The food of Milan, Italy might not be as famous as the city’s fashion or Duomo. 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.
Want to know what to eat in Milan? Here are some of our favorite foods, and food traditions! Just remember that Milan is a very trendy city, so don’t be surprised to see some of these traditional dishes presented in new, innovative ways.
Aperitivo: Come 6pm, Milan’s bars and enoteche 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 €5 and €12) 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. (Here’s more of what to know about aperitivo in Italy!).
Be sure to save some room after aperitivo to try these other Milanese food specialties!
Risotto alla milanese: This world-famous dish is a creamy mix of arborio rice, saffron, grated cheese, butter, white wine and chicken stock. Like most Milanese specialties, the dish’s beauty is found in its simplicity; the high-quality ingredients, like saffron, one of the world’s most expensive spices; and, of course, the love that Milanese cooks add in!
Risotto alla milanese saltato: Take the above risotto—then add in an egg and fry it in a skillet. It’s the perfect way to reuse risotto leftovers, and a classic Milanese comfort food!
Cotoletta alla milanese: A thick, crispy veal cutlet, still with the bone, fried. And, need we say, delicious.
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.
Polenta: A hearty, stick-to-your-bones cornmeal dish that can be topped with endless possibilities or served as a simple side dish. 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.
Ossobuco: Beloved worldwide, veal shanks are braised until the meat falls off the bone, then cooked with tomatoes, vegetables and white wine. It’s usually accompanied by risotto alla milanese. This dish literally means “bone with a hole” in Italian—and many argue that the best way to finish the dish is to scrape the bone marrow out with a small fork and spread it on freshly-baked bread.
Cassoeula: The trick to making this pork, sausage and cabbage stew? Leave no part of the pig behind. Yes, that means including the ribs, tail, ears, and even head. While there’s no debate over including offal, chefs do argue over whether or not to add tomato sauce.
Minestrone alla milanese: Most of Milan’s cuisine tends to be rich, so this is a great option on the lighter side: a medley of vegetables, sometimes flavored with pancetta. Ingredients depend on what’s in season. The soup is served piping hot in the winter months, and lukewarm in the summer.
Panettone: 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 3rd, 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 so sure ourselves, but we do like any excuse to dig into panettone! (Here’s more on panettone and Italy’s other regional Christmas cakes!).