Cruise vacations and food are almost synonymous. From sushi and steakhouses to wine tastings and decadent gelato, some cruise ships have it all. And then there are the places you'll visit. When it comes to tasting Italian cuisine in cozy cafés or restaurants, the ports of call on a Mediterranean vacation offer something for everyone to enjoy in multiple Italian regions.
Popular ports in Italy for an Eastern Mediterranean cruise vacation are Venice, Civitavecchia (the closest port to Rome) and Naples. It's a good idea to arrive two or three days before departure to have plenty of time to explore at least one of these three Italian regions — each offering its own claim to Italian cuisine.
You'll want to taste a bit of Venice's culinary history, namely, risotto. Risotto is rice cooked in a hearty broth until it reaches a creamy consistency. It is said to have been brought to Italy by Arabs in the Middle Ages. From there, it was only a matter of time until Italians found new ways to prepare and serve rice. Today, there's no shortage of ingredients you can find in risotto; fish, mushrooms, and cheeses are the most popular.
Across Laguna Veneta, the Venetian Lagoon, is the island of Burano, which you can visit Burano on an excursion from your cruise. If you're staying in Venice for a few days, head to the island for dinner at Trattoria Da Romana. The broth for their signature risotto is carefully prepared using tiny fish (called "go" fish) right from the lagoon.
On the other side of Italy, Rome offers another take on traditional Italian cuisine. Only an hour's drive from the port city of Civitavecchia, Rome is a worthwhile day-long trip from the port, as well as a great pre- or post-cruise destination. The Eternal City offers a diverse selection of Italian cuisine from the traditional old-world flavors of artichokes and zucchini to trendy trattorias and pizza parlors. And of course, there's the pasta. Whether topped with a tomato sauce, bacon-y carbonara, or olive oil and garlic, when in Rome, pasta is king.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara, a beloved dish in Rome, can be found in nearly every city restaurant. One of the places to go for this dish is Pipero al Rex located in the Hotel Rex, just a few short blocks from Termini Station. There, the chef takes the main carbonara ingredients, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, eggs and black pepper and slightly heats them over a warm water bath. Rather than the American-style bacon, he crisps guanciale (pork cheek) instead as it imparts a milder flavor than bacon. Then all the ingredients plus a little of the rendered guanciale fat are tossed with the al dente spaghetti.
Just south of Rome is the ancient port of Naples. In a beautiful, historic Italian region, Naples is a 15-minute walk from the port. The heart of the city offers casual restaurants, designer clothing stores, and bakeries along the way.
Naples is the city where the pizza you know and love was invented, so put "eat pizza in Napoli" on your to-do list. The thin, crispy crust can be topped with just about anything. For a really different pizza, try a Neapolitan pizza lightly covered with tomato sauce and topped with arugula, prosciutto, mozzarella, artichoke, and a hard-boiled egg.
Your Mediterranean vacation won't be complete until you've tasted your way through Italian food by region. Arrive early or stay late in Italy and savor the flavor of authentic Italian cuisine. Food back home will never be the same.
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