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From fish to vegetables: a quick guide to try the taste of La Spezia local cuisine

“What should I eat here tonight?”

The increased tourist interest in the territory of La Spezia has made this question more and more frequent.
Faced with the questions of tourists (asking questions like: “What can we eat? What are the local dishes?” ), local inhabitants often struggles to reply. This is because they wonder whether the non-local will understand the simple, yet so tasteful local cuisine.
Leaving aside the pesto pasta, which still often meets the taste of everyone (although it is a Ligurian dish rather than a specialty specifically from La Spezia), local gastronomy has indeed more than a few delicacies to offer.

Fancy some seafood? Mussels and anchovies can tell you something

“I fancy some fish, but I am on a budget,” say those who know how expensive eating seafood in many Italian cities can be. The nice thing is that in La Spezia area if you really want to eat carbon-free, enjoying seafood at affordable prices is possible.

Mussels, the “Muscoli” in La Spezia

If there are two things the local sea cuisine can not really do without, these are mussels and anchovies, two local products that with not much expense will send you in awe. The former are bred in the Gulf of La Spezia and are a real local pride, the latter are caught off of Cinque Terre.
How are they prepared?
As a condiment for pasta (if you fancy a pasta dish), or in many ways if you are looking for something different. Anchovies can be a tasty appetizer if served in oil or marinated, and an excellent second course if fried, filled or served in scabecio (cooked in vinegar). There are, however, two anchovy-based dishes that I associate with the local cuisine: the bagnun  (a sauce with abundant anchovies and slices of toast) and anchovies and potato pie.
Mussels, on the other hand, can be prepared alla marinara (plain: boiled with some lemon on it) or – a real local delicacy – stuffed (a must try).

A debated recipe: the filling of the stuffed mussels, no mortadella according to the Chef

Testaroli, panigacci and sgabei: never disappointing

I would like to go out to eat, but I am wearing shorts! “.
You might often have the impression that there are only fancy restaurants in town. Do not fear: Val di Vara, Val di Magra and Lunigiana are the places to be for a more chilled atmosphere.
Restaurants in La Spezia and surroundings offer good alternatives to the “usual pizza”. Translation: cheap and filling food.
I’ve actually seen very few people complain about a meal based on testaroli, panigacci, and sgabei. Panigacci di Podenzana, cotti a legna nei testi. Compared to the past, moreover, you don’t even need to venture to Lunigiana (although it still is the ideal option), since both Val Graveglia, Val Durasca, Sarzana and lately La Spezia count places that offer these dishes. The hardest thing, in this case, may well be to understand the differences between the various dishes. Here you can always eat well: Testaroli is a typical dish of Lunigiana (more precisely from Pontremoli). They are made of a mixture of water, flour, and salt. Quickly boiled in water, they are then topped with pesto, sauce or oil and parmesan cheese. Panigacci – spread throughout Liguria Lunigiana – are disks of batter, stacked one above the other. Still hot, they are served stuffed with cold cuts and cheese.
Sgabei – typical of the Val di Magra – are made with a yeast dough with flour, water, salt and oil and then fried in plenty of olive oil. Tasty food, plain or stuffed.

And the vegetables? Minestrone, vegetable pies … and mescciüa …

But where can I eat some fresh veggies? – asked the tourist.
The answer is easy: everywhere.
You might think that Italian cuisine is only based on carbs, and become tired of pasta. Actually, Italian and La Spezia cuisine do not just exclude vegetables, they include them widely.
The truth is this: you can enjoy soups pretty much everywhere, but the minestrone with the addition of some pesto sauce is something extraordinary that you can have only in the area.
Do not underestimate also the very typical vegetable pies. Almost taken for granted by locals, and thus barely offered to tourists, the vegetable pie (which can be made with rice and chards or contain the most diverse vegetables) will eventually conquer you.
Finally, don’t forget the mescciüa (an unpronounceable name for non-La Spezia people). This soup is a La Spezia dish and brings in its name itself the sign of its origin. In the local language, mesciua means “mixing” and indicates a mixture of legumes and cereals. It was often made with the surplus of goods transported to the port of La Spezia, collected to produce a dish of considerable substance.

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