Yes, I know – when someone thinks about Italy and gastronomy, one will definitely say pasta and pizza. But when getting to travel around the country for several times, you will find out that each region has its own specialties and many times it’s neither pizza, nor pasta.
We did a trip in Turin this spring and, as the weather was not ideal, we had enough excuse to spend time in local restaurants and explore the gastronomy of the northern part of Italy, Piedmont region to be more exact.
The Piedmont cuisine, being a mountains regions, relies more on growing animals, rather than vegetables. So forget about fresh olives and tomato sauce, and expect to find more diary products and meat (including game).
Cheese & Meat
The surrounding hills, plains and mountains offer the perfect conditions for growing animals and Piedmont has now about 48 types of cheese (cow, goat and sheep). Some of the most known are Toma cheeses, Robiola, Castelmagno, Raschera, Gorgonzola and the Piedmontese variety of ricotta known as seirass. You will find most of them in the menus of the restaurants in the antipasti section.
In terms of meat, prepare to find everything you can imagine – pork, beef, lamb, rabbit and game in most of the restaurants of Turin. For antipasti, you will get all sorts of prosciutto, mortadella, speck, sausages, but also beef tartar and the one we totally loved – carne crudo (raw veal meat served with olive oil, salt and a bit of lemon juice).
Another antipasto we found super tasty is vitello tonnato. It’s a boneless cut of veal, boiled and let to cool down, sliced very thin and served with a tuna, egg, anchovy and caper-based sauce on top.
If you go to a restaurant that serves antipasti you can always go for a misto antipasti and you will get a bit of everything to taste.
For the main courses, you will get all sorts of stews (lamb, veal, chicken, pork and game), slow cooked for several hours, together with mainly potatoes or artichokes as a side dish.
Pasta, polenta and rice
The Piedmont cuisine uses rice and polenta for some of its antipasti and main dishes. Being close to the the Vercelli area, where rice is produced, main restaurants will have risotto on their menus. Polenta is mainly used as a side dish for the meat main course.
In terms of pasta, you only get three main types in this region. Tajarin (long and thin strips of egg-based pasta), agnolotti (ravioli-like dumplings stuffed with a mixture of meat – generally beef, rabbit and pork – and vegetables) and chicche (gnocchi-like, but smaller).
Tajarin are often served with a meat ragù, and depending on the season you can get also truffles and porcini mushrooms.
Chicche normally also come with ragu, but some restaurants chose to reinvent and add all other sorts of sauces.
Pastry and sweets
In terms of pastry and bread, you will get everything you can imagine. Turin has lots of small bakeries, where you can buy fresh bread and derivatives every morning. Also, the famous Grissini are a Piedmont invention.
In terms of sweets, Turin is full of gelaterias and sweets shops. They also have a few local chocolate producers. In restaurants you will find all sorts of deserts, we tried the local one – bonnet (a chocolate and amaretto biscuit pudding).
Places we tried out
The cool thing about Turin, and actually Italy in general, is that they have this aperitivo concept – meaning that normally before dinner you stop by a nice caffe, get a drink and a little snack (this includes chips, small pizza pieces, salads or anything else that the place decided to serve).
Turin is full of nice, small restaurants, but you have to consider that the best of them are always full and you need a reservation to get a table. When we got there on a Saturday night, it took us about 2 hours to finally get to one of the restaurants that we had on our list.
Piola del Forno – This was our first try when we got to Turin and the place where we first met the Piedmont cuisine. It’s a small family restaurant, one of the oldest in Turin, where they cook based on what seasonal ingredients they have available.
They have a standard menu, but also a daily one and you will get all the tasty dishes of the Piedmont area – misto antipasti of meat and cheese products, agnolotti, duck breast with artichokes and oranges sauce and the very delicious carne crudo with a creamy goat cheese on top.
Da Cianci Piola Caffe – this was our first choice when we got to Turin, but the place was so full that we only managed to get in the next day. The experience was so amazing in terms of atmosphere and cuisine that we decided to go there another two times. It’s a small restaurant, but always full of locals going there for lunch and dinner. It will happen many times that they will have to actually improvise a table for you when you get there, but it’s very much worth it.
They have a menu that changes every day based on what ingredients they find available. They normally have 4 -5 antipasti, 2 – 3 primi and 2 – 3 secondi with again 2 – 3 deserts. We went for all the antipasti and the carne crudo and the vitello tonnato were super tasty.
This is also the place where we had the most delicious tajarin and agnolotti, plus the rabbit pie and the lamb steak. Also, the chicken main dishes are very tasty, cooked with all sorts of spices. On the last day of our trip, we came here for lunch and tried another Piedmont traditional – Trippa et fagioli (tripe stew with beans) and very hot pickled peppers.
Cianci is really the place to try if you want to get into the Torinese way of eating out.
We had another few restaurants on our list, that were as promising as the ones we managed to try out, but they will have to wait until next time: L’Acino, Tre Galli, Cantine Barbaroux, Trattoria Coco’s, Trattoria Valenza, Osteria Antiche Sere, Osteria Le Putrelle and Ristorantte Sotto La Mole.
This was our try of the Piedmont cuisine, a true delight for our taste buds, with such a variety of dishes, so many different tastes and flavors, so many perfect combinations between main ingredients, spices and herbs.