The best Christmas dishes and drinks in Italy

Being the home of pizza, pasta and fine wines, Italy is widely – and for good reason – regarded as a culinary hotspot with export hits going around the world. But what about the Christmas cuisine? Europe’s boot welcomes its guests with a series of regional specialties. Sweet or sour, light or savoury, Italy’s Christmas dishes, desserts and appropriate Christmas drinks constantly inspire connoisseurs anew. Find the country’s culinary highlights with a tasty mix of traditional meals and regional insiders’ tips here.

No meat on December 24th

Vegetarian Antipasti


First off: There’s a widespread tradition in most of Italy of not serving meat on the evening of December 24th. This habit is based on Catholic belief. Instead an extensive multi-course menu is prepared. The focus clearly lies on fish dishes and seafood. For starters, numerous antipasti (appetisers) with vegetables, pasta and fish are served, then a special course with pasta dishes and fish. The main course, again, puts fish on the plate. Presents are opened afterwards.

What’s next?

Traditional Christmas lunch takes places on December 25th and must only consist of dishes from the ground (alla terra). Meat, salami, ham, meat sauces and various roasts put an end to the short-term meat fast. Cheese comes with most lunches. Delicious desserts are served afterwards. Contrary to other countries, December 26th isn’t much of a Christmas holiday. Most Italians eat out, visit friends and family.

Christmas fish dishes

pasta with clams

© Ursea

Every region has its own special fish dishes served on December 24th. Fried eel (capitone) and dried cod (baccalà fritto) are particularly popular even beyond the coastal strips. Italians prefer to have their pasta with seafood, such as spaghetti with Venus clams. Apulia serves Orata alla pugliese – gilthead seabream made with potatoes, carrots and celery, and refined with pecorino or parmesan.



Pollo al riso

A great variety of meat dishes is essential to the feast on December 25th. Poultry is mostly used for appetisers. Pollo al riso, i.e. fowl with rice, is common in all of Italy. Meat and rice are cooked separately. The bones are removed carefully after cooking and cooling. All fat is removed from the generated chicken broth. Cook the rice and chopped up meat in the broth and serve it as a soup.

Christmas roast

There are as many roast variations in Italy as there are regions. December 25th wouldn’t be Christmas without an arrosto. While poultry is mostly served as part of the first courses, beef and veal dominate the main course. Served mostly with potatoes, some vegetables and gravy, this dish promises full stomachs and stimulating conversation. Some regions alternatively serve duck or goose.

Meat and roast all across Italy

What’s for Christmas dinner in Italy’s individual regions? Sicily, for example, serves Farsumagru, a rolled beef roast filled with ham, tomatoes and various cheeses. Tuscany takes its inspiration from the forest. Wild boar ragout is served with plums, herbs and vegetables. Venison roast with tagliatelle is equally well-liked. Porchetta, a dish served all year, is popular as well during Christmas. Dressing the rolled, grilled pork belly is time-consuming, the delicious result, however, speaks for itself.


Christmas cake Panettone


Italy’s Christmas cuisine wouldn’t be complete without desserts. Panettone (also known as panetón in Peru) originated in Milan, but has since spread over most of the country. Crystallised fruit and raisins are added to the soft, kneadable wheat sourdough baked in a paper cuff. This creates the famous cupola shape with a height of approx. 20 cm. Sweet wine, such as Moscato or Spumante, is served with these delicious slices.


Other sweet sins

Those with a sweet tooth look forward to even more Christmas treats. Verona is famous for its star-shaped cookie Frolle di Santa Lucia or the Panettone-like cake Pandoro, which also has a star shape and is sprinkled with icing sugar. Torrone is an integral part of Piedmont’s Christmas cuisine. The bar-shaped white nougat is usually made with hazelnuts and a layer of wafer on the outside. South Tyrol, however, focuses on Christmas cookies and fruitcake. Campania is famous for its honey cookies Susamelli or the sponge pastries Diviniamore. Umbria, however, sees the production of Rocciata di Assisi, a particularly delicious apple pie.

A look inside the glass

Christmas drink white mulled wine


Italy’s Christmas drinks fit the dishes served. While many roasts are served with stronger wines, light and sweet drinks usually accompany the Christmas menus. Desserts are usually served with light and tangy wines – Spumante and Moscato are prime examples. White mulled wine, that is the white wine alternative to the classic Christmas drink – is rather popular. Dinner menus usually see the inclusion of a nice cup of coffee. Wine by the glass usually accompanies an arrosto, while the fish dishes on December 24th best go along with wines such as Soave or Prosecco.

Can you already feel your stomach rumbling? Your mouth starts to water just thinking about all of these dishes and drinks! Spend Christmas and the days leading up to the festivities in Italy – ZAINOO features the best travel suggestions with numerous cultural highlights, the best shopping options and other culinary delights.

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