Italian food varies greatly throughout Italy and pairing down Italian food to just the fifteen or so dishes that can be found at Italian food restaurants in the United States is very short sighted. There are many different regional cuisines in Italy that take their cues from surrounding countries and mix in a little local creativity in order to produce their own unique Italian food. One great example of this is the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.
This region shares a border with the former Yugoslavia and shares a lot of the same traditions, including culinary traditions. The Italian food here is strong with Austrian, Hungarian, Slovenian, and Croatian influences. One of places that this is most apparent is in the beer halls of the area. Here they feature such dishes as Viennese sausage and goulash. Goulash, which originated as a Hungarian dish, has taken on a distinct Italian taste here and can often be found in fine Italian food restaurants both in and out of Italy. Goulash is immensely popular in this region and is a thick stew of beef and local vegetables such as onions and red peppers. It is very thick and seasoned with paprika and can be served with pasta. Another dish that makes a frequent appearance at the beer halls in this area is Bohemian hare.
The most often used meat in this area is pork. In fact, if visiting this area it is essential to try one of their world famous San Daniele del Friuli hams. These hams are a staple of the local Italian food. The whole region is known for their bacon and sausages. In fact there is a local dish called jota that is unique to the region and is a stew dish made with beans and bacon. The pork in this area is spicy and this may come as a bit of a shock to foreigners not familiar with this brand of Italian food. The pork is often cooked over an open hearth and is seen in many dishes even if it is not the main entrée.
There are many other foods specific to the area. The sweeter side of the Italian food here includes strudel. Most of the desserts here are flour based and so strudel is very common. One of the most common dishes found in the area is polenta. This is a dish of boiled cornmeal and is a staple of the regional diet and can be found served with all types of Italian food including both meat and cheese dishes. It is most similar to American grits. Another Italian food staple that must be mentioned in this region is the cheese. The world famous Montasio cheese comes from this region. If you like your Italian food with lots of cheese, and not just mozzarella, than this is the region for you. One last dish that must be mentioned is brovada. This is a dish that is unique to the region. It is most simply turnips that are preserved in marc. This most certainly is not a dish that most people think of when thinking about Italian food, but it is a dish that is unique to Italy and is therefore an important part of Italian food. So the next time you’re up for some Italian food, branch out and try some different regional cuisines.