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10 “Italian” Foods That You Won’t Find in Italy

by Kristen Gilbert

October 21, 2016

4 minute read

You’ve been fantasizing about the time when you get to visit Italy for a chance to taste real garlic bread or sink your fork into a glorious plate of authentic Italian spaghetti and meatballs. We are sorry to tell you that unless you visit a very touristy restaurant (never on our tours!), you will not find some of your favorite “Italian” dishes in Italy. In fact, some  foods (especially Italian-American) make Italians want to cry. They take their food very seriously and it hurts them to see what others have done with their great, great, great grandmother’s recipes. Let’s take a look.

Warning: You will be hungry after reading this post. Go get a snack. We’ll wait.

Marinara sauce

We realize this news comes as a bit of a shock, but we assure you it is true. Most dishes in Italy are not smothered in red sauce. In a few instances marinara sauce is used, but mostly in dishes prepared with shellfish and or olives.

Pepperoni pizza

Pizza in Italy is completely different than it is in the United States. It has a very thin crust and can be topped with a variety of things like thinly sliced potato, anchovies, sausages, prosciutto, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, broccoli rabe and mozzarella, but not pepperoni. Prosciutto is much more common on pizza.

Garlic bread

Bread in Italy is almost always plain and served with olive oil instead of butter. Bruschetta is the closest thing to garlic bread since it’s rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil before toasting.

Spaghetti and meatballs

This one really hurts. What could be more Italian than spaghetti and meatballs? This cannot be! And yet, it is. Italians do eat meatballs, but they’re never served over a bed of spaghetti. They’re a different course altogether and are enjoyed on their own.

Italian salad dressing

Italians would look at you as if you had lost your mind if you asked for Italian dressing in Italy. Salads there are dressed with olive oil, vinegar (sometimes balsamic), salt and sometimes pepper. The end. In restaurants, your salad is brought to you naked and you are expected to dress it yourself with an oil and vinegar set they provide to you.

Chicken Parmesan

You’ll have to wait until you’re home before you can have your chicken parm! Only eggplant gets the parmigiana treatment and not veal, chicken or meatballs.

Fettuccini Alfredo

Italians eat something slightly similar to this called Fettuccine al burro, but it’s much lighter and simpler than the heavy cream sauce Americans are accustomed to. Pasta is dressed with just butter and cheese without the cream for a lighter dish that’s just as tasty without the heart attack.

No chicken on pasta

For the love of all that is decent in this world, chicken does not belong on pasta. These are two very separate dishes. Fish on pasta is fine and is served broken up into small pieces rather than served on top in one piece.

Rainbow cookies

You know those pretty little cookies called Tricolor Cookies? They are the creation of Italian immigrants who made the cookies to look like the Italian flag.


Not Italian. Even though you can find this in every restaurant in little Italy, Italians think of decadent desserts like cheesecake as a bit of overkill for every day eating. They opt instead for lighter things like cannoli, fruit tarts and fresh fruit like pineapple.

When Italian immigrants depart for other lands in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they had to adapt to using local ingredients. This changed the way they cooked and created a fusion of native ingredients with traditional Italian recipes, sometimes even creating something entirely new. While both types of cuisine are certainly wonderful, they are not the same. Enjoy your “Italian” favorites, but prepare your taste buds for an authentic Italian experience you’ll never forget.

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