One of my favorite things about Italy is that every single region has its own specialty foods on the menu. If you’re traveling all the way to Italy, you’ll want to try the foods that are unique to each area you’ll be visiting. I don’t recommend asking for a bistecca alla fiorentina if you’re in Rome or pasta alla carbonara if you’re in Venice (as you’re likely to get some eyerolls). Do your homework and have an idea in advance as to what each area offers as its culinary specialties (you definitely don’t want to miss out on something unique and special!)
So, you may be wondering, what are the local specialties in the Cinque Terre?
While focaccia has become quite international, Liguria (the region in which the Cinque Terre villages are located) is its true birthplace. Even within Liguria recipes for focaccia vary. For example, in Genoa focaccia is lighter and more bread-like, in Recco it’s very thin and filled with stracchino (a soft, mild cheese) and in the Cinque Terre our version tends to be more Spezzino (similar to that made in the nearby city of La Spezia). Whichever way you find it, it’s pretty delicious. There’s a plethora of topping options so you could potentially eat focaccia each day you’re here and still not tire of it!
Our region also boasts pesto as its own creation. Something about this concoction made from fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmigiano, pecorino cheese, olive oil and salt is incredibly addictive. When others aren’t looking, I secretly use fresh pesto as a dip on bread (shhhhhhh!). You’ll find fresh pesto sold by weight (by the way, there’s no comparison between fresh pesto and what you’ll find in a jar) in many of the local alimentari (small grocery markets) or you’ll find it served in just about every restaurant or trattoria in our area. Pesto is usually paired with trofie (characteristic pasta from this area, they look like little twists and are served al dente) or trenette (which look similar to spaghetti). Don’t be surprised if your pasta al pesto is served with potatoes and/or green beans, it’s actually how most locals eat it!
- FRESH SEAFOOD & (in particular) ANCHOVIES
We are located directly on the sea, so it should come as no surprise that seafood is a local specialty. Don’t shy away from the acciughe (anchovies) just because the word makes you think of the tin can version. Anchovies from the Cinque Terre (and in particular, from Monterosso) are famous throughout Italy. You’ll find anchovies in just about every variation imaginable here: stuffed, fried, cured in lemon and olive oil, salted and more. One of the most popular versions is fried and served in a cono d’asporto (a handy take-away cone, it’s street food at its finest!). Other local seafood specialties include muscoli ripieni (stuffed mussels), calimari, branzino (sea bass), and orata (sea bream), just to name a few.
A savory local specialty made from chickpea (a.k.a. garbanzo bean) flour, water, salt and olive oil. You’ll find farinata sold in the little focaccia places throughout the Cinque Terre. It’s thin and almost crepe-like and while you can eat it plain (do ask for it to be warmed up if it’s not hot out of the oven) you can also find it with toppings. You’ll see most Italians ordering it with either onion or stracchino cheese but some places have become inventive and will offer it slathered in pesto or with other toppings. For some people farinata is an acquired taste. For me, it was love at first bite.
This is a popular digestive with locals and once you’re here and see the gorgeous lemons that grow year round you’ll understand why. The ingredients are simple: fresh lemon peel (from local lemons), pure alcohol, water and sugar. Many locals make their own (for their own family & friends to drink) but you can purchase a bottle at many of the shops or simply have a glass after dinner at any restaurant or bar.
- CINQUE TERRE D.O.C. WHITE WINE
The Cinque Terre is famous for its dry white wine. The grapes used to make the local wine are harvested from the vineyards clinging to the cliffs throughout the Cinque Terre (I recommend going on a hike through the vineyards so that you can really appreciate all the hard work that goes into cultivating the grapes here!). In order to guarantee the authenticity of the origin of the grapes, the D.O.C. symbol (denominazione di origine controllata) should be present on the bottle (that way you know you’re actually drinking the real deal and not just table wine from who knows where). The Cinque Terre is not famous for reds and only in recent years have a few vintners started to offer a Cinque Terre red wine (but this is simply a table wine without the D.O.C. symbol).
- CINQUE TERRE SCIACCHETRA’
This is the scarce, prestigious and pricey dessert wine made from partially dried Cinque Terre D.O.C. grapes. The large quantity of grapes required to make just one bottle of sciacchetrà helps explain the hefty price tag. This sweet wine is the pride and joy of locals. If you are offered a glass (or bottle) you should feel very, very flattered!
As we say in Italy, buon apetito!
-Cinque Terre Insider