In Italy, mealtime is not just a way to slake hunger, it is the epicenter of the day's events. Though pasta and wine are the benchmarks of most Italian restaurants, the country's cuisine is really the amalgamation of many distinctive territorial styles. Whether in Naples, Rome, Sicily or up north in Bologna, you can get a wide array of renditions of traditional dishes along with original items that help define the region.
Tuscany is the country's center for olive oil, with nearly every dish in the area revolving around its inclusion. It is also home of the fertile Chianti vineyards where Italy's signature wine is created, while Florence provides its namesake to Tuscany's two most popular local dishes - bistecca alla florentina (steaks coated in olive oil and other herbs) and tripe florentina (beef tripe).
Though perhaps not the most distinctive style, the chefs of Naples offer up a million different kinds of the city's feature dish - the pizza pie. First developed in the mid 1800s to celebrate the formation of the kingdom of Italy, it originally used ingredients to mirror the colors of the new Italian flag, inadvertently creating one of the world's most famous menu items. The wines here, while not as famous, perhaps should be: many restaurants in Italy stock the Falerno, which has been impressing drinkers for over 2000 years with its flowery taste and sallow color, while the Lacrima Christi is by far the local favorite.
In Milan, you can find a hearty, refined menu that shows the influence of its German neighbors to the north - the finest local dish is a close relative to Wiener schnitzel. If you are looking for pasta, its best to search elsewhere - few dishes in this region include it. Instead, Italian restaurants located in the shadows of the Alps offers large portions of meat and fresh vegetables swimming in heavy sauces and rich creams.
Pasta is certainly the dish that defines dining in Italy, and the headquarters for its production is the Emilia-Romagna region, primarily in the cities of Parma, Bologna and Ravenna. Tortellini, macaroni and lasagna all call this part of Italy home. Parma is known mostly for its prosciutto dishes - thin strips of ham cured sweet and succulent. The entire region includes many restaurants in Italy known for their innovative and unconventional wines, such as the Trebbiano and Lambrusco.
The Italian foods of Sicily are mostly known for rich spices, intriguing variations of spaghetti dishes and flavorful deserts. This part of the country is top of the line when it comes to cannoli and gelato.
Another fine component of traditional Italian cuisine is found in Genoa, well known for having the equivalent of fast food restaurants in Italy. Focaccia is one of the staple Italian foods and can be found most anywhere in the country, but never better than in Genoa.
Italian restaurants in Rome are often the least individualistic - as the largest city in the country, many chefs and restaurateurs have made the move here, offering egalitarian menus from all across Italy. But what it lacks in local flavor it makes up for in wines: grapes collected in the nearby hill towns have for centuries been regarded as some of the finest in the world. Part of the allure of dining in Italy, however, is that it is almost impossible to go wrong - no matter which region of the country you find yourself in.