The Best Food of Calabria

February 14, 2014

Calabria, the “toe of Italy’s boot,” is a picturesque region in southern Italy with mountains, beaches… but the food of Calabria is what gets us really excited!

Calabria’s produce and seafood are well enjoyed with its hearty, local red wine. Many dishes are a mix of fresh ingredients, preserved vegetables, and meats and fish with oil and spices.

Want to know what to eat in Calabria? Here are some of our favorite dishes of the region!

'Nduja (flickr: Girl Interrupted Eating)

‘Nduja and cipolla rossa di Tropea. Photo by Girl Interrupted Eating (Flickr)

‘Nduja: One of Calabria’s most famous and beloved foods! The unique soft, spreadable spicy sausage really brings the heat, thanks to its blend of local chili peppers found in the dish. We love it on crispy bread and fresh pasta.

Cipolla rossa di Tropea: Many of Calabria’s vibrant dishes get their flavor from this famous onion (grown in Tropea), recognized by its bold purple red exterior and sweet flavor! You’ll see this onion in salads, pastas, meats… and even on pizza!

Lagane e cicciari: Calabria’s tradition of cucina povera (peasant cuisine) boasts some of the most simple, yet flavorful, comfort food dishes! One of our favorites is the pasta dish made with wide noodles, chickpeas, garlic and oil.

Pasta ccu ri sarde: Fresh sardines are a staple in Calabrian cuisine and are especially delicious in this sweet and salty, Arab-inspired pasta dish with breadcrumbs, raisins and pine nuts.

Caciocavallo cheese hanging to dry

Caciocavallo cheese hanging to dry

Caciocavallo: Literally meaning “cheese on horseback,” this tasty cheese is known for its salty and sharp yet smooth flavor. Caciocavallo is easy to recognize because of the teardrop shape it forms when hung to dry. The versatile cheese in delicious in pasta dishes like baked lasagna, or on its own with cured meats.

Ciambotta: Eggplant is everywhere in Calabria, mainly as a condiment on pastas and meats, or as a contorno (side dish). Don’t miss this spicy eggplant stew with chili, tomatoes, onion and herbs for a healthy kick! The dish is usually vegetarian and the recipe varies from city to city.

Olive oil: Did you know that almost a quarter of Italy’s olive oil is produced in Calabria? Because Calabria isn’t as well-known of a producer as, say, Tuscany, often the Calabrian oil is used as a base and mixed with other regions’ oil, then labeled as a product of that region! Calabria’s oil is known for its medium robustness and fruity undertones.

Licorice plant and candy

Licorice plant and candy

Licorice: Calabria’s licorice—considered some of the best in the world—is known as rigulizza in local dialect, and is beloved for its digestive properties (not to mention the distinctive taste of the gourmet candy!).


Pignolata, a delicious Calabrian sweet

Pignolata: More popularly known as struffoli, these delectable fried honey balls originally come from a Sicilian recipe and are very popular in the region, especially in the city of Reggio Calabria. You’ll especially find these in pastry shops around major holidays like Carnevale and Christmas.

Bergamot oranges (flickr: John Loo)

Bergamot oranges. Photo by John Loo

Liquore al bergamotto: After a large meal, make like a Calabrian and sip the region’s digestive liqueur made from bergamot oranges! The concoction, similar to limoncello, is made from the juice of an extremely tart orange found on the gorgeous groves throughout the region. We suggest bringing back bergamot scented teas and perfumes as a great souvenir! 

What’s your favorite Calabrian dish? Tell us about it in the comments!

Show Comments

14 responses to “The Best Food of Calabria”

  1. James says:

    Wow. I had no idea the food in Calabria was so varied. It all looks absolutely delicious. Unfortunately I can’t tell you which my favourite dish is as I’ve never tasted any of those listed above. Looks like I need to get cooking.

  2. Raffaella says:

    I would love to try out that spreadable sausage! My grandmother was from Calabria (before moving to Puglia), so I will definitely be making my way there the next time I’m in the south – probably in conjunction with a visit to Sicily. Such beautiful, rugged country and possibly the most ignored region of Italy.

  3. Catherine says:

    Gateau di patate – who could resist layers of mashed potatoes, cheese, ham, egg, sugo and crispy on top?! Yum. The difficulty is not eating too much!

  4. Suzanne says:

    The hearty red sauce over pasta

  5. Jane says:

    Reminds me of the foods my mother in law used to make 😉

  6. Ed says:

    I love Italian food, especially from Calabria. My grandfather and grandmother on my father’s side were both from Calabria but emigrated to New York in the 1920s. My grandmother used to make pignolata everytime we visited them in the Bronx. She also made some cookies that were awesome. Although I have a basic recipe for the pignolata, I never could find out what the name of those particular cookies were, and never had a recipe for them. Still trying to learn more about that region.

  7. Dorothy Mullins says:

    If we visited Calabria we would love to learn about food and cooking in someone’s home. Something very authentic.

    Any suggestions?

  8. Ann Taranto Berner says:

    Amazing how the older I’ve gotten, the more I appreciate my culture. I don’t think there’s a more popular food than Italian food. My Nona, from Naples, made the most delicious and best lasagna…sometimes mine comes out just like hers. My other a Grandmother from Sicily made some amazing dishes. Two of my favorites is rice balls and spaghetti with Cauliflower. And let’s not forget those delicious struffoli! Love my heritage, culture and food brought here in the USA where I live.

  9. gianni piccolo says:

    I want suggest other Calabria plates:
    1) STRUNCATURA is tipicol from Southern part of The region. A particular dark pasta with acciughe And garlic salsa.
    2 ) FRITTELLE DI STOCCO (find imagine And recipe)

  10. Paul Mathew says:

    A list of Mouthwatering foods of Calabria.It looks very authentic.Good work.

  11. Veronica Baker says:

    Love Italian food- my grandparents were from Calabria, Campania and Tuscany. I think my favorites overall are lasagna, eggplant parmigiana and zuppe di pesce but the Calabrese food I like best is tripe over friselle. My grandma, from Naples, made pignolata-yum- which she called struffoli, it’s the same thing1

  12. Delicious food in Calabria. I’d like to add that recently chefs have been experimenting more and more with the bergamot and licorice. Personally, I love honey with bergamot oil, also bergamot gelato. And the juice that comes from the pulp is tart, to say the least, but it has the benefit of being a cholesterol inhibitor!

  13. Hannah Ellicott says:

    You need to have a better description on the famous foods.

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