Located at the toe of the boot of Italy, the southern city of Reggio Calabria is home to traditional cuisine that is uniquely its own. This beautiful seaside city that sits along the Strait of Messina and the Ionian Sea offers fresh and amazingly divine seafood fare that is expertly mixed with a hearty dose of local flavor for a superb dining experience. The cuisine of Reggio Calabria will leave you delightfully satisfied and wanting to come back for more.
Many of the popular dishes here are made from homegrown and homemade foods that delight the senses. The region of Calabria is widely recognized for its olive oil production and Reggio Calabria is a part of that tradition. Much of the city’s fare is heartily seasoned with the flavor of spicy red peppers to give otherwise bland dishes a zesty heat. The bergamot, a citrus fruit, is grown here in abundance and is a key ingredient in locally made liqueurs, scented teas, and perfumes.
The appetizers of Reggio Calabria are varied and include everything from anchovies to meats and cheeses to vegetable-based salads. The dishes are simple but incredibly flavorful and delicious.
Bread is always a favorite here in the city and is often served with a spread such as ‘nduja. This spicy pork-based paste made from many different parts of a pig is flavored with peppers and a variety of other spices. ‘Nduja can also be added to pasta or meat sauces for enhanced spicy flavors.
In Reggio Calabria, the appetizer course usually showcases locally made pancetta, salame, and other spicy sausages. The meats are typically paired with several homemade cheeses such as sheep ricotta, caciocavallo, and butirro. Sheep ricotta is a creamy cheese with a trace of sweetness. Caciocavallo is a smooth but sometimes salty and sharp cheese famous for its unusual tear drop shape that takes form when the cheese is hung to dry. It is often used in appetizers but also is popular as a topping for pasta dishes. Butirro is an incredibly decadent cheese made from caciocavallo that is stuffed with creamy butter.
Mustica is an often-requested anchovy-based starter in the city. It is made by covering anchovies in spicy powdered chili peppers and drying them on a surface such as a wooden table in the sun. After the fish are completely dry, they are stored in glass containers and preserved with olive oil. Mustica is sometimes known as rosamarina and can be used as a spread for homemade bread.
Eggplant is wildly popular in Reggio Calabria and is the star ingredient in Caponata, a dish enjoyed throughout Southern Italy. In Calabria, this dish consists of eggplant, red and yellow bell peppers, tomatoes, Tropea onions, zucchini, and of course, olive oil. This mixture can be served with a hint of sweetness from ingredients like raisins or a pinch of sugar and can be served as a side dish or even a relish.
Pumpkin flowers are another common appetizer ingredient in Calabria. Typically enjoyed from June to September, the pumpkin flowers can be stuffed, but the most common preparation involves frying. Fried pumpkin flowers may be enjoyed as an appetizer or even as a side dish in Calabria.
Pasta is a staple in Reggio Calabria when it comes to the first course. Cannici is a homemade pasta formed by rolling dough around a wire or narrow stick for shaping. This type of pasta is generally served with a meat sauce consisting of pork, goat, or veal meat, or sometimes a combination of the three. In mountainous areas of the region, pasta is typically paired with local mushrooms.
Another favorite of locals is lagane e ciciari. The dish consists of a wide pasta served with chickpeas, garlic, and olive oil.
First course soups in Calabria often feature tripe. The dish may be made in various ways throughout the region, but locally grown tomatoes and chili peppers are two essential ingredients that are always present.
Much of the second course fare of Reggio Calabria is meat and fish based. Popular meats served here include wild boar, lamb, goat, and pork. Favorite fish regularly used in the city’s cuisine include swordfish, stockfish, and anchovies.
Frittula can be an acquired taste for some, although it is more about getting past the description and making your decision based on taste alone. This second course dish is made from various parts of a pig slow cooked in a traditional copper pot with pork fat for flavor. Frittula is most often enjoyed with a few slices of hot, homemade bread.
A simple meat dish that originated in the local peasant cooking tradition is satizzu e brocculi, or sausage and broccoli. The broccoli is sautéed over low heat and served with local sausage. Depending on personal preference, other ingredients may be added, such as chili peppers, beans, and Aspromonte potatoes.
Locals also enjoy u suffrittu, a stew made from pork offal. The organs are cut into small pieces and cooked in lard over low heat with onions.
Some of the more popular seafood-based options include a version of swordfish. In Reggio Calabria, swordfish is most frequently served alla ghiotta with fresh tomatoes, olives, and capers.
Stocco di mammola can often be found on the menu as well, and this dish consists of stockfish served with potatoes, tomatoes, olives, and chili peppers. The stockfish is cured in the fresh spring water from the Aspromonte mountain village of Mammola.
Outside of meat and seafood, melanzane alla parmigiana is an often-requested eggplant dish. Fresh, homegrown eggplant is baked and seasoned with tomato sauce, oil, parsley, salt, and local cheese. For a vegetable-based dish, this eggplant concoction is full of flavor and very hearty.
Another common vegetable dish is macco di fave. This flavorful puree is made by slowly cooking beans until they reach a creamy consistency. Macco is typically served with tomato, chili pepper, and herbs.
The most beloved side dishes in Reggio Calabria include fried pumpkin flowers (as described in the appetizer section) as well as stuffed eggplant, stuffed tomatoes, and potatoes served with chili peppers.
A unique fare that is a favorite of locals and visitors alike is Mostaccioli. These sweet but hard cookie-like treats are made from flour and honey. While Mostaccioli itself is a delicious treat, it truly shines and stands out because of its shape. This cookie is made in a wide variety of shapes including everything from animals to humans to popular symbols such as hearts or flowers. The overall look is enhanced by the colorful foil used in serving this cookie. While it is common for visitors to see Mostaccioli during the year, it is most abundant during the holiday season and large celebrations.
Locals also enjoy sandwiches on the go with local ingredients, such as sausage or swordfish. The sandwiches, which can be made with different types of local breads, are simple so that the local flavors truly shine.
Desserts and sweet treats are more of an indulgence or holiday and celebration-based fare, rather than a daily privilege. They are primarily sweetened with natural ingredients such as syrup of figs, honey, or even mulled wine.
One traditional dessert of Reggio Calabria is the fried turtiddi which is made with white flour, cinnamon, orange peel, and juice. It is sweetened with wine and honey.
Cozzupa is also a traditional dessert served during the Easter holiday season. It is said to mark the end of the Lenten fast with a whole egg that symbolizes the potential for good fortune. This treat is made with a special dough that can be twisted into various shapes but ultimately, regardless of the shape, has a whole egg sealed inside.
Torrone is a popular nougat that is made from honey, sugar and almonds and is covered in deliciously decadent chocolate.
Pignolata, sometimes known as struffoli, is a cake made from small balls of fried dough that are drizzled with honey causing them to stick together. Particularly during the Christmas season, pastry shops will have the balls stacked in a specific way so that the end product is the shape of a Christmas tree. This sweet is also available at other holiday celebrations such as Carnevale.
As you may be able to tell by the name alone, crema reggina is a popular frozen treat for this city. Although it is sometimes mistakenly referred to as gelato, it is slightly different as it is rum based and usually pink in color. Crema reggina is such an often-requested treat here, it is no surprise it is named after its namesake, Reggio Calabria. With this being said, Reggio Calabria is also known for its high-quality gelato made with unique local ingredients, such as bergamot, Avola almond, and Bronte pistachio.
Other local favorites include petrali (Christmas shortbread cookies with dried fruit), tartufo di Pizzo (hazelnut ice cream with a dark chocolate center), and semifreddo (semi-frozen cream prepared in a variety of flavors).
It is said that the ancient Greeks often referred to the region of Calabria as Enotria, which translates to Land of Wines. As a part of this region, Reggio Calabria is no exception and offers several popular and locally made wines such as Cirò Rosso, Savuto Rosso, Pellaro, Mantonico, and Palizzi.
While these Italian wines are a perfect pairing with almost any meal, there are two other liqueur treats to consider trying as well. Bergotto, or bergamot liqueur, is a digestive liqueur similar to limoncello that is wildly popular here since the bergamot citrus fruit is grown in such great quantity. Also not to be missed is Zibibbo, a sweet liqueur made by combining the dessert wine of Greco di Riace with raisins.
Reggio Calabria boasts a cuisine with deep historical and traditional roots that celebrates the stars of the local area such as bergamot, seafood fare, olive oil, and wine. The dining experience here in the city is a delicious and leisurely one that is meant to be enjoyed and savored amongst laughter, joy, and the company of good friends. Your table awaits.
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