A Taste of the Italian Riviera
Le Cinque Terre, the five beautiful seaside towns that dot the southern cliffs of the Ligurian coastline, are truly a sight to behold. With the sparkling Mediterranean sea on one side and terraces of vineyards and native shrubs on the other, this special place is where land and sea seem to melt into one. While tourists come from all over the world to experience the breathtaking hikes and relax by the sea, the food of Cinque Terre is not to be missed. Known for its fresh seafood and taggiasca olives and olive oil, the cuisine is fresh, flavorful, and full of tradition.
When you’re on the Italian Riviera, these are the five most iconic foods to try:
Pesto genovese, the most famous form of this versatile sauce, hails from Genoa, the capital of Liguria, just an hour and a half north of Cinque Terre. Pesto takes its name from the Italian word pestare (“to crush”), as it is traditionally made by crushing the ingredients with a mortar and pestle. Basil, pine nuts, garlic, salt, and parmesan are all crushed together and mixed with extra virgin olive oil made with native taggiasca olives. You’ll find pesto all over Cinque Terre, both in shops to take home as a delicious souvenir and in restaurants, often served over trofie. A local pasta, trofie is a thin, short, twisted shape that holds the pesto in its many crevices. Aromatic, comforting, and light, trofie al pesto is sure to be a culinary highlight of your trip.
2. Focaccia Genovese
Crisp on the outside and impossibly pillowy on the inside, this iconic bread is a vessel to showcase Liguria’s famous taggiasca olive oil. Focaccia genovese is slightly thinner than focaccia barese and is characterized by the dimples made in the top of the bread before baking that serve as little pockets for the aromatic olive oil and salt. You can taste the spicy complexity of the region’s olive oil here, which pairs perfectly with the fluffy bread. Grab a slice for a snack, or build a sandwich with focaccia genovese for lunch—nothing is better fuel while hiking the awe-inspiring cliffs!
3. Pansotti Con Salsa Di Noci
Each region in northern Italy seems to have its own take on stuffed pasta, and Liguria is no exception. Liguria’s version of ravioli, pansotti (sometimes pansoti), are triangular pasta pockets filled with a mixture of local wild greens and cheese, either the local prescinseua cheese or a mixture of ricotta and parmesan. The pasta gets its name from its overstuffed shape—the word means “pouch” or “pot-bellied.” These little pouches get covered in salsa di noci, a thick, silky sauce made by blending walnuts with garlic, cream, olive oil, and parmesan. Looks can be deceiving, because while this beige sauce may not look beautiful, it tastes incredible. The slightly bitter greens in the pansotti pair perfectly with the nutty, umami flavor of the walnut sauce. It’s a match made in heaven!
Anchovies are a beloved staple all over Italy, and some of the best in the country come from Monterosso al Mare, one of the five towns of Cinque Terre. The fishermen here are experts in the art of fishing for anchovies and venture out in the darkness of night with lamps hanging off the end of their boats, as the bright light attracts the little fish. If you’re awake early in the morning, you may see locals pulling in large nets of anchovies from the port before dawn. You’ll find anchovies served in a variety of styles, from fried to stuffed, in pasta, on crostini, or as antipasti, seasoned with lemon and garlic. Salty, briny, and umami-packed, the anchovies of Cinque Terre are impossibly fresh and flavorful. We recommend acciughe con limone, which pairs the bright acidity of coastal lemons with the salty bite of the anchovy for a true representation of Cinque Terre’s coastal rustic charm.
5. SciacchetràA local passito-style dessert wine, sciacchetrà is the perfect sip to end a meal. Made primarily from the bosco grape, a white varietal native to Cinque Terre, this special wine has been produced in this region since the Middle Ages. The origin of its name itself is up for debate; some say that it comes from the Greek word shekar (“fermented drink”), while others claim it comes from the local dialect sciaàca (“squeeze”). After harvesting grapes on steep terraces, local winemakers dry them in the Mediterranean sun and ferment them for long periods of time—some families still crush them with their feet, in the traditional manner! Similar to Tuscany’s vin santo, this golden nectar is sweet with a honeyed flavor that pairs perfectly with cheeses or desserts. Enjoy with cantucci or Liguria’s traditional walnut cake, torta di noci.