Discover the specialties of Genoa, from pesto to focaccia, through traditional main dishes to desserts. This guide explains the culinary delights of Genoa and the flavors of the city.
Are you ready to savor the gastronomic pleasures of the Ligurian capital? Set out to discover the beauty of Genoa (Genova in Italian) with Italo and find out the best sights to see during a 3-day mini break. A rich culinary tradition and plenty of typical dishes await you! Dining in Genoa doesn’t stop at the famous focaccia and pesto, there is an entire cuisine based on legumes, fish, and wild herbs to try.
So, if you’re planning a trip to Genoa, these are our recommendations:
- Panissa (fried chickpea fritters)
- Genoese Pesto
- Pansoti with Walnut Sauce
- Fried Baccalà (Cod)
- Cima alla Genovese (a stuffed meat dish)
- Torta Pasqualina (a savory pie)
- Pandolce Genovese (a fruit cake)
- Torta Sacripantina (a layer cake)
- Set out for Genoa with Italo
Start your stay in Genoa with a satisfying breakfast of Focaccia, the most well-known dish of Genoa which is available in bakeries throughout the city. Focaccia, in dialect a fügassa, is a delicious Genoese specialty. Focaccia is a fluffy flatbread about two centimeters high with recognizable deep holes on its surface shiny with oil and sprinkled with large-grain salt. You can find it in different versions, but the main ones are with oil or cheese. In Genoa, it’s eaten at any time of the day, even in the morning for dipping in a cappuccino. Be sure to try it, you won’t regret it!
2. Panissa (fried chickpea fritters)
If, while walking through the maze of carrugi (very particular alleyways) unique to the Genoese Historic Center, you need a little respite, our suggestion is to stop in one of the many fried food shops (friggitoria) and order a Panissa (deep fried chickpea flour batter). This hot, golden and delicious snack is served to you, wrapped in a brown paper cone, great for snacking while exploring, and is accompanied by a mix of deep-fried vegetables.
How exactly is Panissa made? A polenta made from chickpea flour is cut into sticks and deep fried, similarly to Sicilian panelle. In the past, dried chickpeas were a precious dish for fishermen, but nowadays, Panissa has turned into a hearty snack, a perfect pairing with an aperitif while visiting Genoa.
3. Genoese Pesto
During any trip to Genoa, a nice plate of pasta, preferably trofei, covered with pesto is a rite of passage. Pesto, like focaccia, is famously Genoese and known throughout the world. But to partake of a true pasta al pesto, we recommend you choose a good trattoria or else stop in one of the delicatessens in the historic center to buy an excellent jar of pesto. Real pesto is made by crushing Genoese basil together with salt, pine nuts, garlic, Parmigiano Reggiano, Fiore Sardo and Genoese extra virgin olive oil. It is a sauce in which only raw ingredients are used and should never be cooked.
The name of this sauce is derived from the tools used to make it, i.e., the grinding of the basil leaves, pine nuts and extra virgin olive oil in the traditional marble mortar with a wooden pestle. The recipe itself is not very old, dating back to the mid-nineteenth century and refers to the ancient Ligurian tradition of crushing traditional, regional herbs.
Giovanni Battista Ratto was the first to officially write down the recipe in the cookbook La Cucina Genovese in 1870. There are several legends regarding the creation of Genoese pesto: there are some who believe that pesto was created in the convent of St. Basil in Prà by a friar who collected and ground the aromatic herbs that grew on the surrounding hillsides hundreds of years ago. Yet others, referencing the Bucolics of the poet Virgil, claim the recipe has roots in Roman times. It is said that a farmer named Similo dined on focaccia with moretum, a Roman sauce made with coriander, oil, parsley and local cheese ground in a mortar.
In short, your trip to Genoa can only end after tasting this vibrant green condiment, arguably the most loved on the planet.
4. Pansoti with Walnut Sauce
Another dish you must try before while in Genoa is Pansoti, a fresh Ligurian pasta similar to ravioli but larger, and filled with preboggion, which is a mix of fresh herbs that grow only in the Ligurian mountains. Try them in served in the typical walnut sauce at one of the city’s quaint trattorias or in one of the many farmhouses on the hills around Genoa.
5. Fried Baccalà (Cod)
Another Genoese treat to grab from one of the many Sciamadde, shops serving fried foods, is Baccalà (breaded and deep-fried fillets of cod), also called friscéu in the Ligurian dialect. The name sciamadda derives from the word small flame referring to the flame of the wood bundles used to feed the fire in the ovens. Tasting a piece of baccalà, fresh from the oil, in these unique Genoese venues is a simple yet delicious experience that you’ll be tempted to do again and again. Try the fried anchovies as well, or for a heartier fish-based meal, the stockfish stew.
6. Cima alla Genovese (a stuffed meat dish)
A hearty, historical dish and one of the most famous in Genoa is the Cima alla Genovese. The dish is veal stomach stuffed with organs, brains, testicles, utters, short loin, veal, eggs, garlic, pine nuts, Parmigiano Reggiano, marjoram, tender chard leaves, parsley, peas, carrots, cooked ham and mortadella, breadcrumbs soaked in milk, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. The preparation is quite complex, but it is a beloved dish of the Genoese, delicious, and absolutely unforgettable.
7. Torta Pasqualina (a savory pie)
If you are in Genoa for the Easter holidays you must absolutely have a piece of Torta Pasqualina, a typical savory Genoese recipe that is served mainly around Easter, though you can find it at any time of the year.
It is a savory pie made with puff pastry and a vegetable filling. There are a few variations: the classic one prepared with a filling of chard, peas and artichokes, and one made only with chard and prescinseua, a creamy Genoese cheese with a slightly sour taste.
Don’t miss our guide to Easter holidays (2023) in Italy: 5 low-cost destinations reachable with Italo.
8. Pandolce Genovese (a fruit cake)
Starting off our Genoese dessert recommendations is Pandolce, a sweet bread with raisins, pine nuts, almonds, and candied fruit. It is a traditional Ligurian dessert prepared during the Christmas season, especially for the Epiphany, but it’s available throughout the year as well. It’s made its way past the Italian border and in the U. K. it’s referred as Genoa cake.
The preparation is fast and easy and will keep perfectly well for several days. It can top off a Christmas lunch but it’s great as a snack after a walk through the streets of the historic center of Genoa. Don’t miss the Canestrelli, the famous shortcrust pastry biscuits, in the shape of a daisy with a warm and fragrant aroma of aniseed, vanilla, lemon or cocoa.
9. Torta Sacripantina (a layer cake)
The second dessert we recommend is the Sacripantina, a soft dome-shaped cake, with a sponge cake base and filled with butter cream and chocolate-hazelnut cream or an eggnog flavored cream. Sacripantina cake is a cake that layers liqueur-soaked sponge cake and two creams, one white and one chocolate, and one canestrello biscuit. It was created by the owner of a well-known Genoese sweet factory, Giovanni Preti, who has been making canestrello biscuits for years, and the reason why you always find one hidden inside this special cake. The name comes from the hero of the epic, 16th century poem Orlando Furioso, Sacripante. It is a true delicacy that you must taste at least once!
10. Set out for Genoa with Italo
Is your mouth watering yet? Reach the Ligurian capital with the Italo high-speed trains from Milan, Rome, and Naples. Check out departure cities and timetable for Genoa on our site and buy your modifiable, low-cost ticket and save. Remember to always log in to your account to take advantage of the Italo Più offers and rates dedicated to members only. If you haven’t already done so, you can register for free in the Italo Più Loyalty Program and immediately get a 5% discount on your first trip and accumulate points with your consecutive trips to earn free reward tickets.
If you plan to stay in Liguria for several days, don’t miss our guide on what to see in Sanremo and how to get there with Italo.