Too Many Cooks

Too Many Cooks: Our Italy Field Notes

April  8, 2016

Think back to that time you went to Italy (Wait! If you haven't been to Italy, don't stop reading yet): What was the best thing you ordered? What was your favorite view of the city, or hidden side street, or coffee spot, or bar, or beach? Did you get lost (and what happened when you did)? What recommendations would you give someone who was going to Italy for the first time?

That's what we asked the Food52 team, in honor of our Italy Week celebrations. Here are their best stories, travel tips, recommendations, and otherwise-field notes; borrow them for the next time you visit our favorite Mediterranean boot.

Tip: Eat two dinners. Follow with gelato. Photo by Hannah Wilken

My best friend Carolyn and I went to Rome for a weekend when we were both living in Europe back in 2011. We couldn't figure out what to eat (too many good options!), so we would just have two dinners every night. We would go to a pizza restaurant and then walk to get pasta. I regret nothing! One night after a two-dinner night we went and ate gelato. I think of that weekend all the time! Here's a selfie of us eating said gelato in the cold weather.

Hannah Wilken

I studied abroad in Rome in college. My boyfriend came out to visit me at the end of my trip, and we were planning our trip down the Amalfi coast but decided we wanted to do something a little less touristy. Many people go to Capri, but we went to the small island right next door, Ischia. When we stepped off the ferry we were both in awe. The sun was shining and ocean was so blue, but best of all it was quiet. We rode around all day on our motorbike's exploring the volcanic springs, the rolling hills and amazing views. It's such a special place.

Our hotel owner took us to his mother's restaurant the first night and we never ended up eating anywhere else—it was that good. The last day we asked where we could get the island's signature dish, rabbit. The hotel owner made a call and that night his mother served us rabbit—a meal I'll remember forever.

Lizzie Greene

Bomba Bomba 💣

A photo posted by Rebecca 🍓 Strawberry (@rebeccastrawberry) on

Even though I go back almost every year, the thing I look forward to the most is the coffee. I mean, even the airport coffee is amazing. It's actually difficult to find a bad cuppa while you're there. But my favorite tazzina is from La Bomboniera in downtown La Maddalena (my hometown!). It's not that they do anything different, it's really just that they have the best doughnuts. Crazy right? They're called La Bomba and, well, they're... Don't make me make that joke.

Rebecca Salisbury

Tip: Drink local. Photo by Jeremy Beker

Okay, this question is hard as I am in Italy RIGHT NOW. I think that the consistently-best piece has been he focus on the local elements. It could be the local ingredients for food (seafood in Camogli) or the the local wines in Chianti or Barolo. (I'm not supposed to be looking at work email right now, so a photo is all I will leave you with.)

Jeremy Beker

Tip: Panini! Panini! Photo by Sarah Yaffa

One of my favorite places in the world is Florence. I am often telling my husband (more frequently than ever) that I'm craving three things in particular:

  1. A sandwich from I Due Fratellini
  2. Pear ravioli from La Giostra
  3. Goat chops from La Griostra

I Due Fratellini has the best sandwiches in the world. You walk down this little street, so easy to miss, and you order from this tiny storefront. The ingredients are so fresh and flavorful.

Sarah Yaffa

Tip: Walk as much as you can. Photo by Jackie Stauffer

Any time you're in a new place, I always think it's great to explore on foot. You can get a much better vibe of any place when you smell the scents, hear the sounds, chat with the locals, or get lost in a cobblestone alley. My husband and I went to Rome as part of our honeymoon and walked to every neighborhood, through the Borghese Gardens, to the Vatican, to the Trastavere. It was so wonderful.

Jackie Stauffer

I went to Florence on a school trip when I was 14. One night, we ate at this tiny trattoria near our hotel. The place was barely big enough to fit all of us (15 students and 1 instructor), and we all sat at one long table that was crooked and super narrow. There were candles hanging from the ceiling and two choices for each course.

Everyone chose the salad for the first course—but, always contrary, I picked the second menu item, neither the name nor description of which I could understand. When it arrived, it was a slab of white on the plate with a few black grill marks. When I stuck my fork into it, I realized it was CHEESE. It was a slab of very soft, very fresh mozzarella—drizzled in oil and briefly grilled. It was the best thing I had ever eaten... and I didn't share with any of those silly salad-orderers.

Erin McDowell

I think it's safe to say that I've already overshared on this topic.

Lindsay-Jean Hard

In Venice, my sister, brother-in-law, and I went out to dinner on a night that was some sort of Italian holiday (there were about 10 holidays in the span of the 12 days we were in Italy). Most of the restaurants were closed, but we finally found one of the only open spots—so, of course, it was slammed. We got seated and a fed-up waitress came to take our order. One by one, we named nearly every dish on the menu, only to receive a very loud and very aggressive "FINISHED!" in reply. Linguine alle vongole? FINISHED. Spaghetti carbonara? FINISHED. Pizza? FINISHED. Eventually we found something to order, which clearly wasn't very memorable or good because I have no idea what it was... But the memory of the waitress lives on: We still shout "FINISHED!" at each other, and it gets a laugh every time.

Olivia Bloom

Tip: If you can't stand the heat, don't go to Italy in July. Photo by Adam Becker

I visited Italy for the first time last summer and was very lucky to have my girlfriend, Robin, who studied abroad there, with me to be my guide and to speak Italian for us. We spent the first couple of days exploring the Cinque Terre, which is unfathomably beautiful. But the bulk of the trip was spent in Perugia, where Robin studied abroad. Perugia is a beautiful old town with, as you can imagine, very good food. Panino, pasta with black truffles, gnocchi in red sauce, and bomboloni were eaten with reckless abandon.

One note of advice: The thing about Italy in July is that it is HOT. The other thing about Italy in July is that air conditioning is effectively non-existant.

Adam Becker

The first time I went to Italy, I was eight. We arrived from Lebanon to spend the summer in Venice. My mother took us to the piazza San Marco and allowed us to have a Coca Cola (a very rare treat in my family), and gesturing out to take in the whole square and the church, she exhaled in pleasure and asked, "Isn't this wonderful, kids?" I replied, "Well, actually I'm a bit disappointed!" It wasn't the view, though, that failed to dazzle me; it was the fact that the people were dressed in modern clothing. I had expected everyone to be dressed like the ancient Romans and was extremely disappointed they weren't

Sara Jenkins

Highlights from visiting Bologna while in college: the butteriest cheese slice ever from Pizzeria Due Torri, and the thriving 90s nostalgia scene populated by washed-up music enthusiasts, and the psycho-hilarity of the punkabbestia.

Clare Slaughter

Tip: Cheese shops. And planning. Photo by Lauren Locke

At the recommendation of my friend Ike, we had an amazing lunch at Enoteca Osteria Osticcio in Montalcino. And yes, I am holding my honeymoon binder in the photo (#planning). While Tuscany and Cinque Terre both surpassed our expectations, I think about the random cheese shops and kitchen stores the most.

Lauren Locke

Tip: Go with a friend. Photo by Ryan Powell

My best friend Annie and I backpacked through Italy for a few weeks after college. Most of the trip is a happy blur. Our fun outweighed our "cultural experiences." What I do remember is that we...

  • spoke solely in British accents the entire time.
  • mixed some rum into a Coke bottle and smuggled it through Vatican security, for kicks.
  • spent an hour trying to find the entrance to the Vatican, by walking along its wall, until a kind man told us it was "tre chilometri" in the other direction.
  • kick-started a lasting obsession with Peronis.
  • got sick repeatedly by drinking non-potable water despite ample and in some cases translated signage.
  • covered Rome in a day, no problem.
  • ate only Magnum ice cream bars, prosciutto, and Prosecco for no fewer than 3 days straight.
  • used our foldable map as a blanket.
  • almost died in a bus somewhere between Sorrento and Positano (the roads! so curvy!)
  • almost died in a taxi in Naples (the driver! so unnecessarily risky!)
  • survived the trip, against all odds.

Amanda Sims

These are all incredible to read, as someone who's leaving for Italy tomorrow!

Clint Newsom

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What was the best _____ you did/saw/ate/drank in Italy? Tell us in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Hannah Wilken
    Hannah Wilken
  • pierino
Writing and cooking in Brooklyn.


Hannah W. April 11, 2016
Thank you so much for pulling this together, Caro!! It's so special to read everyones stories :)
pierino April 8, 2016
Rome is my beat, although I've spent a lot of time in Umbria too. For coffee and granite I love Tazzo d'Oro near Piazza Rotunda. I also love Volpetti in via Marmoratta in the Testaccio district for food stuffs. Typically I would be staying up the hill at the Sant' Anselmo.