We always like to talk about our favorite Italian dishes — our top vegetarian ones, best regional specialties, how to pair wine with your foods, etc…but what about the weirdest dishes? Every culture has certain foods that just seem odd or downright gross to outsiders and Italian cuisine is no exception. Here is a list of 5 of the weirdest Italian delicacies that you probably won’t find in US restaurants.
Pajata, or otherwise known as unweaned calf intestines, are a Roman delicacy that is most often served with rigatoni. The intestines are cleaned, but the chyme (acidic intestinal fluids) are left in, and because the calves have only ever consumed their mothers’ milk, it creates a creamy, cheese-like sauce inside.
Pajata was actually banned for a while, due to the mad cow disease epidemic in 2001. However, in 2015 the ban was lifted and this Roman delicacy has been slowly making a comeback. It is typically served either grilled and seasoned, or over rigatoni with a tomato-based sauce.
Trippa, Italian for tripe, is the muscle wall of the first few chambers of a cow’s stomach. Although the term ‘tripe’ refers specifically to cows, other animals’ stomachs are also commonly cooked and eaten in various dishes throughout the world, including deer, sheep, antelope, giraffes and others.
Tripe was a very common dish among the poor in 1950s Italy, because it was very cheap to buy and it not only provided a main course, but during cooking it also gave off a broth, which was commonly used to season rice and bread. Since then, tripe has become a sort of delicacy and it is often served at high-end Italian restaurants.
One of the most common tripe dishes in Italian cuisine is Trippa alla Romana (tripe Roman style) which is tripe cooked in minced onion, crushed tomatoes and white wine.
Casu marzu might be one of the most fascinating of the weird Italian delicacies. It comes from Sardinia, an Italian island in the Mediterranean, and the term literally translates to “rotten cheese”. This is because it has…wait for it…maggots inside of it. Yes, you read that right.
The process to create casu marzu is surprisingly tedious. You begin by forming a large hunk of pecorino cheese and allowing it to cure for about 3 weeks. During this time, the outside of the cheese will form a hard crust, but the soft cheese inside remains intact. You then cut off the top crust and remove it, exposing the interior. The cheese then sits open for about 3 months, during which time flies feed on and lay eggs inside. Once the larvae hatch, they begin to feed off of it. The rotten cheese passes through the larvae bodies, giving casu marzu its unique texture and flavor. The soft cheese is then served, commonly spread on crackers or bread.
In case you’re wondering, yes, the cheese is served with the maggots still inside — and no, you don’t remove them before eating. For this reason, the production and consumption of casu marzu has been banned in many countries due to health concerns with eating maggots. Regardless, this sardinian tradition still lives on in the region.
For a fascinating look at the casu marzu creation process, check out this clip from Gordon Ramsay’s show The F-Word.
Remember the good old days when you were a kid, running around with friends without a care in the world, and you were excited to get a tasty treat of chocolate pudding? Well if you grew up in some regions of Italy, that chocolate pudding would be sanguinaccio dolce — chocolate pudding with pig’s blood. It is very rich, sweet and yet salty with a very slightly metallic flavor (from the blood, of course).
But why blood? What’s wrong with just good old-fashioned plain chocolate pudding? Well, sanguinaccio dolce comes from an old tradition where Italian towns would have pork festivals, where they slaughtered pigs and made all types of foods for the community. They would use every bit of the pigs, including their blood, to make blood sausages and, well, sanguinaccio dolce.
Pig’s blood is commonly found available for purchase in Asian markets and Polish delis/butcher shops.
If you speak any Italian, you know that “cervelli fritti” directly translates to “fried brains” — which is NOT at all a euphemism or metaphor. Cervelli fritti are the brains of calves, lambs, or veal cut into bite-sized pieces, which are then breaded and fried. The frying process turns the brain into a ricotta-like treat and is very rich in flavor.