Special occasions - what is on the table of traditional Italians? ouritalianjourney.com

What do Italians Enjoy Eating?

It’s a special occasion… so what’s on the dinner tables in Italy? Have you ever wondered what a true Italian table looks like at Easter? How about at Christmas?

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In my opinion, Italians are masters in the art of celebrating special occasions – and food is usually the main attraction. It is a central focus and can take on a role all on its own. Special occasions – bringing people together and creating memories around the dining room table.

Regions Celebrate Special Occasions Differently

It is a true statement that the foods for special occasions vary from each region in Italy and, for that matter, even from family to family. But this is true for all of us – not just Italians. Each year for Thanksgiving I make my mother’s pumpkin pie. There is nothing else like it in the world – believe me, I’ve tried many. It’s unique even though it’s not difficult to make. But it’s that taste – that brings back wonderful childhood memories for me.

I could go into describing each region but I thought picking out certain dishes to talk about at various holidays would be the main topic of this post. After all, this post could be lengthy with twenty regions to discuss.

So let’s begin…

Special Occasion Food Item #1: Lasagna

Lasagna can be served as a weekly Sunday item, but… throughout Italy, it’s especially enjoyed on special occasions. It is an iconic dish of layered pasta alternating with ricotta, mozzarella, more than likely meat, and the all-important ragù and creamy béchamel sauces.

Every region in Italy creates its lasagna differently. Gary and I have enjoyed one of the best lasagnas in Bologna – of course. Rich in meat and bolognese sauce with a slight green tinge or hue to it. Why the color? I don’t know. Perhaps someone reading knows? Anyway… In the Liguria area, pesto often replaces the red sauce or, is an addition to it.

The Emilia Romagna region claims its place in the history of lasagna with recipes dating back to the 14th century. Yet, it was the city of Naples that revolutionized this dish in the 19th century by introducing the use of tomato sauce. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t add Sicily to this list who claims to be the first and only true creator of lasagna. Regardless of who gets the credit – I’ve enjoyed many wonderful lasagna dishes in almost every region of Italy. Different – yes. But all delicious.

Food map of Italy describes what regions are famous for certain foods. ouritalianjourney.com

Food Item #2 for Special Occasions

Every New Year’s celebration in Italy will have a bowl of lentils or lentil soup on the table. Lentils, with their coin-like shape, represent good luck and prosperity. The lentil’s round shape is thought to resemble Roman coins. The shape symbolizes money and prosperity. Traditionally, Italians consider eating lentils to bring good luck and fortune to the family for the upcoming year.

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Food Item #3: Cotechino

Cotechino [pronounced ko-te-kee-no] is a sausage made of pork, lard, pork rind, and spices. It’s cooked for a very long time and made with the less valuable parts of the pig and is considered a “poor man’s” food. It is usually served with lentils on New Year’s.

Special Occasion Food Item #4

In Italy, Chiacchiere is a delicious sweet treat served during Carnevale. They are strips of light and crisp dough served dusted with powdered sugar. They are a very addictive treat!

During February, these sweet fried pastries can be found in bakeries and supermarkets throughout Italy and on every Italian dinner table. I believe it was the ancient Romans who created these gastronomic delights.

Chiacchiere are pretty simple to make. They are made with flour, eggs, and sugar. Then it’s as easy as mixing the ingredients and frying them in oil. The final touch is a generous dusting of powdered sugar.

Next on our list? One of my favorites

#5 on the Special Occasion Foods in Italy

Every year during Christmas you’ll find boxes of panettone and pandoro piled high in the grocery stores and specialty shops. For me, it’s all about panettone as I prefer this delicious sweet bread filled with candied fruits and raisins. The main difference between pandoro and panettone lies in the shape. Pandoro hails from Verona and will always be an eight-pointed star shape, plain and usually covered with white icing.

Each Italian family will have its culinary favorite of these two delights. Panettone originated in Milan. We were visiting our Italian friend Antonella a few years back in Rome and she brought us a panettone directly from her home in Milan. We talk about Antonella and this experience in our book, Our Italian Journey, and how special the panettone was – and also meeting Antonella.

Special occasions - what is on the table of traditional Italians? ouritalianjourney.com

On the list at #6…

During Easter, Colomba di Pasqua is an Italian traditional Easter bread, the counterpart of the two well-known Italian Christmas desserts, panettone and pandoro. It is a beautiful dove-shaped cake usually glazed and adorned with almonds and a sugar crystal crust. Sometimes this cake can be enhanced with candied orange peels.

According to legend, the origins of the Colomba can be traced back to the Lombard era. It is said that just before Easter after King Alboin’s triumph over the city of Pavia in 572, he was presented a sweet bread shaped like a dove as a gesture of peace. Needless to say, the king was ecstatic, and ever since, that dove-shaped sweet bread has become an enduring symbol of Easter.

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Final Thoughts

Did I forget any special occasion foods that you are aware of or have celebrated with? It’s always fun to find out what others have seen or enjoyed on the Italian special occasion dinner table.

Special occasions - what is on the table of traditional Italians? ouritalianjourney.com


  1. Thanks alot Ilene, now I am hungry again 🍷🇮🇹😬. This post is exactly why I am looking forward to exploring the Parma area soon over Pasqua and then Turin as to explore their food and drink traditions. I am hoping there is a nice bicerin with my name on it when I get to Turin!

    1. Oh, bicerin! YUMMM! I had it twice in Turin. The best was at Caffè Al Bicerin, where it was started. It’s not as fancy as some other places, but the bicerin was amazing!

    1. Okay, Jeff. If you mean stick to food as a blog post – we’re not food bloggers (laughing) We try and cover lots of subjects. (if that is what you meant)

  2. Sweets and special occasions are nice.

    Only once in Italy that I remember, we had Lentil Soup in the Dolomites on a day excursion out of Venice, it was a cold day so it was perfect, Sharon and I want to give your recipe a try now with your provided link, thank you

  3. This is exactly how & what we ate in my Grandmother’s house, growing up.
    My mother still talks about the Easter Grain Pie, and although she doesn’t make it anymore, she orders it from a wonderful Italian bakery in Bethpage.

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