The food of Milan might not be as famous as its gothic cathedral or the city’s fashion scene, but its cuisine includes some of the most delicious food in Italy. Stick-to-your-ribs dishes like risotto alla milanese, cassoeula, and cotoletta alla milanese keep you warm in the winter, while the budget-friendly aperitivo is perfect for experiencing not only Milan’s food and wine, but buzzing nightlife, too.
Classic Milanese dishes tend to be simple, hearty, and rich. The best food in Milan is often cooked with butter instead of olive oil (you have the Alp-raised cows to thank for that), plenty of cheese, and breadcrumb fried meats.
Though Milan is often seen as Italy’s own melting pot, with modern-day trends exploding throughout the city and ethnic food widely available, the traditional Milanese dishes are still appreciated and celebrated throughout the city. Just don’t be surprised to see some of these traditional dishes presented in new, innovative ways the next time you go.
Want to know what to eat in Milan? Here are some of our favorite foods and food traditions.
What to eat in Milan
Come 7 pm, Milan’s bars and enoteche, wine bars, start bustling. That’s thanks to aperitivo, a northern Italian tradition commonly mislabeled as “happy hour.”
Aperitivo isn’t all about discounted drink specials like happy hour, but about the drink itself (usually priced between €6 and €15) and the food paired with it. Aperitivo menus feature wine, beer, and classic cocktails like a spritz (sparking white wine, a bitter liqueur like Aperol or Campari, and sparkling water) or negroni (gin, vermouth, and bitter liqueur).
Meanwhile, meats, cheeses, vegetables, breads, and other delicacies are served on a small plate along with the drink, or in a more expansive buffet. Though you can find aperitivo buffets throughout Italy, Milan is where the tradition truly shines. Some claim that the famous aperitivo was even invented in Milan itself! So when in the city, do like the Milanese do and sit back and relax with a pre-dinner drink.
Risotto alla milanese
This world-famous dish is a creamy mix of arborio rice, saffron, grated cheese, butter, white wine, and chicken stock. This warm staple is a Milanese favorite for its high-quality ingredients like saffron, one of the world’s most expensive spices. Saffron is so often used in Milanese dishes that risotto alla milanese is sometimes simply called risotto giallo or yellow rice, after it’s deep yellow color. Delicious on its own, you might find this dish paired with a fried egg or, even more ubiquitous to the region, ossobuco.
Rice is a prime crop produced in Lombardy’s enormous Po Valley, the wide plain that covers nearly all of southern Lombardy. Because of this, risotto is a staple in any Milanese kitchen. Other classic risotto dishes to try vary based on the season. Try risotto with asparagus in spring, risotto al radicchio, or order risotto ai frutti di mare to get rice served with a heaping helping of fresh seafood.
Beloved worldwide, ossobuco literally means “bone with a hole” in Italian. Made of veal shanks that are braised until the meat falls off the bone, then cooked with tomatoes, vegetables, and white wine, it’s often accompanied by risotto alla milanese.
For many, the most prized part of the dish is the rich bone marrow inside the hole. Bone marrow spread on freshly-baked bread is the perfect way to finish this rich meal.
Cotoletta alla milanese
Cotoletta alla milanese is a thick, fried veal cutlet and need we say, delicious. History has recorded centuries of fights between the Austrians and Italians over who invented this classic dish first (in Austria, the wiener schnitzel is nearly the exact same) but whatever the case, a cotoletta is now a Milanese staple!
Orecchio di elefante
Another variation of cotoletta alla milanese, this dish’s name means “elephant ear.” It’s a much larger, thinner fried cutlet, topped with tomato salad.
A hearty, stick-to-your-bones cornmeal dish that can be served as a second course, topped with anything from a hearty meat stew to cheese to vegetables, or served as a simple side dish. Polenta derives from the area’s cucina povera, or homemade cooking with poor, simple ingredients, but is still beloved today. Popular polenta recipes include adding in meat ragù, sausage and mushrooms, gorgonzola, or butter.
Trippa alla milanese
Many centuries ago, Milanese ate this dish to celebrate special occasions, particularly after midnight mass on Christmas. Also known as busecca in Milanese dialect, this soup is a hearty blend of high quality tripe, pancetta, white beans, vegetables and grated cheese.
Minestrone alla milanese
Most of Milan’s cuisine tends to be rich, so this is a great option on the lighter side: it’s a classic vegetable soup made with a medley of vegetables and sometimes flavored with pancetta. Ingredients depend on what’s in season. The soup is served piping hot in the winter months, but you’ll also find it served lukewarm in the summer.
A fluffy, sweet bread filled with candied fruit and raisins, sometimes accompanied by a mascarpone cream sauce. This dessert, a Christmas staple, is usually brought as a gift during the holiday season. On February third, Italians commemorate San Biagio (Saint Blaise); tradition has it that eating a slice of dry, leftover Christmas panettone for breakfast will ward off the flu and protect your nose and throat.
We’re not sure if this will protect your health, but we do like any excuse to dig into panettone and other regional Christmas cakes!
Another one of our picks for the best food in Milan is cassoeula. The trick to making this pork, sausage, and cabbage stew? Leave no part of the pig behind. Milan’s answer to a classic casserole, the cassoeula includes the ribs, tail, ears, and even head of the pig! While there’s no debate over including offal, chefs do argue over whether or not to add tomato sauce.
Milan might be the most under-appreciated city in Italy. But if you’re the type of person who likes to step off the well-trodden tourist path, it’s one of the most rewarding to visit. From the spectacular Cathedral and Pinacoteca di Brera art museum to the world class bars and restaurants, Milan is packed with wonders. If you want to come see them with us, check out our Milan tour page.
by Elena CipriettiView more by Elena Ciprietti ›
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