While the Italian cuisine known around the world for dishes such as pizza and pasta, the domestic cuisine of Italy itself differs a lot from internationalized Italian dining.
Some Italian culinary traditions go back to the Roman Empire.
As Italy was not unified until the 19th century, and provincial patriotism is strong, ingredients, cooking methods and manners vary between provinces. In a real sense, it can be said that in Italy, there is no such thing as "Italian cuisine", but rather, multiple styles of local cuisines that sometimes differ between one village and the next, and even more so, one traditional region and the next. In general, northern Italian cuisine has similarities with Central Europe. Animal fats such as butter and lard dominate. Southern Italy has more of the typical Mediterranean cuisine, based on olive oil, tomatoes, garlic and sub-tropical fruits.
- Seafood: While the Mediterranean is overfished, fish and seafood are served in traditional dishes (cucina tipica) of coastal Italian communities.
- Meat: Italy is particularly famous for cured meat, including prosciutto, mortadella and salame, and air-dried beef called bresaola. Steak is famously charred in Tuscany (bistecca alla fiorentina), pork — especially in the form of wild boar (cinghiale) — is considered a delicacy, and many types of fowl are prepared in various ways.
- Cheese: Italy has a variety of hard and soft cheeses. The generic word for cheese is formaggio. Pecorino (many varieties) is sheep cheese. Many Italian cheeses are made from cow's milk, and mozzarella is made from the milk of the European buffalo (mozzarella di bufala).
- Fruit and vegetables: In the south, citrus fruits are ubiquitous. While tomatoes (pomodori) were unknown before the Age of Discovery, they are extremely common in today's Italian cuisines, especially in the South. Garlic (aglio) and onions (cipolle) are also important bases of much Italian food. Green leafy vegetables are typically used in mixed salad (insalata mista) and in soups such as zuppa di verdure (literally, "greens soup") and ribollita in Tuscany.
- Wine: Italy is famous for its wine (vino). Wine is used quite often in cooking as well as to drink with the meal.
In addition to savory food, there are wonderful Italian pastries, especially in Naples and other points south but also in places like Siena, which aside from pan-Tuscan treats, also has some local specialities, most notably panforte, a kind of very dense cake.
In general, you can expect every place you visit in Italy to have its own local specialities. If you seek them out, look for restaurants serving cucina tipica and patronise local bakeries as well.