Italian Food Vocabulary

reviewed byIryna Andrus / more about Editorial Process
Welcome to your language journey!
  • - 01

    Learn through the article!

  • - 02

    Pass a language test

  • - 03

    Check the results

  • - 04

    Subscribe to reach fluency!

girl point on notes

Italian food is loved and appreciated worldwide. If you want to indulge in Italian culinary delights, understanding the unique vocabulary is essential. This article will guide you through key Italian food words, helping you navigate menus and cook with flair.

Exploring Italian Food Vocabulary: Unveiling the Delights of Italian Cuisine

Cooking Techniques and Ingredients

Cooking Italian food requires understanding specific techniques and ingredients. These terms provide insights into the art of Italian cooking. Let's uncover the culinary secrets behind these words.


Italian cooking techniques are essential to crafting authentic dishes. As you learn to speak Italian, understanding these methods will help you in the kitchen or at the restaurant. Let's explore these cooking techniques to deepen your appreciation of Italian culinary art.

  • Al Dente: to cook pasta, so it's firm when bitten.
  • Battuto: a base for sauces, made of finely chopped vegetables.
  • Affettare: to slice; used in preparation of meats, vegetables, or fruits.
  • Bollire: to boil; common for cooking pasta and vegetables.
  • Friggere: to fry; used for cooking various meats and vegetables.
  • Grigliare: to grill; common for cooking meats and vegetables.
  • Mescolare: to mix or stir; used in various cooking techniques.
  • Soffriggere: to saute; often used with onions, garlic, or other aromatics.
  • Tritare: to chop or mince; a technique used for cutting ingredients finely.
  • Stufare: to stew; a slow-cooking method used for meats and vegetables.

Now that you've learned these cooking techniques, you can approach Italian recipes with greater understanding and confidence. Whether sauteing, grilling, or stewing, you have the terms to follow receipts of Italian dishes.


The magic of Italian cooking lies in the quality and selection of ingredients. For language learners, knowing these essential Italian food words helps you to shop, cook, or dine in true Italian style. 

  • Olive Oil: commonly used oil; extracted from olives.
  • Basil: popular herb; often used in tomato sauces.
  • Parmigiano: parmesan cheese; often grated over pasta dishes.
  • Ricotta: soft cheese; used in desserts and pasta fillings.
  • Mozzarella: soft, white cheese; commonly used on pizzas.
  • Tomato: vegetable used as a base for many sauces.
  • Garlic: aromatic bulb; used in many Italian recipes.
  • Balsamic Vinegar: dark, sweet vinegar; often used in dressings.
  • Provolone: semi-hard cheese; often used in sandwiches or salads.
  • Pancetta: Italian bacon; often used for flavoring dishes.

With these ingredient terms in hand, you can now explore Italian recipes or menus with a knowledgeable eye. Embrace these essential words as part of your Italian language and culinary journey.


Common Italian Food Terms

Navigating an Italian menu or cooking an authentic Italian meal requires some basic food vocabulary. Understanding common Italian food words will allow you to fully appreciate the culinary culture. Let's explore these essential words that will enhance your Italian food experience.


If you're starting an Italian meal, appetizers set the tone. These dishes provide a glimpse into the richness of Italian cuisine. Let's explore some common Italian food vocabulary for appetizers you might encounter.

  • Antipasto: starter course; typically cold dishes like olives, cheese, or cured meats.
  • Bruschetta: grilled bread; often topped with tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil.
  • Carpaccio: thinly sliced raw meat or fish; usually served as an appetizer.
  • Crostini: small toasted bread; served with various toppings.
  • Frittata: an egg-based dish; similar to an omelet.
  • Prosciutto: cured ham; often sliced thin and served uncooked.
  • Arancini: fried rice balls; often stuffed with cheese or meat.
  • Focaccia: flat oven-baked bread; often seasoned with olive oil and herbs.
  • Insalata Caprese: salad with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil; dressed with olive oil.
  • Calamari: fried squid; served as an appetizer.
  • Supplì: fried rice croquettes; filled with cheese or meat.

With these terms, you'll have a delicious beginning to any Italian meal. Whether dining out or cooking at home, you now have the vocabulary to explore Italian appetizers. Embrace these flavors as a delightful introduction to your Italian culinary experience.

Main Courses

The main course is the heart of any Italian meal. From pasta to meat dishes, understanding these terms will help you navigate Italian menus with confidence. Dive into these scrumptious Italian food words that define main courses.

  • Pasta: a type of noodle; can be prepared in countless ways with various sauces.
  • Risotto: creamy rice dish; cooked with butter, wine, and stock.
  • Polenta: cornmeal dish; often served as a side or base for meat sauces.
  • Lasagna: baked pasta; layered with sauce, cheese, and meat.
  • Gnocchi: soft dough dumplings; made from potato, flour, or semolina.
  • Pizza: flatbread; topped with sauce, cheese, and various ingredients.
  • Cacciatore: "Hunter's stew"; cooked with onions, herbs, tomatoes, bell peppers, and wine.
  • Ossobuco: braised meat; often served with vegetables and broth.
  • Ravioli: stuffed pasta; commonly filled with cheese or meat.
  • Tagliatelle: long, flat ribbons of pasta; often served with Bolognese sauce.
  • Saltimbocca: meat dish; usually made with sage and prosciutto.

Now you have the vocabulary to order or cook Italian main courses. Enjoy exploring these dishes, each one a testament to Italy's rich culinary tradition. Whether it's pasta or meat, you can relish the flavors with understanding.

Types of Pasta

Pasta is central to Italian cuisine, and the variety is astonishing. Knowing the different types of pasta can enhance your dining experience. Let's delve into the wonderful world of Italian pasta shapes and names.

  • Spaghetti: long, thin pasta; typically served with tomato sauce.
  • Penne: tubular pasta; frequently used in baked dishes.
  • Fettuccine: flat, thick pasta; often served with Alfredo sauce.
  • Tortellini: stuffed pasta; shaped like small rings.
  • Linguine: flattened spaghetti; often served with seafood.
  • Orzo: rice-shaped pasta; used in soups or salads.
  • Cavatelli: small pasta shells; often served with vegetable or cheese sauces.
  • Pappardelle: broad, flat pasta; usually served with meat sauces.
  • Rigatoni: large, ridged pasta; great for chunky sauces.
  • Farfalle: bow-tie-shaped pasta; commonly used in salads.
  • Orecchiette: "Little ears" pasta; often served with vegetable sauces.

You've now explored the fascinating diversity of Italian pasta. With these terms, you can choose the perfect pasta for your dish or order in a restaurant with confidence.

Iconic Italian Dishes

Italy is home to some of the world's most beloved dishes. From pasta to pizza, iconic Italian dishes have made their mark on global cuisine.

Meat Dishes

Italian meat dishes are famous for their flavors and cooking techniques. These words will guide you in understanding different meat preparations in Italian cuisine. Let's explore these delicious meat dishes together.

  • Osso Buco: braised veal shanks; often cooked with vegetables, broth, and wine.
  • Bistecca: steak; grilled or pan-fried.
  • Cotoletta: breaded meat cutlet; usually fried.
  • Spezzatino or Guazzetto: stew; made with meat and vegetables.
  • Polpette: meatballs; served in sauce.
  • Involtini: rolled meat; often stuffed with cheese or vegetables.
  • Vitello Tonnato: veal in tuna sauce; a cold dish.
  • Scaloppine: thinly sliced meat; cooked in sauce.

Now you know the key terms for Italian meat dishes, allowing you to savor each bite with understanding. Whether grilled, braised, or stewed, you can appreciate the art behind these meat creations. 

Seafood Dishes

Italy's coastline provides a bounty of seafood, reflected in its cuisine. Knowing these seafood terms opens a new world of flavors and dishes. Let's dive into the rich array of Italian seafood vocabulary.

  • Frutti di Mare: seafood dish; typically includes mussels, clams, and shrimp.
  • Acciughe: anchovies; commonly used in pizzas and salads.
  • Baccalà: salted cod; often fried or stewed.
  • Cozze: mussels; usually steamed with white wine.
  • Gamberetti: shrimp; often served in pasta or salads.
  • Granchio: crab; used in various seafood dishes.
  • Sarde: sardines; often grilled or served in sauces.
  • Scampi: prawn-like crustaceans; usually grilled or sautéed.
  • Seppia: cuttlefish; often used in risottos and stews.

You've now explored the seafood delights of Italian cuisine. With these words, you can order or cook Italian seafood dishes with confidence. 


Italian desserts are a sweet ending to any meal. Understanding these terms will help you indulge in Italy's delightful pastries and desserts. Let's explore these tantalizing sweet treats together.

  • Tiramisu: coffee-flavored dessert; made with ladyfingers, mascarpone cheese, and cocoa.
  • Gelato: Italian ice cream; softer and smoother than traditional ice cream.
  • Panna Cotta: cooked cream; often flavored with vanilla and served with fruit or chocolate sauce.
  • Cannoli: pastry tube; filled with sweet ricotta cheese.
  • Pizzelle: thin waffle cookies; flavored with anise or vanilla.
  • Semifreddo: semi-frozen dessert, similar to ice cream and mousse.
  • Sfogliatella: pastry filled with ricotta; often served warm.
  • Panettone: sweet bread; made with raisins and candied fruit.
  • Biscotti: twice-baked cookies; often enjoyed with coffee.
  • Zabaglione: creamy custard; made with egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine.
  • Affogato: ice cream with espresso; often served as a dessert.

You've now delved into the sweet world of Italian desserts. Whether it's pastries, ice cream, or cakes, you have the vocabulary to enjoy these sugary delights.


Understanding Italian food vocabulary is not just about enjoying meals in an Italian restaurant; it's about embracing the culture and tradition behind the dishes. The terms and meanings listed here will aid you in your culinary exploration. Enjoy your next Italian meal with confidence, now that you have the vocabulary to match your appetite.

Make your next step to fluency with Promova

Italian Food Quiz
Get a review of your skills & track your progress as you improve!
10 min
10 questions
Take test
Try Promova
Learn English with a handy app full of awesome lessons!
Chinese Food VocabularyIndian Food Terms With DefinitionsMexican Food VocabularyExploring Cultural Vocabulary. A Guide for Language LearnersTravel Vocabulary


Olivia DuncanJan 16th, 2024
I fell in love with Italy even more!