Italian cuisine is unique! It offers options for all tastes and, being a fusion cuisine, it offers several “versions” in different Italian regions. Calabria is famous for its “spicy” gastronomy and today we are going to learn more about the history of one of the most famous gastronomies in Italy. Let’s go to our post of the day: ‘Gastronomy of Calabria: history, aromas and flavors’. Here at Your Travel to Calabria you make the trip of your dreams!!! Are you staying in Calabria? Looking for a hotel? Click here and discover best accommodation options in Calabria!
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A little of the history of Calabria…
In order to start telling the history of Calabrian gastronomy, we need to tell a little about the history of Calabria, because Calabrian cuisine is, in fact, a fusion of the gastronomy of different peoples that have passed through here over the centuries; In addition, Calabrian cuisine is strongly linked to religious and spiritual life, which involves many habits linked to recurrences that go back to antiquity: all of this is the result of almost 3,000 years of history, from Magna Greece to the Unification of Italy. Shall We Take A Tour Of Enogastronomy In Calabria?
The emergence of the Centers: Reggio Calabria, Sibari and Crotone
In short: Calabria was colonized in the 8th century BC by the Greeks and they, soon, began to expand. With the fast development, commercial and urban, centers like Reggio Calabria, Sibari and Crotone emerged. In the first half of the fourth century, the Bruzi population – which became the Brutium of the Romans – arrived in Calabria, while Calabria indicated only the Salento Peninsula. With the Punic wars, the local population took a stand against Rome, but fell under the rule of the Empire, which from 132 BC onwards began to found their colonies, and placed them in the 3rd region of Augustus.
With the end of the powerful Western Roman Empire, the region lived a period of peace, until the arrival of the Byzantines, in the 7th century AD. They were the ones who ‘baptized’ the region with the name ‘Calabria’. Then, the Lombards conquered the region and annexed it to the Duchy of Benevento, which ended the unity of the region (which was restored only in 885, by the Byzantine general Niceforo Foca: when he expelled the Saracens and Lombards – remembering that in 886 there was the Arab invasion). However, the Byzantine tax system, oppressed the population, which was also repeatedly shaken by the Saracens’ maritime invasions.
In 1060, the Normans, followed by the Swabians, and Anjou, reused the flawed tax system and introduced the latifundio system: the action ended Calabria, putting the region in a delicate situation. Unfortunately, the tax system continued with the Aragonese and two important peasant uprisings took place: one in 1459 and another in 1599, the famous Tommaso Campanella uprising. Spaniards and Frenchmen also passed through there and in 1860 arrived in Calabria Garibaldi. Following the fate of the Kingdom of Naples, Garibaldi made Calabria also join the Kingdom of Italy, and even with the heavy inheritance of other peoples and widespread misery, Calabria rose and became one of the most prosperous regions in Italy.
Calabria ‘baptized’ Italy! The name Italy derives from the word Italói, a term with which the Greeks designated the Vituli (Viteli): a population that lived at the extreme tip of our peninsula (at the ‘tip of the boot’ on the map), close to the current Catanzaro. Also read: What are the Ten Places You Need to Visit in Calabria?
Watch this video and learn more about the beauty of Calabria!
(Source Sandro Presta)
What about the gastronomy?
With the passage of several peoples, the gastronomy gained strokes on one side and the other: some dominated the art of bread, others the art of planting, so many others dominated the art of using seasonings and spices. Calabria is also fortunate to be a region bathed, along its entire length, by two seas, which makes the region have a geographical diversity that ranges from the sea to the mountains it offers to the region, features that are found in its agricultural and food production, and reflects in its simple gastronomy, but at the same time marked by the flavors, aromas and colors of this UNIQUE land!
Food of natural origin, produced locally, is of great importance for the people of Calabria and has assumed a central value, becoming an integral part of popular, folk and religious rituals. Gastronomy also represents moments of encounter, socialization, communion and continuity with its own roots, always valuing the origins of the Calabria people. For Calabrian, a simple invitation to a coffee symbolizes a way to ‘present’ the person for whom we have affection, respect and trust. The cuisine in Calabria goes beyond ‘eating well’; it involves much more, much more deeply. It can be considered a cuisine “poor” in ingredients, but the value of this cuisine comes from other factors, such as those previously mentioned. Find out here: What Are The Best Cooking Schools In Calabria?
There are many inheritances linked to the peoples who passed through Calabria! All people used many spices as aromatic herbs and made impeccable spices for artisanal pasta, pork, fish, vegetables and other types of dishes. Some of the triumphs at the Calabria table are the snacks where the famous swordfish served in carpaccio or cut into almost translucent slices is already impressive. Despite the many kilometers of coastline, the rich Calabria cuisine is a master when it comes to offering meat, especially pork – made in an impeccable way! We also find the famous ‘nduja, which is one of the typical Calabria food products: it’s a creamy sausage with meat and pepper, a LOT of pepper! One of its derivatives is Pancetta di Calabria – with sausage and, of course, pepper!
Some pork dishes…
In terms of pork, Cosenza stands out and takes the ‘prize’ for better handling of the meat, offering soppressate (dry salami) and capicolli (a type of ham) of incomparable flavors! In Reggio Calabria, each part of the pig is used to make Frittuli and Curcùci: types of stews made with pieces of pork cooked for hours in large boilers with water and salt; they also use some parts of this stew for the excellent ragù prepared with fresh tomato sauce; After cooking the meat, it is sautéed with various spices and, when ready, they serve to season the “maccarruni i casa” (homemade pasta) made by hand and which in Cosenza are called “fusilli” and in Sila “scilatelli” or “Ferretti“. Other typical dishes are the “china pasta“, which is a baked pastry filled with various fillings; pasta with vegetables, often prepared with lard and crackling and to complete the menu, we have the gnocchi “strangugia previti“, served with sauce or vegetables.
The Ragù di Lastra
A dish in high demand in some areas is the ‘ragù di lastra’, that is, the goat that has not yet reproduced. Catanzaro celebrates “morseddu” a kind of stew where we cook bovine stomachs and parts of the heart and lungs, in olive oil, salt, red wine, tomato sauce, pieces with onion and abundant red pepper. Another Catanzaro dish consists of pasta sautéed in a pan with fried eggs and pecorino. Of course, fish is also present in coastal cuisine, full of specialized restaurants. Shrimp, mackerel, squid, grouper, wolf, cod, octopus, even a small goldfish called “surici”, usually reddish in color, are fried and seasoned in an incredible way!
The Sardela (ou Bianchetto)
Sardela, or bianchetto, deserves a separate mention: small fish preserved in brine before being mixed with wild fennel and red pepper. We must also mention the fish called “piscistoccu” which, with a thousand recipes, often wins the competition of the most famous local fish. But, there is no chance to the other: the king of Calabria is the swordfish, especially the one caught in the Strait of Messina, which is the most delicious, in addition to being surrounded by legends related to the typical fishing with special boats equipped with a sighting tower and walkway for harpooning.
In summer, in Bagnara Calabra, on the Costa Viola, the traditional Sacra (Festival) takes place, during which the fish is cooked outdoors, in the town square transformed into a huge barbecue, and everything is offered to everyone for tasting. Another fish typical of these waters is the needlefish. They catch them in the summer, on moonless nights, with the coppo, a kind of network basket with a long handle. In May and June, in the Gulf of San’Eufemia, in the stretch between Pizzo and Tropea, tuna is hunted – which is attracted to the trap.
Vegetables and Preserves
Vegetables and preserves also occupy a prominent place in Calabria cuisine since forever! As we have already mentioned, Calabria is famous worldwide for its pepper, be it black pepper, chili or red pepper, which is why Calabria cuisine is known as “spicy” cuisine. The vegetable most used in Calabria cuisine is the eggplant, cooked in all possible and imaginable ways: only eggplant, or with other vegetables, fried, roasted, preserved, stuffed, in meatballs with parmigiana, lasagna, etc.
In Calabria, everything can be used to make preserves: from tomatoes – made into fresh homemade sauce, bottled and boiled for hours and hours, or dried in the sun and preserved in oil with very spicy but very tasty sauces – even mushrooms, which are abundant in the mountains; not to mention zucchini, artichokes, sweet citrus jams, spicy eggplants, etc. Among the preserves we also find the maritata, which uses the famous PGI onion and lots, lots of pepper! Classic and abundant ingredients in the region.
Cheese and Desserts
Among the typical cheeses we must mention the burrini, which are caciocavalli with butter, coalho cheese, pecorino and provoline. Cheeses are also widely used to make desserts! The Calabria confectionery section is also very elaborate and among all the ingredients, honey plays a fundamental role; heritage of Greek culture, the sweets offered are Seminara’s “nzuddi” which are flour and honey cookies decorated with pieces of almonds. Among other traditional sweets that can be tasted in Calabria, you will find Nepitelle – which is a kind of panzerotti (‘pouch’) filled with dried fruits, nuts and almonds, chocolate and jams and Mostaccioli, another type of hand-kneaded cookie with honey and it has a unique flavor! Pignolata is also prepared with honey, and is very reminiscent of Struffoli Neapolitan in both form and flavor; it is always served in a pyramid shape on a delicious platter full of delights.
Let’s talk about gelati? (They are not ice cream!) There is something for everyone, but the ones produced in Reggio Calabria deserve to be highlighted! Among them is the best gelato in the world: Tartufo di Pizzo. Unlike other Italian tartufi (truffles), to ‘find’ this one you don’t need a pig or a dog to find out where they are underground! LOL… Named after its resemblance to the coveted truffle the tartufo gelato di Pizzo is a ‘bomb’ of chocolate and hazelnut cream sprinkled with cocoa, created in the picturesque city of Pizzo in 1952. It is a gift for our palate, believe me!
With regard to wines, Calabria has a predilection for reds, although recently even white wines have been well received by consumers. Not surprisingly, Calabria was once called “Enotria” (land of wine), and is particularly rich in wines with a typically southern flavor, with some vineyards dating back to antiquity, when Greek settlers brought the ‘motherland’ vineyards and started producing the wine that still comes today is produced here! The current wines from Calabria are the result of thousands of years of work and typical wines such as Cirò, from the Crotone region and Isola di Capo Rizzuto, are the oldest and, they say, that were offered to the winners of the Olympic Games at the time of Classical Athens. Today, among the most renowned wines in Calabria, we can mention Bivongi Doc, Cirò Doc, Greco di Bianco Doc, Lamezia Doc, Melissa Doc, Sant’Anna Isola di Capo Rizzuto Doc, Savuto Doc, La Scavigna Doc, Terre di Cosenza Doc.
To finish the meal: a great local digestive, such as Reggio Calabria’s bergamot liqueur, prepared with this particular fruit with an irresistible aroma, which helps to cleanse the palate of the meal’s flavors and at the same time to digest it. It is sweet, so it is easy to take two or three doses: be careful to not ‘lose control’, it is still alcoholic!
Did you know…
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Gastronomy of Calabria: history, aromas and flavors. Calabria is one of the most incredible regions historically and every bit of our heritage is reflected, not only in art and culture, but also in our incredible and rich gastronomy!
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