Once you understand the geography and terrain of Liguria, the region in which Genoa is located, it’s much easier to understand Genovese cuisine. The land here is stony, cultivation on the narrow strip of land bordering the Mediterranean Sea is challenging. Pigs and cattle are scarce, wheat is difficult to grow. These challenges lead to ingredients and dishes that truly reveal the character of the Ligurian region. The best Genoa food dishes revel in the resourcefulness of her people, in the invention of Genovese dishes that skillfully combine the best natural ingredients into flavorful, mouthwatering and unique dishes. Welcome to the best of Genoan Cuisine – and our guide of what to eat in Genoa.
The most famous dishes of Genoa, exported the world around are pesto and focaccia. But here you’ll also discover what makes them unique as well as why there is little meat in Genovese cuisine and how that led to the invention of ravioli. You’ll also find why chickpeas and chestnuts are used extensively in Liguria.
Staples of Genovese and Ligurian Food
The staples of Ligurian and Genovese food are the ones that Liguria’s unique terrain makes possible. Her location on a narrow strip of land, on the rocky sun-baked mountains adjacent to the Ligurian Sea – an inlet of the Mediterranean Sea, and her seafaring history all, contribute to a cuisine that is as flavorful as it is unique.
Olive Oil – Taggiasca Olive Oil
Take a trip around the steep coastlines of the Ligurian region and you’ll find olive trees growing abundantly. Here in Liguria, you’ll find primarily one type of olive variety, Taggiasca. When pressed this olive produces low levels of bitterness and an almost sweet-tasting olive oil. This light, subtle olive oil features in many of Genoa’s fried food options, focaccia and of course Genovese pesto.
Buy your own Taggiasca olive oil to enjoy at home – check it out here
Basil – Genovese Basil DOP
Of course, when we talk about Basil in Genoa we are not just talking about any basil. Genovese Basil is a DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta. This is the Italian term for the EU system of Protected Designation of Origin, the laws that protect the names of specialty food products with a specific geographic origin) protected product until both Italian and EU law. To be called Genovese Basil, it must be grown only in certain areas of the Liguria region. The best Genovese basil is said to come from Prà. Explore Genovese basil DOP at the Mercado Orientale Genova and bear in mind you’ll always find the best in spring and summer, the best time for fresh basil in Liguria.
The use of chickpeas in Ligurian cuisine comes from the nature of the Ligurian region. It stretches for 185 miles (298 kilometres) between the French Riviera and Tuscany. It is, however, narrow, and doesn’t extend more than at most 30 miles (48 kilometres) inland. This geography makes it difficult to grow corn or wheat. And thus, this is why you see chickpea flour being used in Genovan cuisine and dishes.
Genoa’s location on the Ligurian coast is responsible for fish being such as large part of the culinary heritage here. Genoa’s history with ocean-going vessels starting out from here for long voyages also speaks to the use of salted cod (baccala) in Genovese dishes.
Meat in Genovese Cuisine
The long, but narrow strip of land adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea that forms the region of Liguria doesn’t lend itself to the easy cultivation of meadows in which cattle and pigs can roam. This is part, leads to the lack of large amounts of pork and beef in Genoan dishes.
Take a traditional Genoa food tour – walk the winding streets of Genoa with a local guide and take 5 tastings of local, Ligurian food all included within your tour price. From focaccia to Farinata, your host will explain the history of the dishes that you’ll taste and take you to real local places to experience them! > Check your options here
Ravioli originated in Liguria
Rabiole in the Ligurian dialect and Ravioli to the rest of the world originated here in Liguria and Genoa. It is perhaps due to this lack of larger quantities of meat that ravioli was devised here. Legend has it that it was scraps and ends of meat were collected together and turned into the next meal, wrapped in a pasta covering – hence ravioli.
Genovese Food – the Main dishes in Genoa Food
The best Genovese Food and the traditional dishes of Genoa that contribute towards Ligurian cuisine combine these natural and locally grown ingredients. They are mouthwateringly flavorful, inventive and bring with them centuries of history.
You can try all these Ligurian foods on specific food tours in Genoa – here are our recommendations for Genoa’s best food tours.
- Take a Genoa Street Food Tour: Learn about Genoa’s traditional street foods and visit three different eating establishments and take 3 different food tastings. Check availability and book now
- Learn to make 3 different regional pasta dishes in the home of a certified home cook in Genoa. This authentic Italian food experience will give you your own workstation and the guidance of a local chef, who’ll teach you three different pasta dishes. You’ll get to taste your creations with the accompaniment of local wines or soft drinks. Check availability and book now
- Take a traditional Genoa food tour – walk the winding streets of Genoa with a local guide and take 5 tastings of local, Ligurian food all included within your tour price. From focaccia to Farinata, your host will explain the history of the dishes that you’ll taste and take you to real local places to experience them! Reserve your space now!
- Treat yourself to a private Ligurian food experience. In this private tour you’ll get to taste 5 separate Ligurian dishes here in Genoa. From Trofie al Pesto to Focaccia and well beyond, this foodie experience will have your mouth watering. Indulge your appetite now!
Pesto ala Genovese
Using two of the local ingredients of Liguria – basil and olive oil – combined with pine nuts, garlic salt and cheese gives you pesto – easily the most famous of Genoa’s cuisines. The very best Pesto Genovese is made fresh with Genovese Basil, the Ligurian Olive Oil made only from Taggiasca olives, pine nuts, garlic, salt and an aged Emilia Romagna Parmigiana Reggiano. Pesto was invented here in Ligurian. It’s still made by hand in my places by marble pestle and mortars. Buy some of the best Pesto ala Genovese from the Mercato Orientale Genova on Via XX Septembre.
Fugassa as the Genoese know it is usually eaten as a breakfast dish, where traditionally you’ll dip it into your cappuccino. This leavened flatbread is Genoa’s second more popular export, although you should come here to try the original! You’ll find focaccia as a portion of seriously popular street food, in Genoa. It’s wrapped in paper, to protect your fingers from the deliciously subtle and light Ligurian olive oil it’s seasoned with.
Don’t worry if you don’t get your focaccia for breakfast though, pick it up for a mid-morning snack, or as a substitute for bread with dinner.
The most popular type of focaccia is plain – where you’ll find it seasoned with just olive oil and salt. There are, however, many different types – onion focaccia, cheese focaccia, tomato focaccia, focaccia with oregano, focaccia with rosemary. The list is endless. The only question is which will be your favourite focaccia?
It is the delightful look of the Cappon Magro that will attract you first. This cold salad is a multi-layered explosion of glorious colour. A base of garlic-rubbed crackers, white fish boiled vegetables, hard-boiled eggs is topped with a garnish of tuna, shrimp, capes and all. It’s addressed with the parsley based salsa verde and a shrimp, a crayfish or a lobster in higher-end restaurants. This cold Genoan seafood salad is a fabulous start to any meal in Genoa.
While the traditional food of Genoa is indeed light on pork and beef, you can still find delicious dishes with meat in them. Here, though in Genoa you’ll likely find that its seabass or mackerel stuffed into delicious fresh pasta parcels. Whatever flavour you find remember that you’ll be eating it in the birthplace of ravioli and savour every mouthful!
While Ravioli is the stuffed square of pasta, Pansotti is the belly. Pansa in the Ligurian dialect is belly and while it may not be as round as our after eating our way around Genoa it’s a wonderfully Italian way to think of it. Pansotti look a little tortellini shaped. Ligurian Pansotti is usually stuffed with ricotta cheese, spinach of chard and the herb marjoram – another staple that you’ll find in many Ligurian sauces and dishes.
Pansotti is more often than not served with a “salsa alle noci” – a walnut sauce.
Salsa Alle Noci
You will always find pesto on the menu in Genoa – and it tends to be better in summer months, but for the autumn and winter months, you’ll want to seek out the salsa alle noci. The ingredients are simple. Walnuts, milk, parmesan cheese, garlic, olive oil and marjoram. Blend it all together into a creamy sauce and served with pansotti.
You’ll find torte all along the Italian Riviera. A Torta (singular) or Torte (plural) is a vegetable pie. Usually, you’ll find Torte de Verdura, which is vegetable pie. These savoury pies will contain the vegetables of the season. While you will find small individual torte, you’re more likely to spot enormous circular platters where you’ll buy a slice. Your biggest challenge with torte from Genoa will be selecting what flavour to have. Common torte flavours are potato (torta di patate), onion (torta di cipolla), chard (torta di bietole) and spinach (torta di spinaci).
You’ll find torte in Genoa as street food, usually in a focacceria also selling focaccia or farinata, or in sit down restaurants too.
You’ll likely have never heard of Farinata until you get to Genoa. This gluten-free dish translates from Italian to mean “Made of Flour” and it is. Chickpea flour, with the addition of olive oil and salt. Farinata is described as chickpea tart or chickpea flatbread. After mixing the ingredients for Farinata, they are left to rest of a few hours and then tipped into a large round flap pan and then baked at a high temperature until they’re crispy and golden. Farinata is a great Genovan street food.
If you’ve visited Nice, then you’ll likely have had the French Riviera version of this – called socca. Until 1860 Nice as a Genoese holding, and as such Farinata was available there, as socca.
You can’t visit Genoa without trying fritto misto. You’ll find vast plates of it as a main course in restaurants like Cavour 21, or paper cones in kiosks near the harbour front. Genoan fritto misto doesn’t just include the traditional white fish, shrimp and calamari. In genoa fritto misto often includes friseu (which, depending on the establishment can be fritters of apple or lettuce encased in dough), fritters of chickpea flour called panissette and vegetables. You will also find the option for fried salt cod – baccala.
Source: Missvain [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)]
This simple dish combines chickpea flour, garlic salt and a variety of seasonings. Panissa is slow-cooked, left to set and then sliced and deep-fried. Think deep-fried chickpea sticks meets French fries. Eat with a little salt for perfect street food.
Trofie al Pesto
The most traditional way to eat pesto sauce in Genoa is Trofie al Pesto. These small pieces of pasta do indeed look like little worms on your plate. They’re short, squiggle like pieces of pasta, but Trofie al Pesto doesn’t stop there. This filling dish also comes with potatoes and green beans, all coated with glorious Genovese Pesto and mixed together. Regardless of how strange this sounds head to somewhere like Cavour 21 and taste it for yourself.
Where to Eat in Genoa
To find the best place to eat in Genoa you’ll want to focus on both the food type and your budget. Genoa food is great as street food and our advice for street food is to find a line of locals and join it. Want fritto misto? Head to the harbour area at lunchtime and join a line. Ask at your hotel or hostel.
Want to have a local take you round and experience real Genoan Food? > You can do that here
However if you want focaccia don’t just stop at one of the many, many panicificos, you’ll want to head to those that have the best reputations. If you’re staying in the Centro Storico then there are several focacceria and panifico to seek out these glorious mouthfuls of heaven. Just pop their name into google and wander along.
- Panifico Claretta
- Antico Forno Della Casana
- Forno di Ghia
- Panifico Patrone
If your Italian isn’t great, or you want to head for somewhere to try a few types of focaccia in the easiest possible way, then head to the Mercato Orientale Genoa on Via XX Septembre – all the food corners there speak English and it’s a relaxed and easy way to try a few dishes.
For great traditional food head to Cavour 21 down near the old port area, – amazing Cappon Negro, Fritto Misto and Trofie al Pesto.
If you have more time in Genoa why not take a day trip and explore the Italian Riviera? Here’s some of our recommendations on day trips from Genoa.
Our favourite thing to eat in Genoa?
Everything. Seriously we can’t choose. We loved the pesto and we seriously loved the focaccia. Our biggest regret with the food of Genoa was not having more time here. Portions were HUGE wherever we went and so many food coma’s ensued. Luckily there are plenty things to do in Genoa to walk off the calories – here’s just a few of the best things to do in Genoa. Meanwhile, what’s your favourite Genoan food?
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