In Genoa you don’t eat food, you experience it. It’s round a table, at a market stall or sitting in a piazza that you can touch the soul of a city that embraces the Mediterranean, a short distance from Milan and the Alps. Suspended between land and sea, the Ligurian capital boasts a rich gastronomic culture. Here we offer you a taste of what it has to offer.
Mop up your pesto with bread
The thing to do after your last forkful of pasta is what’s known as “scarpetta”, literally “small shoe”, which involves mopping up the sauce left in the dish. It’s a way of enjoying the flavours to the full in one go. In Genoa scarpetta is a must with its trademark pesto sauce, made with the PDO basil grown on the terraces above the city: you only have to rub the leaves between your fingers to smell the most characteristic aroma of Ligurian cuisine. To make it, you crush the basil in a mortar with extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts, parmesan and pecorino, salt and garlic to form a sauce that goes well with all the traditional local pasta shapes, from trenette to trofie to potato gnocchi, but never with spaghetti – an unwritten law in Genoa!
Where to go: Pesto is ubiquitous in Genoa: we suggest you try it in the restaurants while sightseeing in the heart of the of the old city centre. Here you can visit Palazzi del Rolli, the 16th-century palaces that form a UNESCO heritage site, and the Palazzo Ducale, once the Doge’s residence and now a venue for international art exhibitions. Just like the monuments, pesto is a veritable symbol of the city of Genoa.
The Genoa breakfast (and more besides): cappuccino and focaccia
Forget about brioches. In Genoa, they dip the local focaccia, a special flatbread, salty on the surface, soft and fragrant inside, in their cappuccinos, which they prefer creamily perfect. It’s an unusual combination, but it works. The secret lies in the focaccia, which in Liguria is an art form. It comes in all sorts of versions, plain or filled, suitable for breakfast but also for lunch, or as a snack or with cocktails. One of the most famous is the version topped with onions. It takes courage to dip it in cappuccino!
Where to go: Focaccia, a street food par excellence, seems to taste even better if you eat it in front of a panorama like that of Nervi, in the east of Genoa, the old fishing village famous for its romantic promenade, the Passeggiata Anita Garibaldi. Just as magical is Boccadasse, a charming village of pastel-coloured cottages, pebble beaches and fishing boats.
Have your pie and eat it
In Genoa, you can eat a different torta verde, “green pie”, every day. We’re not talking sweet pies here but fine puff pastry creations filled with a huge variety of ingredients, especially vegetables. At one time, before going into the oven, they were stamped with the seals of the families who made them, and who jealously guarded their recipes.
You’ll find torta verde filled with wild greens, pumpkin, artichoke, courgettes, chard and onion. And not to be missed are torta pasqualina, the Easter version with beet, fresh cheese and eggs, and torta di riso, with rice.
Where to go: The old centre of Genoa is a labyrinth of mediaeval lanes, palazzi, narrow caruggi – alleyways that link the city with the sea – small piazzas, flights of steps, and bars and restaurants. Here you only have to walk into a bread shop or a bar to find a full range of these pies, each made to their own recipe. A snack all Genovesi love.
The untranslatables: panissa, frisceu, pànera
The vocabulary of the locals is full of words and recipes that you don’t find elsewhere. Just taste the specialities to discover why. Take panissa, for example, fried chips of chickpea flour polenta, classic street food. Another example, also good with drinks is – is frisceu, crisp dough fritters flavoured with sage or spring onion. Pànera, finally, is a soft, creamy semifreddo, an original alternative to ice cream. Made with fresh cream, ground coffee and sugar, it’s served in a cone or with a wafer.
Where to go: Situated in the very heart of the city, Genoa’s certified historical shops are like a living museum. Listed in a special register, for generations they have been the depository of a tradition of high-quality craftsmanship. Many of them sell gastronomic delicacies and products and are well worth a visit. In the sciamadde, or typical bakeries, and the gelaterias, for example, you’ll find unique recipes.
Autumn and winter special
The days are getting shorter and, though it’s still very pleasant, the temperature is beginning to drop. In the cold season the scents and flavours and recipes of Genoa rotate. Now is the time for farinata, baked chickpea flour batter, on sale in the wood-oven bakeries in the
centre of town. Or the Ligurian take on castagnaccio, a cake made with chestnut flour, pine nuts and raisins, the centrepiece of numerous fairs and festas across the local area. At restaurants, you can order Raieu cö u toccu, a typical winter recipe of ravioli with meat sauce flavoured with herbs, mushrooms and pine nuts. Christmas, finally, is when Pandolce, a typical season cake made with candied fruit, raisins and pine nuts, comes into its own.
Where to go: The city’s neighbourhood street markets are a treasure trove of stories, smells and colours. One of them is the MOG, the new covered “Eastern Market”, built in the 19th century and now transformed into a contemporary space along the lines of those in Barcellona, Lisbona, Londra and Rotterdam. On the ground floor, it houses 150 traditional food stalls, while the gastronomic outlets on the first floor serve a host of delicious local specialities.
The taggiasca olive: chef’s secret
If everything takes on a special flavour in Genoa, much of the credit must go to a small fruit that grows in the west of the Liguria region towards the French border. The secret of the local cuisine is, in fact, the taggiasca olive, which is used to make an exceptionally sweet, delicate and highly-prized extra virgin olive oil. This small black olive is everywhere to be found in local food shops and restaurants, not only in the oil but also as an ingredient in traditional recipes such as braised rabbit, baked lamb and stockfish stew.
Where to go: Genoa’s hinterland is rich in food traditions and produce, which are reflected in the cooking. Round the city, it’s possible to discover a heritage of flavour that is reproduced in popular recipes. A whole array of dishes with one special ingredient in common: taggiasca olive oil.