One of the reasons Italy is always very appealing to us is that it has such a rich and diverse gastronomy and it’s so easy to reach all these local dishes full of taste and color. Calabria was for us a true gourmet experience, with fresh and local ingredients and with lots of traditional recipes that perfectly tell the story of this region.
In the Calabrian gastronomy is room for almost every possible ingredient – in the inland area, you will get lots of meat (pork, lamb, but also chicken), cheese and vegetables and on the coast line there’s plenty of sea food to chose from. There are, of course a few superstars of the region, some of them having become the symbols of this beautiful area of Italy.
If it’s something we did see in abundance during our road trip in Calabria, it’s for sure olive trees. The sun in this part of Italy is optimum for olives and there are olive trees plantations everywhere you look. Most of the olive oil produced in this area is still produced using traditional mills, using a generations-old procedure to give one of the most pure olive oil of Italy.
Maccheroni col Ferretto
As most of the regions in Italy, Calabria also produces its own type of pasta, called maccheroni col ferretto – a sort of long and thick spaghetti looking like. Mixed with all sorts of sauces and fresh herbs, with a bit of olive oil, for a perfect taste. If it’s something I truly appreciate about the Italian cuisine in general is that they know how to mix a small amount of ingredients to create some very tasteful pasta dishes.
Red onions in Tropea
Cipolla Rosa is the symbol of Tropea and the region around it. You will see red onions all over the place when visiting Tropea and they are known for their sweet flavor. People in Tropea use red onions in almost all of their dishes, including ice cream. At Gelato da Tonino is where you will have the chance to try this authentic and local gelato with red onions (they also have some other “weird” flavors – like chilly peppers or olive oil gelato).
Red hot peppers and the n’duja sauce
Red hot peppers is the main gastronomic symbol of the Calarian region and n’duja is the sauce that made them famous. N’duja is a very hot sauce, used in many of the Calabrian dishes, including main dishes, but also used as a starter, as a spreadable paste. It is made of pork meat, lots of roasted red hot peppers and red wine.
Tomatoes of all sizes, zucchini, eggplants together with all sorts of fresh herbs will perfectly accompany any meal. Vegetables are very much used in most of the Calabrian dishes, either fresh or cooked, and their freshness give each dish an amazing taste.
Meat and diary products
Since most of the inland Calabrian region is a farmers’ heaven, of course that you will find all sorts of meat and diary products while visiting. All sorts of soft and hard cheese (including a few very tasty goat cheese assortments), sausages, salami are to be found especially if you eat at small local guesthouses in the villages of Calabria. Lamb is also used in many of the dishes of this region, together with pork.
The coastline towns and villages of Calabria will, of course, offer a wide range of fresh fish and sea food for every taste. Swordfish is the superstar of Scilla, and you will find it in almost any restaurant of this village. Mussels, lobster, shrimps are also to be found around the region.
It’s mostly in Reggio Calabria that you will find these bergamot trees, with fruits looking like lemons and limes. They have a very strong flagrance and the bergamot fruits and oil are used in cosmetics a lot. The fruits are less sour than the lemons, but more bitter than the grapefruit.
Restaurants in Calabria
We did a bit of a research before our trip in Calabria to make sure we don’t just fall into a tourist trap when getting there. However, I would say that tourist traps in Calabria might be a myth, considering there aren’t so many tourists around and people still have small, family restaurants where every dish is cooked with fresh ingredients and with a lot of attention.
A very nice, family-run, guesthouse just a few kilometers outside of Squillace, with a great view over the surroundings. They have a small restaurant where they cook using mostly products from their farm and from the nearby villages. It’s the first place we tried during our trip and we were so impressed by our dinner. It was a perfect introduction to the Calabrian cuisine, although having starters, 2 main dishes and desert was a bit too much for us. We had a bit of everything – local cheese and meat products, n’duja, pasta, pork steak and lots of fresh vegetables.
To Barone Macri we went because the guys at Agriturismo Virgena recommended us this place. They also have a winery, so they produce their own wine, which is one of the best in Calabria. Dinner was very nice, on an outdoor terrace, surrounded by the vineyard and all sorts of local products (some all produced by Barone Macri themselves) perfectly accompanied the Barone Macri wine.
In Scilla we were looking for a nice place to have some fish and sea food, and Il Casato was a very good choice. They have a very nice small outdoor terrace (which unfortunately was full when we got there) with a perfect view over the sea and Scilla. What we had for dinner was very tasty, you could taste the freshness of the fish and sea food we had – perfect sea food starter and delicious mussels for main course.
Tropea is a bit more touristic and finding a good place to have dinner was a bit more difficult. We chose Quei Bravi Ragazzi mainly because the menu sounded very good and they were a bit outside the main touristic area. Excellent dinner, with lots of local dishes, including the cipolla rosa of Tropea.
La Lampara was the reason we went to Pizzo in our last night in Calabria. It was recommended by Guillaume from 716 la Vie (he’s very passionate about food and authentic places). La Lampara was the best place for sea food from all our trip. Simple dishes, fresh ingredients and a very cosy atmosphere in this small restaurant.
Although in Reggio Calabria, at the sea side, U Pilu’nta l’Ovo is a classical Calabrian restaurant, with dishes based mostly on meat, cheese and pasta, rather than sea food. They have daily menus, so expect to have something fresh every day when visiting them. The lamb and the pasta we had were extremely delicious.