Liguria’s unique territorial morphology and history have shaped its cuisine. In fact, the Alps and the Apennines create a temperate climate mitigated by the Tyrrhenian sea, which is ideal for growing early produce. And the lack of space for cattle ranching and large plantations, led locals to farm white meat and vegetables.
Also, its capital – Genoa – was the largest port city in the Mediterranean at one point in history, and Ligurian cuisine was tailored to fit the desires of returning sailors, who yearned for the freshness of herbs.
The result is a delicious cuisine that is particularly healthy, with protagonists such as aromatic herbs, vegetables, olive oil, legumes, fish and cereals (especially alternative flours such as chestnut and chickpea).
Let’s embark on a foodie journey throughout Liguria!
The first stop for food lovers is Genoa, cradle of the product that represents Liguria in the world: PESTO
The unique microclimate and position of the sun-kissed district of Pra’ has elevated the characteristics of the local high-quality basil. With our Genoa Pesto Experience you can visit the historic greenhouses where the delicious basil is grown, followed by a cooking lesson in a majestic Renaissance building, where you will make pesto in the traditional way with mortar and pestle.
When strolling around Genoa, make sure to visit the historical port, where spices would arrive from the Far East. Here you can still find ancient grocer’s shops and even confectionery stores that used to combine the imported raw materials with French pastry art.
Visit the Mercato Orientale for an authentic experience: this is where many locals shop for their fresh vegetables and fruit.
If you love street food, then Genoa is the place to be!
In fact, with its fried-food shops (friggitorie) it has become a street-food hub to cater for harbor workers. And of course, in Genoa you must try iconic delicacies such as the focaccia oven-baked flatbread, the farinata pancake with chickpea flour, some fresh trofie pasta (traditionally it was made with chestnut flour) or the pansoti filled with wild herbs.
Going toward the Western Riviera, we encounter a rare and precious citrus fruit, the chinotto. Although originally from China, it is now cultivated only in the stretch of land between Varazze and Pietra Ligure.
This fruit became part of Slow Food Presidia in 2004. When visiting the province of Savona, you can learn more about this gastronomic excellence by meeting a Slow Food chinotto producer.
The Ligurian Alps are home to the so-called “cucina bianca”, or white cuisine. The name stems from the fact that white is the dominant color of its main specialties, such as pasta, vegetables and pies prepared with cheese, beans, turnips, mushrooms and eggs.
The local mountain cuisine also features different kinds of cheese from the local sheep (pecora brigasca) and goat (capra bionda di Mendatica).
Along the western coast you will find the romantic and fragrant Riviera dei Fiori.
One of the most particular experiences here is to visit an ancient distillery where a family tradition is handed down from generation to generation since the 18th century. The producers grow flowers and herbs – such as orange blossoms, roses, rosemary, eucalyptus, lavender – to extract precious essential oils.
In particular, the bitter orange blossom water produced here has been included among the Slow Food Presidia. In the kitchen you can use orange blossom water to aromatize salads, herbal teas, pies, cookies, fritters and cocktails.
East from Genoa we encounter the town of Recco, home to one of the most famous Ligurian dishes: Focaccia al formaggio di Recco. Prepared with an ancient recipe, this cheese focaccia is so popular and delicious that it even has its own dedicated festival every spring.
Moving along the Riviera di Levante we reach Cinque Terre and the Gulf of Poets. In the largest town, La Spezia, there are many excellent osterie serving authentic local food. You must try the Muscoli Ripieni alla Spezzina, or Spezia-style stuffed mussels, and the Testaroli, a handmade pasta resembling a crepe cut in squared pieces.
What about food in the famous Cinque Terre?
From fresh lemons and anchovies, to D.O.C. wine and the prestigious Sciachetrà, from fish fritters to Monterosso’s rice pie: discover local cuisine in the article “What to eat in Cinque Terre?”. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is perfect for a one-of-the-kind cooking lesson!
This part of Liguria, specifically the Vara Valley, is home to the majestic Gallo Nero della Val di Vara. These giant black roosters roam freely in nature and follow a natural diet that makes their meat excellent. Just like the aforementioned orange blossom water, the chinotto and the brigasca sheep cheese, these roosters are also protected by the Slow Food movement.
Have you ever heard of pasta stamped with an aristocratic family’s coat of arms? No? Then you must try the unique corzetti, or round coins of fresh pasta dough embossed with a handmade artisanal tool. They are great with pesto, but also with other sauces such as salsa di noci (walnut) and salsa di pinoli (pine nuts).
Are you a foodie intrigued by Liguria?
Come and taste it: you will be surprised by how amazing it is to eat great dishes prepared with simple and poor ingredients. Have a look at the itinerary of the Italian Riviera Culinary Tour for an experience that embraces the best of Liguria’s food.