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Jan 9, 2011 06:14 PM

Where can I walk out the door and eat all day?

My girlfriend and I are planning a trip to europe and I do not want it to be hectic. I don't want to site-see, I don't want to spend much time traveling... all I want to do is relax and eat food.

We would like to focus on Italy with just a few days in France. The trip will either be two or three weeks. What cities are best for long stays and excellent food? My vision is of open air markets and streets full of caffes and restaurants.

I am looking for a place where we can walk out the door every day and start walking, eating and drinking. In three weeks, I would like to limit our trip to only three or four cities maximum. I would really like to allow time to absorb the nature of a place rather than dashing in, looking around, and moving on. What cities in italy are the best for lounging and eating too much?

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  1. Italians don't tend to eat all day, nor do their markets stay open all day (many only are open in the mornings). There is a certain pattern to Italian meals and snacks throughout the day, and you should get a copy of Fred Plotkin's Italy for the Gourmet Traveller, which describes it very well (and it sometimes varies from region to region).

    When I first saw only the headline of your post, I thought: "Sicily!" but it really matters what time of year you are going. In some months in Sicily, I don't think I'd want to eat at all.

    But since you want "streets full of cafes and restaurants," I highly recommend you consider the cities of Trieste and Torino. There are good train and air connections to them and between them.

    Then you might want to consider finding one of the great gourmet agriturismi or relais in Piemonte for at least a couple of days, where a great chef is in residence, and the focus is on the food and wine. If you really want to feel well eating a lot in Italy, I think it's often best to let Italians arrange your meals for you.

    1. There have been several threads on this topic here over the past 3-6 months. You should be aware that the foods in Italy vary quite a bit by region. Some regions eat a lot of fresh pasta. Some regions eat a lot of dry pasta. Some regions eat a lot of rice. Some regions cook with olive oil. Some regions cook with butter. Some regions use tomatoes and tomato sauce. Other regions don't.

      There is plenty of good food to eat in Italy just about everywhere. The question deciding what kinds of food you would like to eat.

      I would suggest getting a hold of Fred Plotkin's "Italy for the Gourmet Traveler." The chapters for each region of Italy begin with a very good description of the foods & wines found in each region. He also recommends the cities and towns in each region most notable for the eating and dining on offer.

      Personally, I think the best eating regions in Italy are Piemonte and Emilia-Romagnia. The only shortcoming of those regions is that you will not find a lot of seafood on the menus in either region.

      1 Reply
      1. re: DavidT

        Here is a thread on eating in and around Bologna:

        Here is another thread discussing the foods in the various regions of Italy:

      2. Just to add a couple of comments to what the previous two posters have states so well. The Italian eating habit is deeply engrained and eating establishment follows that pattern. What they eat and when they eat it revolve around their daily rhythm and link to their long cultural history. Many shops still close their doors for three hours in the afternoon. It is not the land of gluttony. Generally, Italians do not eat on the run and do not snack much, therefore, there is not much street food and what we call open air markets are for shopping for their midday and evening meals. In every big city, you will find areas lined with cafes and restaurants but to search out great food, one has to walk and walk; they don't appear on your doorsteps. Rome has very good food and some of the best cafes, but in order to find them, you'll be walking from one hill to another and to close ones eyes to the layers of history and the historical sites is missing a connection of food to culture. Spaghetti Carbonara or Carciofi alla Giudia has a connection to a place. Same for any large cities may it be Naples, Venice, Trieste, Turin. After a few days of eating and gorging everything, unless you have a built of a Sumo wrestler, your appetite and appreciation will wand in no time.

        16 Replies
        1. re: PBSF

          I think all the comments above are good, but even though most of Italy is not street food heaven, there is a lot of eating during the day. I am thinking about the coffee and cornetto in the morning in lieu of a big breakfast, the bit of a snack (tremezzini. pizza bianc or toast, say,) top for another coffee in midmorning. stops for gelato after lunch or whenever and such, stopping by a wine bar/bacari for drinks and a bit in the early evening, etc. etc. There is a daily pattern of eating anchored by a SMALL breakfast and good sized lunch and a late-ish supper that would usually be smaller than the lunch. Its nice to fall in with the local pattern, although as noted if you are interested in restaurant dining, too many of the little meals in between will fill you up too much to enjoy.

          As for cities, all of the major cities will be good to stroll and there will be treats, from pastry shops to wine bars to pizzerie to geleteria to public markets (more for produce meat and fish for cooking than snacks for eating on the spot) where you can snag a piece of fruit to sustain you through your touring day.

          As to cities for strolling and snacking, Naples is very good, Venice, Rome, Parma and Florence also (of the cities we have visited). the season you will travel in is relevant - Summer weather may reduce your appetite as well as your desire to stroll in many towns.

          1. re: jen kalb

            I'm just going to toss these comments in here, and anybody is free to disagree with me or just ignore it totally, but I don't think it's true that you have to walk and walk in other Italian cities like you do Rome to track down a WHOLE LOT of good eats.

            The lively and delicious parts of Treiste are in a compact area with a great many of the streets completely pedestrianized, flat and tree shaded, and lined with great cafes plus pastry shops plus restaurants plus buffets -- and it's got great FISH and great MEAT too!. It's pretty easy pickings!

            Torino, home of the auto, isn't quite the same pleasure to stroll, but you really don't have to walk far between outstanding taste treats. It's also flat, plus it's got great trams. Torino, with its extraordinary caffes, food markets, bakeries and apertivo hour, plus a very good array of restaurants, seems to me closest to what the OP might be looking for.

            As much as I love Napoli, it is not a pleasure to stroll in my book (and my last visit, strolling past way too much rotting garbage honestly was an appetite-killer, even gag-inducing once). Venice and Florence? Good luck casually lucking into great eats. Parma is beautiful and delicious, but I think it's eating there is fairly regimented, and confined to a limited menu.

            Another place I was tempted to suggest as an 'eat-all-you-want' extravaganza of declious foods is Milano. The Milanese frown on walking and eating (you might bump into somebody's Armani suit with that panini), but they have great morning pastry shops, great food stores, great restaurants and a great bar scene.

            I'm thinking the OP might have a lot of fun, starting in Trieste and eating his way across the top tier of Italy, then (weather permitting) rolling over the mountains to Lyon, then onto Dijon and then I'd probably skip Paris and go straight to Belgium.

            1. re: barberinibee

              Your itinerary of eating through northern Italy is good and it might open up another option for OP's trip. But his premise is that he does not want to spend time or deal with the logistics of driving from one place to the next; just want to settle down to 3 cities at most in Italy and eat from morning to night.. Of course one can stay in one center neighborhood in many big cities and never have to walk far and have the excellent coffee at the same cafe, the couple of good places for lunch/dinner, in between wine/snack eating if one wants a very limited experience. If I were in Rome and not even get into sightseeing, I want to go to the Testaccio market and Volpeti, or grab a great coffee at Tazza d'Oro, some great seafood at Tuna, or pizza at Ivo, the classic Roman food at Checchino. In Venice, I want to buy bread at Forno de Canton, cheeses at Casa di Parmigiano, maybe breakfast at Tonolo, a outdoor table with a spritz and lemon gelato at Paolin, some wine and cecchetti at La Cantina, risotto at Carampane. These are just a few. I like Trieste very much and appreciated that they pedestrianed the old flat area and Buffet da Pepi can be a blast, but I also want to stroll up the hills to Le Caffe, visit Illy. After a couple of days, Jan Morris's Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere starts to creep in. The responses so far have not really address what cities/regions are the best for food which I am sure will elicit some heated debates; they are more about the general eating habit of Italians and the different regions of Italy. Maybe we are being too presumptuous that the OP really even care about this.

              1. re: PBSF

                I thought I did reference several prior threads on which cities/regions are best for food. Isn't an awful lot of what is "best" dependent on what kind of food one likes? If one is a hearty beef eater, the food in Pulgia might be a disappointment. If one is looking for a lot of seafood, dining in Tuscany or Piemonte will likewise be a let down.

                I do think spending time in Bologna, where you can access cities like Parma, Ferrara, Modena, etc. in no more than 60-75 minutes by train (and cities like Florence, Mantua, Cremona, etc in not much more than 90 minutes) is certainly a very viable option for the OP.

                1. re: DavidT

                  You did and they are excellent threads.

                  1. re: DavidT


                    Having just spent one day in week in Bologna for the past 3 months, I found the business of getting to the train station and waiting for pokey trains to take me to and from Ferrara, Parma and Rimini tedious and boring, and sometimes I did have the feeling I was rushing to look around at everything before getting back on the train. I was rewarded with good lunches and great local taste treats, but if I were dreaming of a trip of plonking in one spot for a few days and not having to travel far by foot or train to enjoy taste thrills, I wouldn't pick Bologna on the basis of the idea it was easy to take a train elsewhere every day.

                    I could make lounging in Bologna and eating all day work for me: morning coffee at Caffe Terzi, off to the markets to shop, drag my haul for a late morning snack with wine at Osteria al Sole, cup of coffee in the markets, off to lunch at a good restaurant, dessert at Zanarini, back to the markets, gelato later, apertivo at Le Stanze nibbling stuzzachini and on to dinner and maybe a nightcap at a student hangout.

                    I do agree that "best for eats" depends on what the traveler wants to eat. But I've headed off to a number of Italian destinations eager to try foods I've never eaten before. So how could I know? But it did help to know in advance that places like Milano are rich in variety when it comes to restaurants and menus, whereas a city like Genova perfects the local classics, and it is a limited (but seductive) repertoire.

                  2. re: PBSF


                    You and I are reading the OP's initial post differently, and perhaps he will come back to clarify.

                    Is he driving? I don't see any mention of it . Also, the OP specificially stated:

                    " I don't want to site-see."

                    You should of course report you were bored by the culture in Trieste, but others -- notably James Joyce for one! -- found it inspiring, but that's beside the point for this thread. The OP doesn't want to sight see.

                    I also think you may have misinterpreted my posts slightly. My posts are saying to the OP -- explicitly -- that Trieste and Torino (and Milano in between) are gastronomically much better targets than Florence or Venice or what have you for walking right out the door into foodie fun. I like to avoid the word "best" too, but I was answering his question concretely. That's my opinion.

                    I don't think this discussion is doomed to be heated. Were someone to ask me to name some cities in the US that have great fun eating neighborhoods, or even areas of NYC that are better than others for lounging and grazing or even pigging out all day, you my disagree with my favorites, but surely the OP benefits from hearing a range of opinion.

                    Just as an aside -- and this isn't directed personally at you -- I've noticed in more than one thread in Italy on Chowhound where people are coming to Italy for the first time and want food to be the focus of their trip, they are put under pressure to go to at least one of the "big 3" out of the belief that it simply must be done for first timers, not gastronomically, but culturally. But I think there are a lot of really very intelligent and cultured people whose introduction to Italy was "through the stomach" and they've done quite well in coming to understand Italy by pursuing that passion primarily. I would think Chowhound is the place for people to come and be food-centric about Italy.

                    1. re: barberinibee

                      You make some very valid points. I would just like to add that from my sense of people who ask for recommendations on this board, many are not as food-centric as many of us are led to believe, especially those visiting the big three. What most are looking for are places in the center of the city that offer good food at a decent value with an occasional splurge. Without going in any details, we all understand why the cities of Rome, Florence and Venice draws such an enormous amount of visitors. I think there is good food in Venice and certainly in the Veneto. At times, I shamelessly defend Venice because it is sort of our second home and it's somewhat undeserved reputation. Though there are some excellent food in these cities, from my experiences, they are not the most pleasurable cities to eat in Italy. I've enjoyed eating in all the cities you've mentioned, Trieste, Torino, Milano and certainly Bologna.
                      Because the OP is somewhat vague, maybe I've interpreted the OP's intentions too literally. He is actually more open than just plop himself in the middle of a city and just consume.

                      1. re: PBSF

                        Might be a good (and courteous) idea for the OP to re-enter this thread. He/she has posed a sweeping question for which there are many many possible solutions, and posts here have suggested lots of them. Frankly, if all OP wants is a place to plotz and much good stuff to eat, and not worry about local sight seeing (which in one sense is what OP will be doing anyway), Rome-Milan-Bologna would work well. As would, say, Genova-Florence-Rome. Or Florence-Rome-Naples, and many other combos, given the vagueness of OP's quest.
                        3 cities in 3 weeks? I suggest getting to any of the places mentioned in this thread, settle in, and start walking around. Piece of cake.

                        1. re: PBSF


                          Sure, but I've once or twice considered going to Lyon, and every time I read up on it, I still want to go -- but only to eat! Without the lure of food, I don't think i'd choose it as a travel destination.

                          Likewise, I'm planning a trip to Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria, and I DON'T want to sightsee. I want to enjoy the coastal scenery, the lack of tourists and EAT.

                          I don't even like Brussels but I love going there to eat. I've not much feeling for touring Oregon, but I'd rather eat and drink there than in London.

                          But I certainly agree that for all we know, what the OP is really asking is: "Which is better for walking out the door and eating? Florence, Cortona or Siena?"

                          (By the way, I'm not "food-centric" when I visit the "big 3" either -- or at least 2 of the 3 --. I mainly just try to avoid really bad meals. When food in Florence and Venice is bad, it's verrry bad.)

                          1. re: barberinibee

                            I dont think very much info is needed to avoid VERRY bad food in Florence or Venice, however. Just a few names and a few basic ideas. Those lucky folks with great "chowdar" aside, I always wince on travel websites when people just go into random places with no thinking at all (cant remember the names or locations of the place, of course) and then have terrible meals and think ill of the city. Of course its also frustrating when they have wonderful food and cant tell you where they had it!

                            1. re: jen kalb

                              Sorry, I have to disagree. I think even if you do go with the consensus recommendations for Florence and Venice (and to a large extent Rome, as Mbfant never tires of reminding everyone) you can end up with some surprisingly dreadful meals, and in Venice at a whopping price. But my experience of much of the rest of Italy is that you can go explore and follow your nose and have delightful experiences because the foundation of food quality hasn't been corroded by tourism.

                              Also, please don't imagine that I think ill of Florence or Venice or any place I've had a bad meals following recommendations from Chowhound or elsewhere. They are wonderful destinations I enjoy revisiting as often as I can. But the OP in THIS thread asked a question that interests me and that often governs my own travel choices. I like to think Chowhound's Italy board is a place where people who sometimes pick travel destinations just because good food is in such abundance there can get help for planning a trip. Most people don't blink over on the Spain board when someone says they are going to Spain for the first time and have picked their destinations -- San Sebastian, Bilbao, Barcelona, , etc -- primarily because these are famous for being wonderful eating destinations. No one suggests they re-order their trip to include the Alhambra for a first visit., or says that property prepared, Sevilla can be just as gastronomically rewarding. Italy gets a different reaction. I think people tend to take a more academic view of travel to Italy.

                              1. re: barberinibee

                                I wasnt talking consensus recommendations and even if I had been (for this Board at least) it wouldnt have been so bad. the fact is that OP is not driving and they want to devote a big chunk of time to each city.

                                Whatever OP means about no sightseeing, I have a hard time to believe they are excluding looking around them, and enjoying the architecture and street life. At a minimum, the chosen city is going to be a big backdrop at least to the eating and food touring. It should be a place that it is a pleasure to stroll, and where taxis or fighting traffic are not needed for enjoyment. Where there are cafes, wine bars, bacari, markets, pastry shops, whatever, to dip into easily and comfortably. Where there is a variety of walks, a distinct cuisine worth experiencing or alternatively a number of worthy culinary destinations. So, it seems that the more obvious destinations like Venice, Florence, etc., would be good with a little preparation perhaps (Plotkin's book and even Emily Wise Miller for Florence, Scibilia for Venice etc ) around what neighborhood to base oneself in, interesting/beautiful backdrop and a variety of different walks and places to eat, Otherwise, the OP should have a car, find a nice relaxing base in one or more country inns and mosey around the smaller towns and country restaurants in say, Piedmont, E-R or Tuscany.

                                Id be interested in what you would recommend for say a week in Torino or Trieste. Or what about Genoa?

                                1. re: jen kalb


                                  I would personally pick Trieste over both Florence and Venice as a beautiful backdrop for cafe life, strolling, eating, enjoying Italy. So we are just miles apart on this. I think Trieste has an wonderful outdoor ambience, very sophisticated, and what it lacks in the monumental artworks of the two cities you mention, it more than makes up for in being so untouristed. Trieste is filled with bakeries as well as cafes, a truly wonderful variety in its menu, and great wines at hand. I enjoyed all the recommended restaurants I tried (Plotkin and Bastianich are great guides) and I wouldn't hesitate to strike out on my own. (I really do fear heading into Venice and Florence -- and even Bologna -- without specific recommendations, including what and what not to order.) To me Trieste is like Napoli. Time to cut loose!

                                  For me, the attractions of Torino go well beyond food, although those are mainly indoor attractions. But as a land of food DISCOVERY, I'm not sure it is possible to get bored in Torino these days. Likewise, it is hard to think of another Italian city where somebody who likes nibbling could find more nibbles. You could probably spend 7 full days in Torino nibbling night and day and not repeat a venue or nibble the same bite twice.

                                  I think the very limited menu of Liguria means that most people will exhaust the "newness" possibilities of Genova in a day or two. That said, it and San Remo are great places to recover from food extravaganzas elsewhere. I could eat farinata every day, likewise minestrone alla Genovese, or lasagne al pesto, and whatever is the catch of the day. (I can only take foccacia col formaggio about twice a year, and I've never found a good place to get it in Genova anyway). The fun of Genova as a food town is its wonderful covered market, the tang of the anchovies and all that fabulous, fabulous olive oil. I think food is simply -- literally simply -- delicious. But I would suggest to somebody coming to Liguria to get their own kitchen so they can really enjoy its simplicity.

                                  1. re: barberinibee

                                    PS, Jen, it occured to me much later to add if you or anybody is contemplating a gastronomic tour of Genova and the region that in addition to Plotkin, it really is worthwhile to invest in David Downie's book, especially if you are looking for food shops, producers and vintners, and hole-in-the-wall type places.

              2. Rome is a nice city, plenty of enclaves with their own identities.
                I like it when shop owners/restaurateurs (sp?) bang on the window when I walk by their shops in my neighborhood. Familiarity is important. Find a city, find a neighborhood and move in. Stay there. Get to know your neighbors.

                1. Hi All,

                  Very interesting reading your responses! My husband and I are going to Rome for our first anniversary next week. We are definitely making this a food focused trip (it's just a short trip and we've both been to Rome many times).

                  We are on a bit of a budget, which can be problematic with the euro, but can any of you recommend places that we shouldn't miss? Especially for pasta and desserts/coffee. If you know the price range, please include it.

                  Thank you so much!

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: neenzer

                    Have you done a search for Rome on this board? Be sure to go to the upper right hand corner of this page and do so. There have been dozens and dozens of comments about eating in Rome made on this board over the past 6-12 months.

                    1. re: DavidT

                      Yes, I just got overwhelmed by all of the opinions and choices. I've been doing research for two weeks, and my lists are VERY long. Also having a hard time discern the price ranges of these places. We aren't looking for romantic meals, just great pasta.

                      Thanks for responding!

                      1. re: neenzer

                        Neenzer, Katie Parla recently updated her list of favorite places to eat in Rome - that should help narrow your list.

                        1. re: ekc

                          Ah great - I'm going to look now. Thanks!

                          1. re: neenzer

                            That was very helpful. Adding these places to my list.

                            Now for a very specific question . . . Babbo is my favorite restaurant in NYC. I always get the pasta tasting when I'm there because it mixes traditional with more unique.

                            Is there anything in Rome that can compare? Or would be a great change from Babbo?

                            Random, specific question, but worth asking in case anyone knows of something.

                            Thanks, again.

                            1. re: neenzer

                              May have just found an answer to this on the Babbo website - thought i'd share:


                              Some of these places have already been commented on, so thank you!

                              1. re: neenzer

                                Babbo, and you say you are on a budget . . . .
                                My advice for Rome is to eat the classic roman food, especially if you havent been there before. Lots of advice on this Board about where to find it.

                                1. re: jen kalb

                                  Once a year we do Babbo for our anniversary (then dream about it for the following 12 months!). Also, the prices at Babbo (for pasta at least) are not ridiculous. Just my opinion. Also helps that it's the dollar and the not the euro.