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Where to get the best Italian cuisine

Any region you travel to in Italy has its own distinctive cuisine. Most local restaurants will serve a mixture of national and local dishes and – international food chains aside – you're in for a genuine taste of this country. If you wash down your snack or meal with some local wine, you'll start to feel right at home in this foodie paradise of a country.

In some places the restaurant may look unassuming, but that doesn't mean the establishment won't be serving some of the best dishes around. You could of course follow your nose or ask the locals, but for a bit of insight before you choose to book, read on to find out about the very best Italian cuisine.

A day at the beach

Sometimes the best examples of regional cuisine can be found in local delis or food stores.

If you're planning on spending a day at the beach, instead of going to all the bother of getting dressed and finding a restaurant for lunch, you can assemble a fantastic picnic from a wonderful assortment of local food goodies.

If you're in Tuscany, look out for some scrummy fennel sausage. Match this with a fresh ciabiatta roll, olives and ripe, juicy tomatoes and you'll have a marriage made in heaven. Local cheeses are always great, and taleggio and creamy gorgonzola from the north are delectably moreish. Lovers of goat's cheese will adore Caciocavallo in the south. You'll also discover some wonderful hams, across the whole country.

Any of the seaside towns along the Neapolitan Riviera will supply you with a fantastic homemade pizza for your beachside feast, just make sure you remember to include a bottle of local lemonade, or limoncello for a boozy tipple. The Campania Felix local produce shop in Sorrento is a good place to start your picnic mission.

Regional varieties

Thousands of words have been written in praise of Italian food, and it's only by eating the produce in the region where it originates that you'll experience the very best tastes.

Your pizza in Naples will taste much better than one in Venice, whereas the Venetians swear by their version of risi e bisi – a simple Italian risotto. Granted that rice and peas doesn't sound much to write home about, but never repeat this to a Venetian. This dish is flavoursome, especially when little morsels of pancetta – smoky bacon – are added to the mix.

While you'll find pasta throughout the whole of Italy, you'll be offered a greater selection of rice based dishes in the north. Travelling on the train between Milan and Turin you'll be able to spot acres of rice fields.

Words to the wise

Whichever region you're staying in, if you try a local restaurant ask the waiter what's on the specials board. This is where the day's best menu suggestions are advertised.

Seafood restaurants on the coast will list the best of the day's catch that's been prepared to epicurean heights and listed on these boards. Similarly, if the restaurant is in Tuscany, you might find a tasty boar stew advertised once the game season has started.

Some of the best dishes in Italy are deceptively simple in appearance but complex in taste. Pasta con pesto, or pasta with pesto, is filling and delicious. As long as the pesto and pasta is homemade, you'd never realise that this sauce is only made from basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and parmesan cheese. Its taste varies from region to region and you'll find almonds rather than pine nuts in Sicily or more spice and pimentos in the Neapolitan Riviera.

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