christmas decor on a restaurant in milan

What do Italians Eat for Christmas?

What do Italians Eat for Christmas?

Christmas is a joyful time of year, during which everything is light and colorful.

There is something very important to keep in mind when talking about Italian Christmas traditions: there is no such thing as just one tradition! This is the first thing to know when talking about Christmas in Italy. If you don’t believe me, you can ask any of our tour guides leading our Food Tours, and they’ll surely confirm!

You might be wondering: What do Italians eat for Christmas?

Well, Italian Christmas food and Italian Christmas dinners are all dependent upon region. In Italy, food is a profound marker of Italy’s regional differences. Each region is proud of its own rich, local culture. For example, Panettone can be bought in any supermarket in Italy, but it is originally baked in the north! There will be no southern “nonna” baking it at home!

The same thing goes for tortellini, which is a traditional food of central Italy, usually homemade for big occasions. During Christmastime, tortellini is prepared in brodo (in broth) and served on Christmas Day. It might be followed by bollito misto (a mix of boiled meat with special sauces and pickles).

Less famous are the southern Italy Christmas traditions; in Rome and Naples, for example, capitone is a must (“anguilla” in Italian, and “eel” in English). This tradition probably comes from Naples, a city that sits by the sea and thus has good fish readily available.

Some have tried to associate the dish symbolically to a way of “eating the devil,” due to the snake-like shape of an eel. Anyhow, the most traditional families buy the capitone on the 23rd of December, still alive, to cook it on the 24th. Indeed, capitone is eaten on Christmas Eve, since it is a well-known rule around the country that it is better to eat fish on this day.

Also typical of the southern regions (Campania, Pulia, Calabria) are the zeppole (also called struffoli in some areas). This dessert is as simple as it is delicious: it is basically fried sweet bread dough. The farther south you go along the boot-shaped country, the wider the variety of sweets gets! Usually, a selection of fruits – both dried and fresh – are offered too (with an extensive assortment of nuts). Better to keep this in mind if you ever happen to be invited to an Italian Christmas table, so that you can save some appetite for the last course!

There are many other traditional Italian Christmas dishes. Don’t be shy; be curious and ask more during our Food Tours! Stay tuned for some mouth-watering recipes!

Learn more about Italian food and Italian traditions by joining a Fat Tire Tour in Milan, Florence, or Rome!

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