Milan and its cuisine

La Rinascente cafe
La Rinascente cafe

Milan – eating out

In Milan eating out in one of the numerous places mentioned in the food guides can be both a joy and entertainment. This is because the food is generally of high standards, and the atmosphere very pleasant. In such a big city the number of restaurants is naturally enormous, ranging from the very famous restaurants to the less expensive trattorie or pizzerie. Fast-food is on the increase except for the youngsters, it is still fundamentally alien to the Milanese when they want to spend a pleasant evening tasting either the traditional Milanese cuisine accompanied by some excellent Italian wine or else the most innovative international flavors which can be tried in the more recent Japanese, Indian, Mexican, Thai or African restaurants.

Although saffron is still the distinctive ingredient of almost all dishes alla Milanese, today the Milanese cuisine is no longer as lavish and over-elaborated as in the past and often its main ingredients are freshness, simplicity and good quality.

If the weather allows to eat out in the open air, you will be surprised to discover how every conceivable open space is filled with tables and chairs, providing the ideal setting for a special evening; no doubt you’ll end up, like most Italians, relaxing at the table even when dinner is over for the sheer pleasure of making and entertaining friends, watching passers by and enjoying the nice summertime atmosphere.

ossobuco-con-risotto
Ossobuco con risotto –
Photo © bootsintheoven

Eating out in Italy: Milan and its cuisine

Author: Bob McCormack

Rome may be Italy’s political capital, but Milan is the country’s industrial and financial capital. In short, Milan is a dynamic city that is to Italy what New York is to the US. And like New York, it’s a culinary hotbed, attracting much of the best talent from throughout the country. This may be good for those with a taste for the exotic and innovative but it is not necessarily good for the traditional cuisine, which too often has been taken for granted. Luckily for travelers hoping for a more authentic taste of Milan, however, the city is currently rediscovering its own traditional cuisine.

Traditional Milanese cuisine has its own distinctive flavor and you may be surprised by the difference with the regional cuisines you may have the chance to taste in Italy. Olive oil is less frequently used in cooking than butter while pasta is passed over in favor of rice or ‘polenta’. Luckily enough, the initial surprise is soon to be replace by a inner sense of satisfaction as the local dishes of Milan and Lombardy, when prepared well, can make for some wonderful eating experiences.

A typical Milanese meal may start with a traditional antipasto, made of ‘nervetti’ (boiled calf shank and knee cartilage cut into strips) and mixed with thinly sliced onions. As a first course you cannot miss the classical ‘Risotto alla Milanese’, made with a full-bodied beef broth (the original recipe includes bone marrow) and flavored with saffron. As a second course, a classic Milanese dish is ‘cassoeula’, an extremely filling dish made with various parts of pork meat (tail, ribs, rind, feet and ears) cooked with green cabbage and other vegetables. If you are not feeling so courageous, go for a Milanese cutlet that is probably nothing like you’ve ever tasted in other places: Milan restaurants actually serve a very tasty, crunchy cutlet, made with a veal chop, including the bone. If you are lucky enough to be in Milan during the holiday season, you could end your meal with a huge slice of ‘Panettone’, the typical local Christmas cake, that is even tastier if you eat it with traditional Mascarpone cream.

Ravioli di Zucca (Pumpkin)
Ravioli di Zucca (Pumpkin) – Photo © bootsintheoven

Even though the Italian Riviera is a hundred miles away, Milan has a well-deserved reputation for offering the freshest fish in Italy. ‘Branzino’ (sea bass, known elsewhere as ‘spigola’) and ‘orata’ (gilthead) are the most common offerings, but you can also find ‘San Pietro’ (John Dory) and ‘dentice’ (seabream). ‘Scampi’ and lobsters are plentiful here, too, and an antipasto of turteaux (Normandy crab), rare on Italian menus, can be found easily as well. If you like seafood, however, be advised as a seafood dinner in a proper place may cost you an arm and a leg. If you are looking for something more typical and cheaper, head for the city surroundings where you may find plenty of places serving freshwater fish and even a number of frog based dishes, starting from the unfailing ‘risotto’.

Milan is an important business centre, so expect all of the restaurants in the centre to be very expensive. An average complete dinner costs around 35 Euro per person. Pizzerias are a little bit less expensive but they cannot be considered cheap either. In order to have a cheap, non-fast-food dinner, join the young Milanese crowd storming local pubs every night for Happy Hour.. Between 6:30 pm and 9:30 pm, for 5 to 8 Euro you can have a drink and enjoy an open buffet with a large variety of food. Corso di Porta Ticinese and the whole ‘Navigli’ area are crowded with such places. Corso Como and Brera are also popular ‘happy hour ‘ destination and they are closer to the city center.

Despite the steady flow of foreign businessmen, the city’s restaurateurs are not waiting to fleece the occasional guest. There are not the usual tourist traps you may find in other Italian cities. Also, contrary to popular belief, do not take for granted that the hotel where you stay is not a great place to eat either. As a matter of fact, many hotels in Milan have excellent restaurants run by some of the city best chefs. If you are not confident about your choice, take a look at the menu before entering a place. Be careful if you see an overuse of salmon, arugula and ‘carpaccio’ (thinly sliced raw beef or fish) as this is is a common sign of the uniformity affecting many mid level restaurants.

Not all products of Milan can be found in restaurants, so a little food shopping may be in order before leaving. If you ask a local where to buy some specialty food, chances are you will be directed to Peck, a fancy grocery store laid out on four elegant floors not far fron the Duomo. Here you will find a stunning wine cellar and at least 25 local variations on salami including the thin ‘luganega’ and ‘zampone’ (a pig’s foot stuffed with peppery, coarsely ground pork meat). In late fall and winter, you will also have the chance to buy a very special treat: a terrine layered with four creamy cheeses (gorgonzola, mascarpone, stracchino and taleggio) and slivers of aromatic white truffles.