Italian food is one of the most popular cuisines in Australia – yet what you consider to be real Italian food may not be as authentic as you think. For example, spaghetti with meatballs, and macaroni and cheese aren't traditional Italian dishes at all – they're American adaptations of Italian food. In Italy, meatballs are juicy morsels that don't usually come with spaghetti or cheese, while macaroni and cheese is a very distant cousin of the the Italian maccheroni gratinati – a rich, baked dish with béchamel, egg yolks and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Find out what real Italian food is with this guide to the culture's cuisine.
The first thing you need to know about Italian food is that it is regional, meaning certain parts of the country specialise in particular dishes. This is usually because each area has access to different produce. For example, the Peninsula was influenced by invading barbaric tribes, who brought across eggplant, ice cream and couscous.
Here's an overview of some famous regions and the foods which have come from them:
Naples is the birthplace of Italy's most beloved pizza – the margherita. Traditionally, this is topped with tomatoes or tomato sauce, along with fresh mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil and torn basil leaves. Rumour has it that this pizza style was created in 1889 for Queen Margherita of Savoy as it resembled the colours in Italy's flag.
Bologna can claim the lasagne as its own, which fills its lasagne with ground pork or beef bolognese, handmade noodles, béchamel and generous toppings of white wine, carrot, tomato, butter and a healthy dose of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The Tuscans are well known for rich, simple food that favours fresh ingredients. Classic Tuscan food tends to shun fancy sauces, opting for simpler additives like wine and olive oil to bring out the natural flavours of the produce. Perhaps that's why one of their classic appetisers is antipasto – a simple mixed plate of cured meats, cheese, little circles of crusty bread, pâtés and other small culinary gems.
Tuscany is one of the few places in the world lucky enough to have ideal conditions for very rare truffles (the mushroom kind, not chocolate). These very expensive fungi have two variations – black (rare) and white (very rare) – but Tuscany is home to both!
An Italian island, Sicily has a few unique dishes, different from its mainland neighbours. Sicily's food history is extremely complex as the land has been governed by Arabs and Normans, just to name a few. Some common favourites include the ricotta pastry treat, cannoli, the sugary iced drink, granita, and the delicious fried rice balls, arancini.
Like Sicily, Sardinian cooking is complex as it has been influenced by the Arabs, Phoenicians, Romans and Spaniards. Meat, cheese and pasta are common, although the island makes extensive use of seafood too. If the thought of these foods are getting your taste buds excited, you can get your hands on some excellent Sardinian food at Pilu at Freshwater. The hatted restaurant offers traditional Sardinian dessert seadas, a honey brushed pastry filled with pecorino cheese, and the porceddu – a spit-roasted suckling pig.
Focused on regional Italian cuisine, Icebergs Dining Room and Bar in Bondi Beach delivers an unforgettable, unique Australian dining experience. The menu is inspired by owner Maurice Terzini's Italian heritage, which is executed by head chef Monty Koludrovic. Icebergs is the perfect location for a long lunch in the bustling heart of Bondi Beach.
Must-try dish: Spaghetti al Nero e Granchio (Ink Spaghetti No.8, WA Blue Swimmer Crab, Sorbello Tomato & Basil)
Passionate about premium Italian produce, Melbourne's iconic Grossi Florentino uses seasonal ingredients to provide the highest possible quality and best serve the tradition of cultural Italian food. The restaurant's extensive wine list is ever-changing to deliver a representation of regional Italian styles and flavour. Grossi Florentino celebrates Italian and Australian culture, providing genuine hospitality to guests.
Must-try dish: Taglierini, Prawns, Zucchini
Located in the heart of Brisbane overlooking the Brisbane River and the Story Bridge, OTTO Brisbane tastefully captures occasion and place with modern Italian cuisine. Whether you prefer a la carte or want to try a tasting menu, OTTO is the place when seeking an authentic Italian experience in an iconic Australian setting.
Must-try dish: Polpo alla Puttanesca (WA octopus tentacles, spicy Napolitana sauce, charred capsicum, capers, olives, basil)
Traditional Italian flavours blend beautifully with a modern Australian take on cuisine at Amano Restaurant. Located in a picturesque waterfront setting, Amano offers set menus or the freedom to choose your favourite Italian dish.
Must-try dish: Fettuccine allo scoglio(seafood homemade fettuccine with mussels, barramundi, octopus and cherry tomatoes, tossed in a light white wine sauce)
Insieme Ristorante, named after the Italian word for 'together', aims to bring family and friends close in the intimate setting of the restaurant. The menu is prepared using only the best quality local, seasonal produce. With vegetarian and gluten free options, there is an item on the menu for everyone seeking to try authentic Italian cuisine.
Must-try dish: Anitra all'arancia (Orange roasted duck leg, warm beetroot, rocket and smoked walnut salad)
By now it should be clear that there's so much more to Italian food than pizza and meatballs. But the last ingredient in the perfect Italian meal is the people you're sharing it with – an authentic Italian food experience is also about how you eat, and for the Italians, sharing a meal with many friends and family members is the only way to do it. Grab your family and head out for the full experience at an authentic Italian restaurant.
Know someone who loves Italian cuisine? Let them choose from a range of Italian restaurants nearby with the Good Food Gift Card.