I continue to be stunned that after over 20 years of travel to Italy we can still find so many amazing new food destinations. We traveled to the Ligurian coast years ago but overlooked Genoa. That was a big mistake, and in this post, I will share why. In this Genoa food guide, we share our tips on where and what to eat in Genoa, with a focus on Ligurian food and cuisine.
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Why Visit Genoa For Ligurian Food
I am going to be completely honest here. Eric suggested visiting Genoa when we knew we had a few days free at the end of a trip to Italy before flying out of Pisa. I knew Genoa for pesto and that it was a port city. Genoa was never on my Italy travel list.
For some reason, in my head, I sort of thought of it as a, well, port city. Not much to do. Not very attractive. Just a stopover city. I could not be more wrong.
We met a new friend, Luisa, from Liguria by Luisa at a food tourism conference in Pamplona. She encouraged Eric to visit Genoa and promised us great food. Not only did Luisa take us on an educational Genoa food tour to teach us about a lot of the ingredients and dishes, but she was right. Ligurian cuisine is incredible.
But, there is more to Genoa than the food. Sure, that’s a great reason to visit, but the city itself was lovely. Portico-covered shopping streets, narrow alleyways filled with street food, incredible historic palaces. The architecture and history of the city are enough to keep any traveler to Italy busy.
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What To Eat In Genoa Italy
We ate very very well in Genoa. Most surprising is that we ate an almost vegetarian diet. So much so that as soon as we returned home to Spain, Eric craved meat! Sure there is meat on the menu, but a lot of the Ligurian cuisine focuses on bread, vegetables, pasta, and fish.
Here we share our must-eat Ligurian dishes to help you navigate a Genoa restaurant menu.
Genovese Basil DOP
I love basil. Particularly I enjoy tearing open a basil leaf to rub the basil between my fingers to release the oils to smell its aroma. When I did this at the Mercato Orientale in Genoa I knew I was in a whole other world of basil.
The Genovese basil is a DOP protected product under European Union and Italian law. This ensures that only basil grown in specific areas within Liguria can be called Genovese Basil DOP.
Just west of Genoa is the district of Prà, where people say the best basil originates. One of my favorite things to do in Genoa was to walk through the market and to see the beautiful piles of fresh basil.
Pay attention to the wrapping around the basil plants in the market to look for the genuine DOP stamp to know you are buying the real thing.
Check out the local markets. Among the piles of vegetables and fruits from Italy, you will see mountains of fresh, gorgeous basil.
Ligurian Olive Oil
Of course, there are great olive oils all over Italy, but there is a particular olive grown in Liguria that produces amazing delicate olive oil. It’s one of the reasons why the food in Genoa is so darn good.
It’s the Taggiasca olive that is used to produce Ligurian olive oil. This is a grape that produces a low level of bitterness when pressed, which is why the oil that results tastes so sweet. Look for Ligurian Taggiasca olive oil at local food stores and on the table at some of the best restaurants in Genoa.
These two ingredients together (basil and olive oil) form the base of the most popular Ligurian food to eat in Genoa – Pesto Genovese. All of the best pesto in Genoa includes Genovese Basil, Ligurian olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, salt, and cheese.
The bright green sauce is used in a variety of pasta dishes and is easily the most famous of Genoa cuisine.
Salsa di Noci – Walnut Sauce
There are three primary pasta sauces that form the base of most Ligurian dishes. In addition to pesto, one of the more popular dishes to find on Genoa restaurant menus is salsa di noci, a creamy walnut based sauce.
This is a little harder to find on menus in the summer. The sauce includes a little bread to add a thickness along with crushed walnuts, Parmigiano Reggiano, olive oil, and garlic. It’s creamy and rich.
The final of the Genovese pasta trifecta happens to be a ragu. I don’t know if it is by coincidence that these three sauces together form the colors of the Italian flag. You might find ragù di carne, which is made with minced meat. Or look for töccö, which is made with chunks of meat.
The BEST thing to eat in Genoa is fresh focaccia! The quintessential Italian finger food, you will find yourself eating focaccia multiple times a day in Genoa.
If you ask Italian food aficionados what Genoa is famous for, they would probably say one of two things: pesto or focaccia. Although you can find focaccia all over Italy, it originated in Genova.
And, I have to admit, I certainly ate the best focaccia of my life there. At its most basic, focaccia is a soft bread flavored with olive oil and salt. The Genovese version is a little thinner than what you often find elsewhere in Italy.
There are several varieties available across Liguria, with the most common being focaccia with olives or onions. Different bakers are known for different recipes, some being super soft and others being denser. I loved the softer focaccia the best.
Eating In Genoa Pro Tip – How To Eat Authentic Focaccia
We learned two important tips from Luisa, a Genovese local, about how to eat authentic focaccia. First, the bread often feels a little greasy because of the olive oil. So, hold the bread with a small napkin to keep your fingers clean. Second, place the top of the bread on your tongue to get the full flavor of the salt on top.
There are a lot of different versions of focaccia, but the variation I enjoyed the most was cheese focaccia. When made in the town of Recco it is known as Focaccia di Recco. These versions don’t resemble the typical focaccia at all. It’s more like a thin crust flatbread filled with a local, soft cheese called crescenza.
This is one of the most traditional things to eat in Genoa city and is one that I had never heard of before traveling to Genoa. This is despite the fact that it dates to the Romans and Greeks.
Farinata is almost like a giant pancake made with chickpea flour, water, olive oil, and salt. It is pressed into a big copper pan and baked. It is best when baked in a wood fire oven, although gas is becoming increasingly more common.
The consistency is a little dense, with a bit of crispness on the top, and a light flavor of nuts. I would say it is an acquired taste mostly because of the texture. At first, I didn’t think I liked it, but then I couldn’t stop eating. I liked it even better when I dunked it into my pesto sauce!
Torte di Verdure
A torta, or torte for the plural, is a savory vegetable pie. There are more varieties of torta in Genoa than any one person can try in a lifetime, at least it seems that way. Some of the most common versions are torta di patate (potato), torta di cipolla (onion), and torta di riso (rice).
If I had to choose one I would recommend torta di bietole, which is made with chard, a slightly bitter green. You can order a piece of a giant torta or bakeries and shops also make individual little pies, which are truly adorable.
Fagottini di Stracchino
These are the perfect starter if you can find them on a restaurant menu in Genoa. They are little triangles or squares of filo dough filled with stracchino, a soft and mild cheese. They are deep-fried and kind of reminded me of a lighter fried ravioli, which I grew up eating in New Jersey.
There are other dishes besides farinata that are commonly eaten in Genoa that have chickpea flour as their base. One of the most simple genoa foods we ate was panissa.
Panissa is a mixture of chickpea flour, garlic, salt, and other seasonings. The flour mixture is slow-cooked and stirred into a paste and then it is deep-fried. They are kind of like a Genovese version of french fries when sprinkled with salt.
Fish And Fritto Misto
The Ligurian Coast is known for its fish and seafood, which is one of the reasons why meat doesn’t feature as prominently on menus. Anchovies are popular (acciughe in Italian).
What I crave in seaside cities in Italy, though, is fritto misto, a mix of fried goodness. In Naples, they were often served in a paper cone of all seafood. In Genoa, though, it is normally a mix of seafood and vegetables. Also look for fried baccala, which is salted cod.
I have to say we didn’t eat a lot of meat while in Genoa. We were so busy eating all the pasta along with focaccia and farinata and torta, none of it is light. If I had to recommend one traditional meat dish, though, it would be cima.
It might be a little hard to find on a restaurant menu, but it is frequently found at butchers that offer prepared foods. Cima is a cow or veal breast, which is filled with bread, peas, vegetables, ground meat, eggs, cheese, mortadella – basically anything you can throw in there. It’s boiled, cooled, and then sliced.
It’s true peasant food and worth a try if you can find it.
Must-Eat Genovese Pasta Dishes
Obviously, any trip to Italy must involve at least one plate of pasta a day (if not more). In Liguria, there are several options for unique Genoa pasta dishes. It’s one of the regions why I love Italy so much.
The cuisine is regional, so the pasta shapes you find in Bologna are totally different from those eaten in Sardinia or Naples. Here are just a few of the most commonly found pasta dishes to eat in Genoa and along the Ligurian Coast.
Pasta Alla Genovese
It’s possible to find all sorts of pasta shapes slathered in tasty fresh pesto, but any pasta that is alla Genovese takes things one step further. This pesto dish includes small pieces of boiled potato and green beans, which are mixed with the pesto.
This is one of my favorite pasta shapes in Genoa. It is a rolled strip of pasta that is then cut irregularly into smaller pieces. They kind of look like a bowl of worms, particularly when slathered in pesto.
Corzetti or Croxetti
We visited Sa Pesta for lunch in Genoa mostly based on their reputation for great farinata. They had two types of pasta on the lunch menu so we ordered one of each. This is how I found corzetti (or Croxetti).
Corzetti are very thin, round disks of pasta. They are true artisan specialities. They are handmade with wooden corzetti stamps, which emboss a little design onto the pasta. You can even buy these stamps at shops and have them monogrammed with your initials or name. Corzetti is normally served with pesto sauce or with salsa di noci.
Pansotti is a triangular-shaped stuff pasta, sort of in the ravioli family. It is normally stuffed with ricotta cheese, herbs, and vegetables like chard or spinach and served with a salsa di noci. Pansa is actually the Ligurian word for belly, so this pasta is shaped like a little belly.
Taglierini is a long, thin pasta similar to a tagliatelle, which is served in Bologna. Eric ordered this at Sa Pesta and the pasta was as green as the pesto. It was also obviously freshly prepared, soft, and delicious.
Always a classic, in Genoa, look for beef ravioli. It’s a typical ravioli, stuffed with beef and topped with ragu. Can’t go wrong with a classic.
Genoa Desserts And Snacks
We are not usually dessert people, but sometimes we must make exceptions, particularly for Italian desserts. In this case, Luisa introduced us to several Genoa desserts during our walk around Genoa Old Town.
Without her help, we probably would have had gelato a few times and that’s it. Here are our recommended Genovese desserts and snacks.
Pandolce Alla Genovese
Traditionally pandolce was only eaten during the Christmas holidays. Now, you will find it at bakeries year-round. It’s a sweet bread with pine nuts, dried fruits, and anise. Sometimes they will include chocolate, hazelnuts, or figs.
Yes, cheese gelato. We visited Viganotti Romeo Gelateria, which offered some traditional gelato flavors as well as some more unique flavors. They offered several cheese-based gelato flavors including ricotta noci (ricotta cheese and nut), gorgonzola noci, and even buffalo cheese flavored. All totally tasty.
Semifreddo could be mistaken for gelato or ice cream, but its name translates to semi-frozen. It is cold, but has the consistency of a mousse. At Cremeria Buonafede we tried their Semifreddo dei Rolli, which was totally creamy.
It included a bit of soft almond sponge cake inside the semifreddo. They also offer a semifreddo Panera, which is flavored with cinnamon and coffee.
Krapfen Con Panna
Another sweet treat at Cremeria Buonafede was their krapfen, which is a soft donut. This might not be one of the more recognizable Italian pastry names, but it should be. The donut is then sliced in half and loaded with sweet cream. We asked for ours to be covered in cocoa. Light and delicious.
And, yes, Eric made a mess of himself while trying to eat this one. There’s no easy way to eat a krapfen con panna.
Torta Mele e Cannella
With all of the vegetable versions of torta available in Genoa, we found one place that offered a little bit of American comfort food.
At Antica Sciamadda, they specialize in farinata and torta. We happen to walk by just after lunch and tried their torta mele e cannella, or apple pie with cinnamon. It totally hit the spot! This is a Genoa cake you can’t miss!
The Most Surprising Thing To Eat In Genoa
Why not round out this Genoa travel blog with one very surprising thing to eat in Genoa. If visiting a focacceria or a Genoa cafe, don’t be surprised to see the locals enjoying a morning cappuccino.
And definitely don’t be surprised to see the locals dipping their morning focaccia into a cappuccino. We tried this a few mornings and enjoyed it immensely. There is something about the saltiness of the focaccia in the milk of the cappuccino. Just try it.
Where To Eat In Genoa Italy
When it comes to where to eat in Genoa, there are two main categories of places to eat in Genoa. We will recommend a couple of restaurants in Genoa that specialize in traditional Ligurian food.
I also want to share a few types of shops to visit to taste some typical Genoa street food. There is also a newer place to eat in Genoa that is the perfect place to try all of the best food in Genoa in one location.
Restaurants In Genoa Italy
Here are some of our recommended restaurants in Genoa:
Il Cadraio for classic pasta dishes and on some nights they do all-you-can-eat farinata
Antica Sa Pesta for farinata and traditional working man’s lunches
Trattoria Ugo dal 1969 for traditional pasta dishes
E Prie Rosse for pasta and daily specials prepared for a local clientele
Da Paul Vineria wine bar on Via di Canneto Il Curto for small glasses of local wines and spirits
MOG MercatoOrientale Genoa
The city recently took this traditional Genoa Mercato and transformed it into a multi-purpose food and tourism facility. We’ve been seeing a lot of these transitions across Europe, the earliest being the Time Out Market in Lisbon.
Because modern society means many people are trading in shopping at the local market in favor of supermarkets or online shopping, traditional food markets are in danger.
What many cities are doing to save the local market is to allocate a percentage of the market to a contemporary dining hall. This encourages both tourists and locals to visit the shop and many of the food stalls buy their produce directly from the local market. It’s a win-win situation.
The Mercato Orientale Genoa (or MOG) is worth a visit for any food and drink traveler. In addition to Ligurian wine, craft beer, and cocktails they offer a lot of options for classic Genovese cuisine.
If you are short on time this is also a great option to try a lot of our recommended dishes from above. MOG is open seven days a week from 10 am to midnight.
Genoa Street Food
Street food in a traditional sense is not as common in Europe as it is in Asia, in part because of the European Union rules and regulations that control food preparation and service.
In Genoa, though, there are few options for shops that act like street food stalls. They are perfect places to pop in for a snack.
In addition to our recommendations below, look generally for shops called focaccerie (focaccia bakeries), friggitorie (fried fish shops), sciamadde (Ligurian cuisine for takeaway).
Don’t be afraid to wander the little side streets in the Centro Storico, or historic center of Genoa. This includes the narrow alleyways running north from the port.
Forno Patrone for amazing focaccia
Antica Sciamadda for farinata and various versions of torte di verdure
Antica Friggatorie Carega for all things fried seafood and fish, just across from the Genoa port
Le Delizie dell’amico for torta, cima, and other prepared foods for takeaway but they also have a few stools inside
Rossocarne Street Food for Genoa salami and cured meat sandwiches
Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano for sweets, mascarpone, and candy-coated almonds and “confetti”
Where To Stay In Genoa Italy
We stayed at the Best Western Metropole on Piazza delle Fontane Marose. The hotel is centrally located to all of the best restaurants and street food as well as the Genoa Principe train station.
It’s a contemporary hotel and unlike the Best Western properties in the US. A definite recommendation. Rooms start at €118. Get the best price here. For a more boutique property, check out Palazzo Grillo, where rooms start from €150.
FAQS – TRAVELING TO GENOA FOR FOOD
I was concerned about Genoa because it is a port city. We felt safe walking around, even at night. I will say there are a few alleyways that felt a little sketchy at night, so it is best to keep your wits about you. Other than that, it is no less safe than other cities in Italy.
Genoa is located in the Italian province of Liguria, in Northwest Italy. It is a port city and a jumping-off point for the Ligurian coast, including Portofino and Cinque Terre towns. It is best reached by train. Genoa is only about 90 minutes by train from Milan.
Genoa is probably best known for its historic and important maritime trade. It is also the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. For food and drink travelers, though, it’s all about pesto and focaccia!
Genoa is certainly not an idyllic city. It’s a port city like Naples and can be rough around the edges. But that adds to its charm and makes it worth visiting. As one of the lesser-visited cities in Italy, there are fewer tourists, lines, and overall cheaper prices. Genoa is also the jumping-off point for more famous Italian destinations like Portofino.
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Check out Food & Drink Destinations original founder Amber Hoffman’s book, the Food Traveler’s Guide To Emilia Romagna, which is available on Amazon. In addition to being a culinary travel guide to the region, it walks through how many of the typical Italian food products are made, like mortadella, prosciutto, and Parmigiano Reggiano.
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Genoa Food Guide – The Best Ligurian Food To Eat In Genoa Italy
We love to use Pinterest to help plan our travels. When we find useful information, we pin it to a travel board to save for later. Feel free to pin this post to help plan your trip to Genoa or the Ligurian Coast.
See some of our other Italian food guides here: