Located in Northern Italy, the city of Milan, aka Milano, is the country’s financial and business center as well as known for its dynamic fashion scene and historic landmarks. But whether you’re visiting to shop, do some business, or explore its cultural attractions, you’ll want to eat like a local.
Milan’s culinary scene is distinctive and quite different from the cuisine favorites of more southern cities like Rome and Naples. With its rich sauces and strong preference for meat-focused dishes, Milan’s cuisine has been influenced by its prosperous history as well as its proximity to countries like Austria and Switzerland. Although you can certainly find popular Italian exports like pizza and linguini with clams, you don’t want to miss the following Milanese foods, which are a celebration for the taste buds.
Risotto alla Milanese
While there are many variations of risotto alla Milanese, the classic version that features saffron as its main star is one of the most popular dishes in Milan. In fact, risotto alla Milanese is popular throughout the Lombardy region.
The base of the dish, of course, is rice. In Milan, rice has risen to the status that pasta enjoys in much of the rest of the country. With its velvety texture and delicate flavor, risotto alla Milanese gets its richness from butter and parmesan cheese. When visiting the city, you’re likely to find this dish served at both upscale restaurants and inexpensive cafes, but it’s not uncommon to find eateries that make a signature version of risotto alla Milanese.
Ossobuco is another must-eat Milanese favorite that’s popular with meat lovers. Ossobuco, which means ‘hole in the bone’ is a slow-simmered dish that features a meaty veal shin bone, a marrowbone, that lends its natural richness to the dish. The earliest mentions of Ossobuco in Lombardy date to some 19th century cookbooks, but today, there are many different preparations of the dish.
Some cooks serve it unadorned atop a plate of polenta. On the other hand, the Milanese often prefer ossobuco served with gremolata, a mixture of parsley, garlic, and lemon zest, which has a way of brightening what might otherwise be dubbed a ‘heavy dish’.
Costoletta alla Milanese
Although its resemblance to schnitzel can’t be denied, costoletta alla Milanese doesn’t have much else in common with the star of Austrian cuisine. While both dishes feature a thoroughly well-pounded breaded veal cutlet that is fried to perfection, costoletta alla Milanese features a sea-inspired flavor with the addition of anchovies. It also features olive oil, which makes it distinctively Mediterranean in flavor.
Food historians have reported that a version of the dish existed in Lombardy as early as 1148. It continues to be a Milanese favorite and is served nearly anywhere in the city, often with potatoes or polenta.
Known as “Christmas bread,” panettone, a sweet bread made with candied fruits or raisins, has adorned holiday tables throughout Milan since the 15th century. This simple dome-shaped cake is made with flour, eggs, butter, and yeast and is frequently served with chocolate or custard. Yet, even unadorned, panettone, is beloved by the Milanese who enjoy it with coffee or sweet wine. In fact, having been ‘born’ in Milan during the Renaissance, this dish is one of the city’s chief culinary claims to fame.
While there are many versions of panettone served all over Italy today, the best ones require more than 30 hours to prepare; these are the ones to try when visiting Milan.
Although panzerotti isn’t Milanese in origin, these small calzone-type snacks are widely available and beloved in the city. Milanese cooks have elevated panzerotti, stuffing them with either savory or sweet ingredients. Prepared baked or fried, these hand-held dough snacks often hold fillings like sheep ricotta, nutella, tomato, mushrooms, and mozzarella. Resembling a large pizza roll, panzerotti in Milan is sometimes served with seafood like anchovies, mortadella, and provolone. If you’re searching for the perfect light lunch in Milan, panzerotti won’t disappoint you.
Hearty and popularly served during the winter, or cool damp days, cassoeula is another quintessential Milanese dish. Prepared in a casserole dish, cassoeula stars pork and cabbage complemented by onion, tomato puree, diced carrots, and celery. Cooks and chefs alike usually prepare cassoeula with various pork meat, including sausage and ribs. With its generous sprinkling of black pepper, cassoeula promises to spice up any dreary day. If you’re visiting the city during the winter, this dish will warm you up after a day of sightseeing.
Minestrone alla Milanese
Known the world over, minestrone soup is, perhaps, the best known of all Italian soups. However, its Milanese version usually features a bit of arborio rice rather than pasta. Some culinary experts believe the minestrone, itself, hails from Milan, but other food historians suggest that the ancient Romans made a soup preparation that paved the way for the vegetable soup that’s widely enjoyed today.
Many cooks in Milan prepare minestrone alla Milanese with seasonal vegetables along with beans. While it’s possible to find vegetarian versions, the soup may also feature chicken stock and flavored with pancetta. In the summer, expect to find Minestrone alla Milanese served cold.
Pappardelle alla Boscaiola
Although rice is more commonplace in Milan cuisine than pasta, if you want to indulge in homemade pasta topped by a genuinely luscious sauce, order pappardelle alla boscaiola. The long-wide pappardelle is ideal for sopping up this dish’s wild mushroom sauce prepared with white wine. The dish is usually made with porcini mushrooms. Its slightly woodsy, earthy taste is often complemented by a hint of pancetta or bacon. It’s also not uncommon to find the dish served with peas or halved cherry tomatoes.
Like many Italian cities, Milan brims with gastronomical delights. Its northern location and unique history has allowed it to create dishes that are not common in other parts of the country. While these dishes are certainly Milanese standouts, there are many others that you may want to try during your visit. Although wine is routinely served with meals in Milan, you may want to order one of the most popular Milanese cocktails–negroni.