Hungry in Italy? Try Some Spuntini

June 5, 2024 Global Basecamps

Category Italy

Italian snacks, called spuntini, are the cousins of Spanish tapas--and just as varied, abundant, and delicious

We’ve all heard of tapas, those famous small bites of Spanish deliciousness taken with a glass of wine at a local bar, usually with friends.

Spain is not alone in practicing this sociable tradition. Italy has an entire repertoire of snacking foods too. They are called spuntini, the Italian word for snacks. (Spuntino is the singular.)

But like other Italian food traditions, snacking culture is organized and structured with norms that Italians know and follow. According to Anna Francese Gass, author of Italian Snacking, in Italy, “Mealtimes are never haphazard; rather, they’re filled with meaning. Italians follow a specific schedule to remain satiated throughout the day, careful to avoid stunting the appetite by eating too close to the next meal. With that in mind, spuntini are timed to create a rhythm with the day’s larger meals so as never to spoil the appetite.”

Since food is inextricably bound up with family life and socializing in Italy, you won’t see Italians snacking on the run. It’s just not done. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it, but it’s not part of Italian culture. You’ll never see an Italian eating a pastry on the street but with the incredible variety readily available, you just have to allow yourself to break some rules.

You might come face to face with one of these food-related “rules” if you order cappuccino in the afternoon or evening. No, absolutely not, Italians say. No cappuccino after noon. Although, of course, they will kindly serve you. It’s just they can’t understand why you’d want it then.

Depending on where your travels take you in Italy, the gastronomic experience will be tied to the people, culture, climate, and geography. Each bite tells a region’s particular story. But even though each region has developed its own specialties, there has been so much population movement that you can find Roman food in Venice, or Florentine specialties among the street foods of Naples.

One thing that is consistent though is that Italian snack foods are very high quality and made with the same principles as the rest of this splendid cuisine. They rely on simple flavors and fresh, healthy ingredients. 

Here are some of our favorite spuntini:

Fritti: The general category of fritti, or fried foods, contains many different choices. Here are some of the main ones:

Rice balls: Savory balls of rice, stuffed and fried. They are found all over Italy but with regional variations, all delicious. According to Anna Francese Gass, there are three major types:

  • Arancini di Calabria—Round with a white rice filling studded with prosciutto around a melted mozzarella center.
  • Supplì al telefono—Supplì are the Roman version; they are stuffed with a tomato-based risotto, ground beef, and a dab of mozzarella.
  • Arancine Siciliane—With a saffron-infused rice center and a meat and pea ragu, these can be either round or cone-shaped.

Rizzuola—Fried doughnut stuffed with the same filling as Sicilian arancine: tomato sauce, ground beef, peas. Almost a meal in itself.

Sicilian arancine (rice balls) are filled with saffron-infused rice and a meat and pea ragu.

Fritto Misto–You’ll find variations of fritto misto along the coast near Palermo and Naples. Sometimes a fritto misto includes fried vegetables like artichokes, onions, or eggplant. Perfect for late afternoon snack with a glass of wine.

CazzilliSicilian potato croquettes, fried on the spot and scooped into paper cones while still piping hot. 

Pizza—Naples’ original and perfect snack food, pizza has taken over the world. But try it at its Neapolitan source for a taste of heaven.

Pizza Fritta (Naples)—Also known as calzone, this is a small turnover filled with mozzarella, tomato, and sometimes prosciutto, and baked or fried.

Panzerotti—This is a version of calzone from the region of Puglia down near the heel of the Italian boot. It is a fried turnover stuffed with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and sometimes ham, mushrooms, or spinach.

Sfincione— Sicilian sheet pan pizza. If you’ve never tried this kind of pillowy rectangular Sicilian specialty, don’t delay one more minute.

Tramezzini—Triangular crustless sandwiches with ingredients such as prosciutto, mozzarella, and tomato. These are a filling snack or great light lunch.

Panino Imbottito--This means “stuffed sandwich” in Italian,  a simple and delicious snack made with crusty Italian bread filled with meats, cheeses, and vegetables. Some of the most popular fillings include prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato, and arugula.

Polpettine—Small meatballs are a popular snack that originated in Southern Italy. They are made with ground beef or pork, breadcrumbs, eggs, and spices like parsley and garlic. The mixture is rolled into small balls and fried or baked until browned and crispy.

CrostiniSmall slices of crusty toasted or grilled Italian bread topped with various ingredients, such as prosciutto, mozzarella, and tomato. Crostini originated in Tuscany but are now common all over Italy.

FocacciaA traditional Italian flatbread that originated in the coastal regions of Liguria (the area around Genoa) and is now famous throughout Italy. This simple baked bread is typically topped with herbs such as rosemary and sea salt and is often accompanied by cured meats, cheeses, and a glass of red wine.

Pizzetta—When a pizza is more than you need, reach for a pizzetta, a small pizza around the same size as a salad plate a perfect snack. In Rome's bakeries, pizzette are often sold by weight. If you order an apéritif at a café, you might even get a complimentary pizzetta with your order.

Panissa Ligure—These little bites of cubed and fried polenta are one of the most beloved street foods in Liguria according to Anna Francese Gass.

Olive all’Ascolana—These stuffed, fried olives from the town of Ascoli Piceno in the Le Marche region are the perfect snack food. The stuffing is a mix of sauteed vegetables and ground beef, pork, and chicken. A bite of pure delight.

Salumi and cheese plates—You'll gorgeous plates of salumi and cheese at every bar.  Enjoy with a locally produced wine for a perfect snack.

Venetian spuntini: In Venice the spuntini are called cicchetti. And dropping into a bacaro (bar) for a glass of wine and a few cicchetti is a sacred Venetian rite. You will find all the usual spuntini, like polpette, crostini, tramezzini, but also a range of fish-based bites that are specifically Venetian. Most famous are:

Bacalà mantecatosalt cod simmered in milk and whipped with oil to a snowy mousse and served on a crust of bread.

Bacalà mantecato (salt cod simmered in milk and whipped with olive oil), one of Venice’s most famous dishes, is often served on a toasted crust of bread as a light snack.

Sarde in saór (sweet and sour sardines)—The “in saor” preparation, redolent of onions, raisins (the sweet), and vinegar (the sour) is a famous Venetian contribution to Italian cuisine. In addition to sardines, you’ll also find shrimp and other seafood in saor. Served on a delicous crust of bread, it’s a staple cicchetto and you will find it everywhere.

Biscotti—It seems like there are an unlimited number of different biscuits, cookies, and baked goods available in Italian shops, from the almond-studded cantuccini of Tuscany to the salty taralli of Puglia. They can be dipped in coffee or sweet wine or enjoyed alone.

Some of the endless varieties of baked goods, biscuits, and cookies for snacking in Italy.

The Iris—OMG! A fried doughnut stuffed with cannoli cream and chocolate chips. According to Anna Francese Gass, “It tastes like a cannoli doughnut.” What can be bad?

Gelato in brioche—Want your kids to freak out with joy? Tell them they can eat ice cream for breakfast. This is a typical Sicilian breakfast but you can enjoy it at any time of day.

Gelato in brioche, a favorite of children and adults, is a refreshing snack and a frequent breakfast in Sicily.

These are just some of the amazing variety of street and snack foods available throughout Italy. Stumbling upon a food stall when you’re hungry is always welcome, but when the food is delicious, it’s a total game-changer for a traveler.

Ready to experience the wonders of Italy and Italian cuisine first-hand? We will plan the perfect trip for you. Contact us at travel@globalbasecamps.com to get started.



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Tags: Italy