One Key Thing Stanley Tucci Wants Tourists To Know About Food In Italy

If you're looking for the real Italy, you won't find it in a plate of chicken parmigiana, according to actor-turned-travel-host Stanley Tucci. In fact, you might want to ditch the Parmesan cheese altogether. When Tucci premiered his docuseries, "Searching for Italy" in 2021, he immediately set out to "dispel some of those myths" people may have about the country and its cuisine, as he explained in an interview with CNN Travel. For one thing, chicken parmigiana "isn't even an Italian dish," he said.

"Searching for Italy" has since won three consecutive Emmy Awards, giving the Oscar-nominated Tucci — a third-generation Italian-American — new prestige as a local guide on TV. In the show, Tucci first showcased places like Florence, where he lived for a year during his childhood, before revisiting the Calabria region and town of Marzi, where over half the population still shares his family name. Yet it's his take on Italian cuisine as a cultural export that may hold the most interest for foodies, even those who are just living vicariously through his travels and dream of visiting Italy.

Tucci said that tourists should be aware of the regional variety of food in Italy more than anything. "Each region is so distinctly different, not just the topography but also the food," he added. The more you get into the food, the more you realize how different it is, not just from region to region or city to city, but from house to house or restaurant to restaurant."

Italy is an 'incredible culinary melting pot'

For food lovers, it may be a common refrain that the Americanized version of their favorite global cuisine isn't the same as the real, homegrown thing. However, it would also be a mistake to lump all Italian cuisine together, Tucci suggested, since it exists on a spectrum. Geographical influences, such as Sicily's proximity to the African coast, play into what he called "the extreme diversity" of food across Italy. "I'd like people to see that incredible diversity," he said. "It's an incredible culinary melting pot."

Expanding the idea of an authentic Italian vacation goes beyond simply realizing that you shouldn't always "expect meatballs to come with the spaghetti," as Tucci put it. The first season of "Searching for Italy" saw him travelerblog six different regions: Naples and the Amalfi Coast, Rome, Bologna, Milan, Tuscany, and Sicily. The Milan episode put him in Lombardy's capital in northern Italy, where veal and risotto at Ratana helped make the region his favorite. In his interview with CNN, Tucci noted, "There's not a tomato in sight when you go to Lombardy."

It's Tuscany where Tucci learned to favor pecorino cheese and not expect Parmesan everywhere you go in Italy. "People consider parmesan the king of cheeses," he said, "but people in Tuscany will say, 'No, no, it's a terrible cheese. The one you want is Tuscan pecorino.' I remember having a conversation with a guy in a deli in Pienza who said, 'We don't even carry Parmesan.'"

A taste of Tucci's Italy

Elsewhere, we've travelerblogd Stanley Tucci's favorite destinations to eat and stay in Italy, highlighting some of the regional dishes he recommends. When in Rome, for example, carbonara may be the route to go. However, another way to get a taste of Italy's regional food variety is by tracking down restaurants where Tucci sampled it on-air. He went for carbonara — made, fittingly, with pecorino instead of Parmesan — at Pommidori, where he returned in May 2024, calling it one of his favorite restaurants.

In Sicily, aka "God's Kitchen," Tucci dined at the Michelin-starred I Pupi, where he had spaghetti made with traditional bottarga (fish roe) instead of meatballs. In Naples, Pizza Fritta da Fernanda is now closed, but you can still line up for a classic Neapolitan slice like Tucci had at the original Pizzeria la Notizia, no. 53. It's on the same street as the newer Pizzeria la Notizia, no. 94, which made the 50 Top Pizza World 2023 list and offers more eclectic pizzas beyond the usual marinara.

Bologna, the country's culinary capital, was almost too big for one episode of Tucci's show, as there are so many must-try dishes in this Italian foodie city. The same could be said of any of these regions. Ultimately, there's so much food diversity on offer in Italy that it may hammer home for you what someone once told Tucci: "The thing about Italy is, you can travel 10 miles and get a completely different menu."