Italian food needs no introduction. The country’s staple dishes conquered the world long ago and there’s no city worth its salt without its fair share of restaurants cooking their own versions of timeless classics like pizza, risotto or pasta. Some add a local twist, others go by the book. One thing is for sure though, these dishes never taste as good as they do in Italy.
There is nothing like the original and a slice of bread dipped in some olive oil with some ripe tomatoes on the side, basil leaves and a few bites of mozzarella may sound like too simple a dish but it is this combination of fresh ingredients complementing one another that elevates Italian cuisine. For Italian chefs can cook the freshest ingredients, produced locally and following recipes passed on from generation to generation.
It seems every city has its own specialty, turning the whole of Italy into a foodie heaven. Napoli is all about the pizza Margharita. Bologna is the place to go for pasta alla Bolognese. Milan, on its part, can claim the infamous Veal Milanese but it is also a great spot to indulge in all the different tastes Italy has to offer.
Here’s our five picks to get a taste of authentic Italian recipes and where to find them.
1. Cotoletta alla Milanese
Cotoletta alla milanese, or Veal Milanese, might just be Milan’s signature dish and it certainly is one of the tastiest. The traditional recipe is made of thinly breaded veal cutlet cooked with bone and fried in clarified butter. Legend has it that the dish originated as early as the 12th century and it is said to have inspired many similar dishes around the world, like the Austrian Wiener Schnitzel made out of pork or the American Chicken Milanese. In our book though, Milan remains the one place to go for some authentic cotoletta.
Le Tournedos is a restaurant that specializes in Milan staples and happens to serve a great cotoletta alla milanese. You better be hungry though as the one we ordered almost snuck out of its plate. The dish is usually served with additional tomato spaghetti but you can skip that part to focus on the cutlet instead, which will fill your appetite alright. Le Tournedos also serves traditional Milanese risotto which they finish cooking in a wheel of Parmesan cheese, for a creamy experience bursting with flavours.
Have you ever ordered a calzone and wished it’d be smaller so that you could order a couple of them, all with different flavours? If so, you’ll be glad to discover that this is what panzerotti stand for. Small and hand-sized, panzerotti are basically deep fried pizza dough filled with a variety of flavours and they’re the perfect bite for a quick lunch or even for breakfast.
Luini is undoubtedly king when it comes to panzerotti in Milan. What used to be a small bakery has become one of the city’s landmarks where tourists queue on a daily. It even featured in some Japanese newspaper articles that are now hung on the front door. The queue is fast though and you’ll forget all about it once you take a bite in one of the many recipes on offer, whether it be ham and mozzarella or tomatoes, olives and anchovies. Luini also serves sweet panzerotti but the dough was too thick for our liking and it tasted a little dull to us.
3. Osso Bucco
Another one of Milan’s signature dish, osso bucco alla milanese is a traditional veal dish cooked in meat broth and white wine. Its name can translate to hollow bone, as a reference to the piece of marrow bone for which the dish is famous for. Although eating marrow bone might sound like a repellent experience for some, the tenderness of the veal and the flavours of the marrow perfectly combine to create an unforgettable eating experience.
La Trattoria San Giacomo isn’t exactly in Milan. It is actually in the beautiful coastal town of Bellagio on the shore of Lake Como, an hour or so from Milan. Allow us to cheat for a bit though as the osso bucco served on the trattoria’s menu is cooked to perfection, with a side of tasty polenta. Although that restaurant alone might not warrant a trip to Bellagio, be sure to pay it a visit if you’re in the city and want to avoid the many tourist traps lining up in front of the pier.
Having said that Napoli makes the best pizza Margharita is one thing but it doesn’t mean that you can’t have great pizza in other Italian cities. Milan is proof of that. Visiting Italy without eating pizza at least once is an unreasonable endeavour anyway. Forget everything about over-complicated recipes and a list of ingredients that goes on forever because the timeless Italian pizza is made with a handful of carefully selected, fresh ingredients.
When you look for an authentic pizza experience in Milan, Pizza AM tops almost every list. That success isn’t accidental as the restaurant serves excellent pizza indeed. The menu is restricted to only a few classic pizza, such as the Margharita and the Napoletana, which goes to show that the chef only uses the freshest ingredients he can find. This is a local place we’re talking about though and a pretty small one on top of that so you should arrive early or expect to queue. If you do, the chef will bring you a glass of sparkling wine and a slice of focaccia to ease the wait, which only adds to the warm atmosphere of the place.
5. Mozzarella cheese
Okay, this isn’t a Milanese specialty then again. This cheese specialty originated in the Campania region before spreading out to the whole of Italy. Made from the milk of the Italian buffalo, the mozzarella di bufala has a mild taste and a uniquely lush texture. An even creamier version of the mozzarella would be the burrata cheese, made from mozzarella and cheese. There still isn’t anything Milanese about them, until we tell you that there is a mozzarella bar right in the middle of the city.
Obica Mozzarella Bar is a living dream for all mozzarella lovers as it offers to taste different varieties, from smoked mozzarella di bufalo to stracciatella di bufala. Let’s not forget the burrata with a creamy heart that melts under the fork. Mozzarella balls are served on their own but we recommend you add a side plate of prosciutto for a full-on experience your taste buds will be forever grateful for.