A Guide to the Local Food of La Spezia & Cinque Terre

Food Specialties of Liguria Levante

What to Eat in La Spezia, Cinque Terre, Lerici, Portovenere  

Portovenere Food Specialties Menu
Vegetable Pie and More in Portovenere.

When Italians refer to 'piatti tipici' (dishes typical of the area), it is serious business. This is where the culture meets the mouth, and every city, every province, and every region has its unique dishes. When Italians visit another region of Italy, they always eat the specialties, so you should too. The good news is you can tour Italy for the next decade or two and not encounter them all.

Here's our little food guide to the specialties that you might encounter on your visit to the Gulf of La Spezia area. This is only a select few from a long list. If you see or hear about others, all the better - just say yes.

Farinata This is first because it's one of our favorite things. It's a giant chickpea flour pancake that's baked in a wood oven in a pan about a yard in diameter, cut in to slices, weighed, and handed to you as a snack. It's nutty, smooth, crunchy on the edges, creamy in the middle, about ¼ inch thick, and just delicious. It's gluten free, but not gluttony free. Usually available in the morning and after 5 in the afternoon.

Foccacia You see it everywhere in the world now, I know, but it's indigenous to Liguria, and here it comes in many forms, many shapes and sizes, and is almost always interesting. It can be thin or thick, topped with oil and rosemary and salt, or split in half and stuffed with meat and cheese. It can be baked with cheese in it (this style from Recco further north is focaccia da Recco). Bakeries and snack places carry varieties, just keep trying until you find your favorite. At some snack places, you can ask for foccacia stuffed with farinata, odd sounding but great.

Torta di Verdura Ligurians love vegetables, and these large round pies are filled with cheese and a variety of greens and vegetables. They could include leeks, swiss chard, spinach, zucchini, artichokes, carrots, onions, the list is endless. They are a wonderful snack or lunch, and you can't go wrong, they're all good. They're available in slices at some bakeries, snack places, even deli counters, all sold by weight. They also might be a part of a restaurant's antipasto.
Travel Tip_____________________________________________________________________
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Spaghetti with Mussels, La Spezia
Spaghetti with Mussels, a La Spezia specialty.
Mussels  The Gulf of La Spezia is famous for growing mussels, called cozze or muscoli, and they're a particularly flavorful breed, briny and delicious. If you've never tried them, start now. Look for them served two ways. First, as spaghetti alle cozze (or similar pasta) when they're a tasty primo. Another unique preparation is stuffed mussels, muscoli or cozze ripieni. The mussels are opened, the meat is split, and a savory spoonful of stuffing made of vegetable, bread crumbs, ground mussels, and sometimes minced mortadella or pork is placed in the shell. Then they're reassembled, simmered in tomato sauce - fantastically good. Look for them in restaurants, trattorie, and sometimes at gastronomie.

Mesciua A strange name for a simple country soup that will knock your socks off. Every sample is a little different because this is true Cucina Povera, and the recipe has a whatever attitude. A couple of different types of dried beans, farro ( a hearty grain known in English as spelt), a flavoring of herbs and onion, and a healthy topping of dark green olive oil make for a terrific thick soup. Available at many authentic restaurants, often including Osteria all'Inferno in La Spezia. It's substantial enough to be lunch on its own.

Portovenere Restaurant Menu with Piatti Tipici.
Portovenere Restaurant Menu with Piatti Tipici.
Stuffed vegetables Doesn’t sound particularly spectacular, but wait until you try. The most popular vegetables to create Verdure Ripiene alla Ligure are baby zucchine, peppers, onions, and tomatoes. The stuffings vary, of course, but all have a bread crumb base, flavored with cheese and herbs, and sometimes ground meat. They’re usually offered as an antipasto in a restaurant, but if you buy them (by weight) in a gastronomia, they make a nice lunch.

Coniglio alla Ligure  In this region, rabbits are raised like chickens and used often. The traditional Ligurian recipe uses fresh herbs, local olives (often taggiasche which some dare call Nicoise), pignoli, local wine, and plenty of fruity olive oil. It’s simple, non-tomatoey, non-saucy, and all the tastes just work right together.

Sgabei These are little fried bits of dough, about 3 inches long and an inch wide, that make county-fair fried dough seem like greasy pancake batter. They have character and substance and a little crunch, and are often offered filled: choose cold cuts or cheese. While you can get them at a frigittoria (a fry shop) - a La Spezia favorite is Pane e Tulipani Via Prione 274- you also may see them as part of an antipasto in a restaurant.

Spaghetti with Anchovy. Osteria All'Inferno, La Spezia.
Spaghetti with Anchovy. Osteria All'Inferno, La Spezia.
Anchovies I know, I know, but these are different. They're fresh, light, delicate, and ubiquitous. Italians are known for eating delicious things, so maybe you give them another try. They show up in numerous ways, some of the favorites are marinated, Acciughe Marinate, delicate little fillets in a dressing of oil, some herbs, served as an antipasto; as a sauce on spaghetti, Spaghetti all'Acciughe, which is generally pretty restrained, and involves some tomato and parsley; and stuffed, as Acciughe ripiene in which they are opened up flat, topped with a tablespoon of seasoned bread crumbs, and broiled until crunchy.

Pesto  Believe it or not, this was invented in Liguria. It's different here. It's better here. The dish always involves basil, pignoli, parmigiano and garlic paste, and Ligurians often add a handful of green beans and some slices of boiled potato. The most authentic presentation for pesto is on a short local pasta as trofie al pesto. However, you may also find it on spaghetti, bavette, buccatini, or another Ligurian invention - croxetti.

Croxetti, Ligurian pasta.
Croxetti, Ligurian pasta.

Croxetti These are a round thin pasta with a symbol stamped on them. You may not find these served in restaurants too often this far south in Liguria, since they appear more often about 30 miles up the coast (see our story & recipe at Living Ligurian History). However, you can readily find them as packages of dried pasta, and they make a great souvenir. When you get home and serve the croxetti to people with the pesto, green bean and potato mixture, you'll have a great way to share your Ligurian experience.


Vermentino This is a traditional white wine of the area, and it is excellent by itself or with seafood. The Vermentino grape is thought to be native to Sardinia and Liguria, and it is becoming very popular. For a favorable price vs. quality, we suggest you look for the DOC Colli di Luni from the La Spezia area and the nearby foothills of the Apuan Alps.

There could be many more foods listed here - baccala and stoccafisso, testaroli and bianchetti, but we are running long already. As you can imagine, there is never agreement over what constitutes a specialty and who is responsible for it. If you want an Italian viewpoint, here's a local website Ama La Spezia - Ricette Tipiche

Travel Tip
Where to Stay in Cinque Terre?
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Use the ferry to avoid the crowds while you enjoy the Gulf of the Poets towns. Read our descriptions and hotel recommendations:
                                            Link: Guide to Portovenere Lerici La Spezia
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Written by Martha