The Cinque Terre is, like much of Italy, pure joy for frugal first class travellers. It is easy to eat well on fantastic local, seasonal food, and drink fabulous local wines, all at a bargain price! What’s not to love? So, here is the official frugal first class travel guide to eating well in the Cinque Terre:
Eating well in the Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre is all about fish and other fresh seafoods. Red meat and poultry is not well represented (and in some places not represented at all) on restaurant menus, so seafood is the way to go here. You will see common European species such as swordfish and sea bass, as well as other varieties that your waiter is unlikely to know the English name of – because it’s a local fish. Add in squid and octopus, lobster, shrimp and other crustaceans, and razor clams and vongole. You will be spoiled for choice. Cooking styles vary from simple grills, to delicious soups/stews and seafood pastas.
Because it is in Liguria, the Cinque Terre is also home to walnuts and pesto. I enjoyed a delicious ravioli with a walnut sauce as an entree (appetizer) on one night. Pesto also features as a simple dressing for pasta – great for a light entree (appetizer). One thing I did notice was the difference in flavour in the pesto compared to pesto I am able to buy at home. Not as oily and the basil not so overpowering, it was an altogether different thing in its natural habitat, so well worth trying.
Drinking in the Cinque Terre
All those grape vines and lemon trees are put to good use in contributing to the Dolce Vita of the Cinque Terre. Local grapes go into making both red and white wines, and the dessert wine, sciacchetra (shar-cat-TRA). Lemons make the powerful, but tasty digestive, limoncello (lee-mon-chello). When you are out dining, do find, and try, the local wines on offer. In my experience, your waiter will swell with pride in discussing the relative merits of the different labels on their list, and will guide you to a good choice. The sciacchetra is just the thing to finish off with some torte at the end of your meal, or even on its own savoured like a port. If you are used to French style dessert wines, such as Sauternes, you will find the sciacchetra a bit different, but no less delicious. Because of the small quantities, and almost artisanale production do expect to pay between EUR20-30 for a decent bottle in a reasonable restaurant.
Quick eats and treats
Because it’s Italy, and because it’s the sea, there’s plenty of gelato to try. What I did find was that the most interesting flavours were in the smaller shops a bit further up the hills away from the harbours. There I found the maker served me, explaining the flavours and how they made them – and they tasted brilliant. A ricotta and caramelised fig flavour I found in Manarola (in the little gelateria up the hill near the post office) was among the best gelato I’ve ever eaten.
If you’re looking for a light lunch to be enjoyed on the run or just to sit on the harbour breakwater and enjoy the view for a budget price, you also have plenty of options. Forget the pizza and go for any of the other little hot take away goodies you’ll find in little shops dotted around villages.
Food as souvenirs
If you want to take some of the Cinque Terre home why not go for some local produce? I found a tiny little supermarket cum deli in Manarola that sold local wine and limoncello at a reasonable price. Bottles of local pesto were cheap and make a nice little gift for friends and family. If you really want to get into the local wines back home, there are food shops geared to tourists (you can spot them by their bags of pasta and bottles of expensive olive oil out the front) who will ship cases of wine home.
The Cinque Terre is probably one of the easiest destinations I’ve ever visited to eat and drink local. Find a little restaurant and take your pick – you can’t go wrong!
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