted so many creative twists you can hardly remember one, I always leave still feeling hungry and unsatisfied. 

So back home, I often prepare myself a dishful of spaghetti because Michelin pasta servings often consist in just one fork portion artistically curled and laid on the dish. In fact, in my view Michelin starred cuisine feeds more the eye than the stomach.

The way plates are composed, with so much attention to detail, colour, and their visual impact, seems as if they’re made to show-off how great a chef is, than as succulent meals to devour. I used to look at my dish flabbergasted, trying to make out what those de-constructed ingredients were and are now meant to be, and then perplexed,

I look at the chef, and feel as if I’m talking to an eclectic painter who has created a ‘masterpiece’ with my dinner. I’m not saying Michelin starred food is not good, there are some great chefs in Italy who have heightened a revisited Italian cuisine to the Olympus of food, but I just don’t like it nor understand it.

There’s nothing greater than seeing a plate of steaming lasagne being brought to the table and knowing beforehand that my taste buds will also recognise it as such, and enjoy it, rather than finding out it’s actually a sweet pudding instead.

More than once, after a 4-hour Michelin meal with a 20-minute presentation of each dish by the chef, the elaborate food tasted has given me a few digestion problems which lasted all night long.

Michelin-starred food has started to raise eyebrows in Italy among traditional chefs, and is now the focus of a controversy on whether it embodies the authentic Italian culinary experience. 

A Milanese born and bred, Cesare Battisti is the owner of restaurant Ratanà, considered the ‘temple’ of the real risotto alla Milanese.

He has launched a crusade to defend traditional Milanese recipes from what he deems the extravagance and “contamination” of Michelin-starred cuisine. “Michelin-starred experiments are mere culinary pornography. Those chefs see their own ego reflected in their dishes. Their cooking is a narcissistic, snob act meant to confuse, intimidate and disorientate eaters”. 

Arrigo Cipriani, food expert and owner of historical trattoria Harry’s Bar in Venice, says Michelin-starred cuisine is destroying Italy’s real food tradition, the one served inside the many trattorias and historical osterias scattered across the boot where old recipes, and cooking techniques, survive.

“Tasting menus are made so that clients are forced to eat what the chef wants, and reflect the narcissistic nature of such chefs. Italian Michelin-starred cuisine is just a bad copy cat of the French one”, says Cipriani.

I believe we should leave French-style cuisine to the French, who are great at this, and stick to how our grannies cook and have taught us to prepare simple, abundant dishes. At least, you’ll never feel hungry after dinner.