Yes, Milan is famous for being the fashion capital of Italy. And it’s home to a world renowned opera house, important artworks, and architecture. But . . it’s also a great place for eating!
Fashion is king in Milan, and that goes for food as well. Milan is the place to keep up with food trends, find food from all over the world (hard to do elsewhere in Italy), and be dazzled by great decor too.
Here are my tips on what to eat in Milan and where to eat it. It’s not an exhaustive list: instead it’s what I like and what I recommend as someone who’s lived in Italy for over 15 years. I lived in Milan for a year, and have been back countless times since . . . always with food on my mind.
My good friend Carlo, a Milan native, has given his recommendations too.
Mangiamo! Let’s eat!
Table of Contents
EAT LOCAL MILANESE SPECIALTIES
Italy still has regional cuisines, which means you’ll find different dishes and specialties in each Italian region and city you go to. The food from Milan in northern Italy is different from food from Sicily (southern Italy) or Tuscany (central Italy).
Milan is home to local specialties that have become popular all over Italy and the world. Keep your eye out for:
RISOTTO ALLA MILANESE
Otherwise known as: risotto allo zafferano, risotto giallo
Milanese risotto is a bright yellow rice dish, thanks to the star ingredient: saffron. Rice is cooked in butter (and bone marrow, in the classic version), onions and broth until it is creamy but the grains still have a little bite to them. Saffron added at the end gives it that iconic color.
COSTOLETTA ALLA MILANESE
Otherwise known as: cotoletta alla milanese
A favorite of my kids and husband alike, veal milanese is simple but scrumptious. It’s a bone-in veal chop, or a veal cutlet, that is breaded and fried in butter.
What does alla milanese mean? It means Milan-style, as in it comes from Milan, and is made in the (traditional) style of Milan.
This can be confusing for Americans, because usually on American menus, alla milanese refers to something breaded and fried. There can also be a sauce involved that has dubious, if any, links to Milan.
However, in Italy alla milanese refers to a dish that comes from Milan, made the way people from Milan make it.
Osso buco always intimidated me until I actually tried it, and it melted in my mouth. It means bone with a hole, because it is a veal shank cut crosswise, with the bone marrow receding inside.
The shank is braised with wine, vegetables and tomato, and topped with gremolada (or gremolata), a mince of parsley, garlic and lemon zest. Osso buco goes well with risotto alla milanese, and they are often served together. Don’t forget to eat the soft bone marrow, it’s a delicacy!
Stinky blue cheese? Sign me up. Gorgonzola has blue veins, an off-white paste and wrinkly rind. Keep an open mind: this funky cheese is beloved not only locally but all over the world.
It comes from Gorgonzola, which lies within the Metropolitan City limits of Milan. There are two versions: dolce (sweet), which is milder, and piccante (spicy) which is more intense.
You can find gorgonzola in supermarkets, but look for it in small food shops in Milan, called alimentari, where you may find more variety. When you’re in Milan, be on the lookout for dishes with gorgonzola, like polenta, gnocchi, risotto, and pasta.
Italy’s most famous Christmas cake, panettone, is from Milan. By now it has been adopted all over the country.
Panettone looks like a puffy golden dome. Traditionally it is a sweet bread dotted with candied fruits and raisins, though today’s bakers in Milan and elsewhere experiment with savory versions, as well as different sweet combinations.
You can find industrial versions in supermarkets everywhere here in Italy at Christmas time. However, look for an artisanal panettone in a local Milan bakery at Christmastime to try the real deal.
WHERE TO EAT MILANESE CUISINE
Here are Carlo’s picks:
- Ratanà for a modern take on traditional Milanese food
- La Pobbia 1850 is one of Milan’s oldest restaurants
- Al Matarel near Castello Sforzesco has been serving Milanese classics since 1962
DO APERITIVO LIKE THE LOCALS
A pre-dinner drink, or aperitivo, is a must in Milan. An aperitivo in this trendy city is no small event. It’s a whole scene.
Aperitivo is usually served with finger food snacks like peanuts, potato chips or olives. But don’t be surprised if you arrive for an aperitivo and the entire bar is covered with an overflowing buffet of food. You’re in the right place. For the price of your drink, you can eat what’s supposed to be a snack, but usually ends up enough for a meal.
ENJOY HAUTE CUISINE
In keeping with its position as Italy’s style capital, Milan is the harbinger of food trends in Italy, and has plenty of creative, modern and contemporary cuisine. It also has its share of Michelin-starred restaurants.
Milan is home to the first vegetarian restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star back in 1996: Chef Pietro Leemans’ Joia.
Some high end Milan institutions that have stood the test of time are Sadler in the Casa Baglioni hotel; and Cracco, from celebrity chef Carlo Cracco, right in the fabulous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Both have 1 Michelin star.
For a real show stopper, try to get a reservation at Milan’s only restaurant with 3 Michelin stars: Enrico Bartolini al Mudec, at the Culture Museum near the Navigli.
HIGH END FOOD SHOPPING
Via Spadari near the Duomo is a street full of delicious treats. At Via Spadari 9 you’ll find Milan’s most famous gourmet food and wine shop: Peck is a high end Milan institution, like Milan’s version of Harrods food hall in London, or Citarella in New York.
Just down the street at Via Spadari 13 is Ciacco, the place to get creative, high quality artisanal gelato. Explore the neighborhood and you’ll find specialty food shops and fancy pastry shops as well.
TRY FOOD FROM ALL OVER ITALY
Milan has long been a destination for migrants from within Italy. Since the economic miracle period after WWII, Italians from southern regions like Sicily, Calabria and Naples have resettled in prosperous Milan (and other northern cities like Turin) for better work opportunities.
The city’s food reflects this: there are food establishments, restaurants and bakeries with food from all over the country. Be on the lookout for Sicilian bakeries, and Neapolitan pizzerias.
Near the Duomo, there are some of Milan’s most beloved street food institutions that have roots in other areas of Italy.
Luini by the Duomo is a Milan institution for panzerotti, which are like fried pizza pockets. Panzerotti are a specialty from the Puglia region in the south of Italy.
Luini’s original owner Giuseppina Luini moved to Milan from Puglia during the wave of migration in 1949, and brought her family panzerotti recipe with her.
Antica Pizza Fritta da Zia Esterina Sorbillo, is run by the Sorbillo family pizza dynasty of Naples. It serves pizza fritta (fried pizza), a Neopolitan specialty, out of a hole in the wall in Via Agnello 19 near Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
EAT INTERNATIONAL CUISINE
Milan has drawn immigrants from all over the world who have enriched Milan’s food scene. Milan has a vibrant Chinatown, centered around Via Paolo Sarpi. There’s also everything from Eritrean to Sri Lankan to Peruvian to Russian-Ukrainian-Georgian cuisine.
If you have a craving for non-Italian food, Milan is the easiest place in Italy to find it. International cuisine can be found all over the city, not just in the center where the tourists are. As opposed to Florence, for example, Milan has absorbed non-Italian food into its food culture.
Sushi was trendy in Milan before other Italian cities had heard of it. The city’s most decorated Japanese restaurant Iyo has 1 Michelin star.
If you’re planning on spending time in Milan, be sure to read about How to Get Around in Milan.