Italian food is renowed around the world for being delicious. Everybody knows the joys of sinking teeth in a slice of pizza, or savouring a yummy pasta dish. But traditional Italian food can often be… quite strange. Here I want to introduce you to some ‘disgusting’ Italian dishes, the ones you can only eat while roaming the streets of Italy, the traditional foods that doesn’t make it to the restaurants. Ready? Go!
1. Pani câ meusa
A typical dish from Palermo, it’s the king of Sicilian street food. It’s a soft sesame bread (vastedda) stuffed with chopped veal lung and spleen that have been boiled and then fried in lard. It can be served both with and without cheese (usually caciocavallo or ricotta). If served ‘single’, it’s called schettu, if served with cheese it’s called maritatu (‘married’ in Sicilian dialect).
2. Nervitt in insalàda
A typical appetizer from Milan, it’s a salad made with the gristle from veal knees and shins (gnervitt in Milanese dialect). The gristle is boiled in a broth of celery and carrots, then cut in tiny strings and mixed with onions, oil, salt and vinegar. Traditionally, it’s accompanied by a glass of good, white wine.
Another traditional Italian street food, this time from Florence. Lampredotto is a sandwich stuffed with the fourth and final stomach of a cow, slow-cooked in a vegetable broth, seasoned with herbs and chopped into strings that resembles eels (lamprede) – hence the name. The meat is often topped with a spice sauce or with a typical Italian sauce, salsa verde, a sauce made with parsley, vinegar, capers, garlic, onion, anchovies and olive oil.
4. Turta dè sanc dè Pórsel
Another ‘disgusting’ Tuscanian dish is a cake made with pig’s blood, parmigiano, bread crumbs, butter, eggs and bacon. Dishes made with pig’s blood are common all around the Italian peninsula, they’re the so called ‘sanguinacci‘, sausages made out of pig’s blood and different ingredients depending on the region – potatoes in Lombardy, pine nuts in Liguria, wild fennel in Tuscany, or even raisins and orange peel in Campania, turning the sanguinaccio into a sweet dish. Yum!
Of course, pasta could not be missing in this list. The pajata is a typical Roman dish: rigatoni seasoned with the small intestine of the veal. The intestine is washed before the preparation, but without removing the food, thus creating a strong sour sauce. Tomato sauce is also added, because of course you can’t have pasta without tomato sauce, am I right?
If you’re a fan of entrails, you cannot miss this typical Umbrian dish. The coratella is a stew made with lamb lungs, heart, liver and spleen. Generically speaking, ‘coratella’ is a word used to identify a small animal’s innards, without distinctions.
7. ‘O pere e ‘o musso
Forget pizza, this is what truly Neapolitan street food is about. This dish consists of pig’s feets and snout boiled and cut into little pieces, served on a plate with a slice of lemon. It’s usually sold by typical carts that seems to come straight out Dexter’s cutting room!
The bottarga is a popular dish all around Italy. It’s fish roe, typically of the grey mullet or the bluefin tuna, cured and salted following old and traditional methods. It’s often served on bread as an appetizer, with olive oil or lemon juice as seasoning, or in pasta dishes to add a little kick.
Traditional Apulian rolls, they’re made with lamb entrails hold together by the lamb own gut. Simple, clean, 100% disgusting!
10. Casu martzu
Finally, the king of all disgusting Italian dishes. The casu martzu, or casu frazigu, is a typical cheese from Sardinia filled with… live maggots! Quoting Wikipedia:
Derived from pecorino, casu marzu goes beyond typical fermentation to a stage of decomposition, brought about by the digestive action of the larvae of the cheese fly Piophila casei. These larvae are deliberately introduced to the cheese, promoting an advanced level of fermentation and breaking down of the cheese’s fats. The texture of the cheese becomes very soft, with some liquid (called làgrima, Sardinian for “teardrop”) seeping out. The larvae themselves appear as translucent white worms, about 8 mm (0.3 in) long.
The cheese has been declared illegal under EU health regulations, but this of course doesn’t stop true cheese lovers: you can buy a piece of casu martzu in the black market (yes, there is a black market for cheese) for double the price of a standard pecorino cheese. What are you waiting for? Go snatch this delicacy!
Of course, there are fare more typical ‘disgusting’ dishes in my country, which was once incredibly poor. This is why you’ll find so many recipes using entrails: meat was a scarce resourse, people couldn’t afford to throw away anything, not even an animal’s innard. Italians are resorceful people, and could turn anything into a delicious dish. Next time you come to Italy, why not trying something different than the usual, famous dishes? Have a taste of the true Italy by sinking your teeth in a lampredotto! Yum, delicious!