Food in Milan
Updated: Jun 8
Lombardy's cuisine is the result of multiple influences and past dominations (Austrian, Spanish and French). In general, Milanese and Lombardy traditions derive from peasant and popular traditions characterized by long cooking times, particularly stews and boiling, but also by the use of scraps or stale bread, indicating a population that tried to find tasty recipes while avoiding waste. It is well known that simple dishes are always the tastiest. The combination of simple ingredients, often underestimated, can produce incredibly tasty dishes.
Let’s proceed with starters, courses, and desserts of the Lombardy tradition typical of the Milanese taverns, stemming from the main ingredients offered by the Po Valley such as wheat, maize, and rice as Milan is situated to the west of the basin of the plain.
Gnervitt in salad
Gnervitt in the Milanese dialect means nerves but actually, it has nothing to do with nerves. It is served as an appetizer, to accompany the consumption of a “quartino” (a quarter-liter glass) of wine. The main ingredients are veal with onion, celery, and carrot boiled and dressed like a salad.
Paté di Vitello
Il paté di Vitello (veal liver paté), as it is called in Italian, is considered a very refined dish that is usually spread on croutons. One thing that makes it very tasty is to accompany it with onion jam or wine or cognac jelly. This characteristic makes it delicate on the palate, enhancing the flavors of the meat.
Ossobuco alla Milanese
Òs büüs as it is called by locals is a dish found in the first recipe book in the history of Italian cuisine. Ossobuco is a type of cut of beef that can be accompanied by various side dishes such as polenta, potatoes, peas, mushrooms, carrots, rice, and so on. The meat is very tender as it is floured before being put into a frying pan to brown. If you want to taste the original one, then you have to order it with yellow risotto, another cornerstone of the Milanese tradition. For the best risotto with ossobuco, we recommend a historic restaurant called “Al Matarel” near the Sforza Castle.
Risotto alla Milanese
Saffron yellow risotto is a dish that is symbolic of the city of Milan. There are many legends that trace the birth of this dish.
Curiosity Time: according to history, this dish was born in 1574 thanks to the Belgian master Valerio di Fiandra. He was staying in Milan for the construction of the stained-glass windows of the Duomo with a helper called Zafferano, who was called this way because of his habit of always adding a pinch of the precious spice to the colors to obtain a brighter effect. On the occasion of the wedding of Maestro Valerio's daughter, Zafferano asked the cook to add a generous pinch of saffron to the rice, which was eaten only with butter.
This dish is famous in the Lombard cities of Bergamo and Brescia. It is a half-moon or handkerchief-shaped fresh pasta stuffed with meat, vegetables, breadcrumbs, and cheese. But there are so many variations. This dish takes its name from the Latin word "caseus" which means "cheese". They are usually served with a knob of butter and bacon, scented with sage.
Cotoletta alla Milanese
A simple dish consisting of breaded meat fried in butter and oil but to make a traditional Milanese cutlet, veal loin or veal chop must be used. It seems that this type of dish was mentioned in a letter from an aide to the governor of Lombardy-Veneto, Radetzky. Surely a generous portion of Chips or a fresh salad can be a good accompaniment.
Typically, a winter dish, rich in stewed meat and vegetables, it is a traditional Lombardy dish. There is no one-size-fits-all version as this dish is prepared in different ways, with different ingredients: For example, in Varese, the verzini (typical pork sausages) are added, in Bergamo, instead, cassoeula is made drier and in Novara goose meat is used.
More info for you: Every year from January to March there is a festival in which some of the restaurants participate to win the trophy "Cassoueula d'Oro".
Mondeghili, the small meatballs that the Milanese have inherited from the Spanish (albóndigas), certainly deserves a place of honor. This dish is made of boiled beef, sausage, and cooked liver mortadella, prepared with stale bread soaked in milk, Grana Padano cheese, parsley, eggs, garlic, salt, and pepper. Don't call it a meatball, because the procedure is different even if the ingredients are similar.
The Milanese use this dish as a substitute for bread. It is a very old popular dish, even though it has origins in ancient Mesopotamia. The real polenta is the one prepared in the copper pot, boiling the cornflour for a long time. You can enjoy this plate as you wish for example polenta and braised meat or with mushrooms and sausage, with meat sauce, polenta gratin. Even fried polenta with codfish, a delicious preparation created to recover leftover polenta in which the polenta becomes almost a crouton.
With its scent that can conquer any nostril, its softness that charms the taste buds, panettone is the most traditional cake of Lombardy and an icon of all of Italy: there is no Italian family that celebrates Christmas without this traditional sweet! In fact, the legend originated during the Christmas period when the official cook of the Sforza family inadvertently burnt the cake to be served at the ducal banquet and, to remedy the situation, he used a loaf of yeast, added flour and eggs, and filled it with sultanas and candied fruit. The original recipe is certainly linked to this one, but there are so many variations: glazed without candied fruit, with chocolate chips, pistachio, white chocolate, red fruits, lemon cream... so, who can resist the temptation to eat it?
Crunchy and crumbly, it is made with cornflour and hazelnuts. This type of cake of peasant origin seems to have been prepared on special occasions, such as the birth of a child or a promise of marriage. Later its history became intertwined with the vicissitudes of the Gonzaga family, becoming an example of refined confectionery. There are many versions of this cake: sbrisolona alla Nutella, with apple, jam, cream, lemon, and ricotta fillings. But if you want to follow the local tradition, choose the classic one and dip the famous crumbs in grappa or in a liqueur wine to enhance the taste.
Pan de Mej
Small sweet focaccia flavored with elderflowers has a crumbly texture with a sweet, buttery flavor. Mej, in the Milanese dialect, refers to millet. This sweet is linked to an ancient Milanese tradition, which has it that it should be eaten on St George's Day (23 April) in the hope of a good season.
Torrone di Cremona
Almonds, honey, and egg white combine to create a compact, crunchy and aromatic mixture. This sweet seems to have been presented at the table during the wedding of Bianca Maria Visconti and Francesco Sforza (first Duke of Milan). First of all, you should know that Cremona is a city in Lombardy, the city of the three T's i.e., torrone, Torrazzo, and Ugo Tognazzi. In fact, its nougat is a variant of the traditional cake, with the addition of flavorings such as vanilla and candied fruit, which make the mixture softer.
The recipe for this soft cake is based on a few main ingredients, namely stale bread, milk, and cocoa, often enriched with biscuits, sultanas, pine nuts, candied fruit, and aniseed-flavored sponge cake. This cake comes precisely from Brianza, which is between the province north of Milan and Lake Lecco-Como. But if you prefer cakes without cocoa, we certainly recommend the Torta Paradiso (Paradise Cake), soft with a divine taste. Warm it is a wonder! The recipe was codified by Enrico Vigoni, the owner of a pastry shop in Pavia. If you want to taste the real torta paradiso, head for Pasticceria Vigoni.
This is a Milanese drink with a coffee base mixed with chocolate and filled with cream served hot or cold. It was enjoyed during desserts in the 1800s. Its name comes from its inventor Domenico Barbaja, a theatrical impresario who decided to open cafés to serve it. The best known was the "Caffè dei Virtuosi" near the Teatro Alla Scala. If you want to taste this drink, we recommend Torrefazione Hodeidah in Via Piero Della Francesca in the Sempione Park area or Pasticceria Vergani with a nice slice of panettone, which has franchises in three different areas.
Anyone who knows Milan is familiar with the journalistic expression Milano da bere (Milan to drink), which indicates the social life that took place in the city in the 1980s. Get to know Milano da bere through an excursus of drinks:
bitter red elixir diluted with a little sparkling water or used as a basic ingredient in many cocktails such as the spritz, negroni, or americano. An iconic cocktail in Milan is the Negroni Sbagliato created by a bartender's mistake in using bubbles instead of gin, with Campari Bitter and red vermouth. But also, the Zucca Lavorato secco which was sipped before performing at the Scala.
A drink made from bitter almonds and sugar but also other ingredients such cherries, plums, cocoa, and a variety of herbs with an amber color and a pleasant, aromatic taste. The most famous is the one in the town of Saronno where, according to legend, this drink was born.
Elegant cocktail with simple ingredients: pink gin, a few drops of Angostura served with orange peel. This kind of drink was created by the homonymous Gin rosa bar located in Piazza S. Babila.
Like many Italian regions, Lombardy is distinguished by the variety of its wines, such as Franciacorta with its citrus and dried fruit notes and Oltrepò Pavese sparkling wines produced with classical method which means that the second fermentation starts directly from the bottle. These can be enjoyed with an aperitif but also with saffron risotto. Another one is Lugana wine with unmistakable apple smell. Coming from the Lake Garda area between Lombardy and Veneto, it can be combined with freshwater fish or even with cotoletta alla milanese. Finally, the Bonarda red and sparkling wine, the Buttafuoco with floral and spicy scents and the Valtellina Superiore with notes of rose, violet, berries, cherry.
We hope that you enjoyed this article and now that you are going to cook like a real Italian chef, one of these specialties from Milan! And if you plan to go to Milan and try them locally, don't hesitate to tell us what you think about them! And to prepare for your trip to Milan check our article about visiting Milan! Turin being not too far from Milan, you should check our article about visiting Turin and eating in Turin for those with a sweet tooth!
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