Calabrian Foods: Savoring Authentic Regional Flavors

Calabrian Foods

Calabrian foods are vibrant and flavorful, reflecting the region’s land and rich history. This guest post by *Sabrina Hebert offers an insider’s take on some of Calabria’s specialty foods. After reading her post, I want to put Calabria on my travel bucket list!

Calabria, Italy, is renowned for its beautiful beaches, stunning mountains, colorful hillside villages, and unquestionablyits exceptional regional cuisine.

I was fortunate enough to be born in Calabria, the beautiful Southern region of Italy, which is separated from Sicily only by the undulating waters of the Strait of Messina.

Calabria is the last region on the mainland, and because getting there is no small feat, it remains one of the least explored.

Beach in Scilla, Calabria
Beach in Scilla, Calabria

But traveling there is truly worth the effort. Upon your arrival, you might find yourself one step closer to gastronomical heaven

From the less-renowned tripe and trout meals to the better-known pasta, spices, and sauces, everyone will find something to savor when traveling through Calabria.

When exploring a region so sought after for its cuisine, it is crucial to ensure that you try any and all foods local to the area. One way is to look up what foods are labeled as PDO, short for Protected Designation of Origin, a designation aimed at preserving the authenticity of the origin of a food-related product.

Calabria is no stranger to PDOs. Some are better known than others, but pushing yourself to indulge in some of these new delights will give you a lay of the land and help you understand the culture of the people of Calabria and how food affects every aspect of their lives.

Let’s explore some not-to-be-missed PDO-certified foods you should try on your next trip to Calabria.

PDO Calabrian Foods

‘Nduja Sausage

'Nduja Sausage from Calabria (adobe Stock)
‘Nduja Sausage from Calabria spread on bread

First and foremost, you cannot leave without trying ‘nduja.

‘Nduja is a Calabrese sausage, rich in deep red color from chili pepper and soft in consistency. It was originally made with the less desirable parts of the pig as butchers would take home the leftover meat that customers wouldn’t consume and meld it together, creating this sausage. This is no longer the case.

Nowadays, ‘Nduja consists of better pig meats such as bacon, lard, etc. While there are many ways to consume ‘Nduja, the most eaten ‘Nduja comes in a jar as a “paste” with sausage, Calabrian red hot chilis, and fresh olive oil. The “spread” can be used on toasted homemade sourdough bread or pizza with buffalo mozzarella and arugula.

However you choose to enjoy your ‘Nduja’, make sure you don’t leave without at least tasting it!

Il Bergamotto

Il Bergamotto
Il Bergamotto

It isn’t likely that you’ll leave Calabria without seeing this next item on a menu. Il Bergamotto, “The Bergamot,” belongs to the citrus fruit family. Yellow-greenish in color, its scent and flavor profile are incredibly potent and unmistakable. This makes it one of those foods you either love or dislike!

Typical foods that include Bergamot vary from gelato and pastry creams to marmalades and liquors (think limoncello style) and even perfumes!

Bergamot can be found in other climates, but nowhere does it grow better than in Calabria’s clay soil and long, hot days. Il Bergamotto’s real claim to fame? Its oil is said to contain homeopathic remedies for ailments such as colds and can even be found in honey nowadays. Whatever way you consume Bergamotto, you have to let me know what you think of its complex flavor and multiple uses.

Calabrian Licorice

Amarelli Licorice
Amarelli Calabrian Licorice

Let’s talk licorice. It’s another love-it-or-hate-it item. But for those who love it, Calabrese licorice is one for the museums! Literally.

It’s so renowned that in 2001, the Amarelli family (the biggest producer of Calabrese licorice) opened a museum in a 15th-century-style residence. Here, you can tour the factory on your own, book a tour, and, of course, shop and taste Calabrese licorice.

The little red tin of the licorice makes the best gift or souvenir to pick up during your travels. What makes Amarelli inarguably the best licorice? Its simple ingredient: Licorice. Yup, that’s it!

Because of the Calabrese climate, the licorice root is a perfect balance of bitter and sweet, so there is no need to add anything else to the recipe. The museum is a top destination in your Calabrese travels and something only a few get to experience.

Want to delve more into the twisty world of Calabrese licorice? Visit my blog, “The Best of Italian,” to read my post on Calabrese Licorice: A Sweet Journey Into Italian Tradition.

Other Calabrian Foods That Make the Region a Gastronomical Heaven

Red Tropea onions
A bunch of red tropea onions.

Are you ready to taste more of Calabria?

Foods native to Calabria

Some other food specialties native to Calabria include Caciocavallo, Pecorino, and Ricotta cheeses; sweet red onions from Tropea; of course, the Calabrian Chili Pepper, Capocollos, and Sopressata meats; olive oil (you knew that!) and one thing you can never ever leave Calabria without tasting: The bread.

Cerchiara bread

Cerchiara bread is made in Cerchiara, Calabria, now known as “The City of Bread.” Folding the dough on itself before baking creates the characteristic side swell of the bread. It is the heavyweight champ, weighing anywhere between 2 and 3.5 kilos, flavored from the wood-burning oven it’s baked in.

Whatever your gastronomical preferences, I hope this article inspires you to try something new during your travels through Calabria.

One last suggestion? Get lost! Yes, ditch the planning and your map for a day and surround yourself with the region’s mom-and-pop locales. Help a farmer, visit an open-air market (the samples here are unreal!), and immerse yourself in the land.

The people of Calabria are a proud bunch. They love their land and food; nothing will make them happier than sharing their customs and traditions with you. 

Buon Viaggio! (Safe travels!)

*Born and raised in Calabria, Sabrina Hebert is a traveling Italian-American military wife whose lifelong dream has been to share the beauty of her birth country with others.  She blogs at The Best of Italian.

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