One day my boyfriend Zach asked me during a video chat what I’d been eating in Milan. “The kind of food a loving grandmother feeds a sad and depressed grandchild,” I replied.
Italian food, and by that I mean food prepared in Italy rather than a country’s local version of it, is more about restraint than extravagance. Instead of getting something that has a triple meat topping and a pepperoni-and-cheese stuffed crust, you’ll get served a pizza dotted sparingly with fresh buffalo mozzarella and a single basil leaf. And rather than fettuccini pasta swimming in Alfredo sauce (which I hear is not an authentic Italian sauce; and also, who is Alfredo?) you get pasta coated with just enough creamy emulsion that not one part of the dish overpowers the other.
Italians understand the value of minimally-processed, and dare I say it, “fresh” ingredients. They don’t need to overload a dish with sauce or sprinkle layers of mozzarella in order for you to taste it. Because when the ingredients are good, you can do with less.
It’s this simplicity that I’m celebrating every time I sit myself down to a nice Italian meal, which almost always happens to be bread-, dough-, rice-, and pasta-based; because when I’m in Italy, why would I eat anything else?
These are the restaurants I’d happily go to again:
Ilia Ristorante (where I ate my first meal in Milan)
Or, my awakening. If there’s any dish that exemplifies, “less is more”, it’s the spaghetti with tomatoes and basil I so greedily devoured.
10 Corso Como Cafe
This little cafe is situated in a roofed garden courtyard adjacent from the Corso Como concept store and art gallery. A walkway surrounded by green flora and vines that rise up the building facades caused me to feel like I was entering some gracious Italian family’s countryside villa. The main wasn’t my most favorite - braised beef with polenta - but the little biscuits they bring out before your meal were delicious.
I’ve been told this is a hot spot, so reserve a table! I have fond memories of this place because during on of our Milan workations this was where a bunch of my coworkers and I celebrated our last night. Befitting a last meal in Italy, we went ham on the antipasti and then struggled to eat our mains because we forgot we ordered them, and yet we still managed to order and finish two desserts. They’ve got a delicious truffle pizza and one of the best ossobuco alla milanese I’ve ever had. Prior to my visit, I was ignorant of the Italian tradition of eating prosciutto-wrapped melon slices, but I’ve since been schooled.
Sometimes you just want something fatty, cheesy, fried, and QUICK. Panificio Luini near the Duomo is a place lovingly recommended to me by my boyfriend Zach, who’s observed my eating habits long enough to know that fried dough and cheese is always a win. Luini is known for their panzerotti, a warm and delicious mini calzone composed of a light springy dough (a sort of cross between a doughnut and pizza) and your filling of choice. Served sweet or savory, it’s hard to choose just one, but I finally decided on the spinach and ricotta.