Milan is a city famous for high fashion, stock markets, and a concoction of architectural styles. There is, however, another side to this city of towering gothic spires – food! Visitors to Italy tend to overlook Milan when they are in search of authentic Italian dishes exactly because the city is so famous for its fashion designers and shopping malls.
Milanese food is definitely rich, both in terms of taste and ingredients, it is historic, and it makes good use of unique local traditions and tastes. Traditionally Milan has always been the wealthiest city in Italy, with financiers, nobles and entrepreneurs traversing the historic streets in search of tasty food.
There is no better way to seek out the best food that a city has to offer than by following in the footsteps of the locals as they visit their favourite food markets and restaurants. Milan has many hidden foodie hotspots that would otherwise be overlooked by visitors to this marvellous city; come with us on a culinary journey around the capital of northern Italy.
STARTER – RISOTTO ALLA MILANESE
A typical first dish in any Milanese meal is a striking bright yellow risotto of rice and saffron. This fragrant and slightly floral tasting dish cleanses the palate and gives a small insight into what is to come. Saffron is reputedly more expensive per gram than gold, so it should come as no surprise that it is a popular addition to rice, historically the food of peasants in this part of the world. Risotto alla Milanese brings together an expensive spice with a basic staple to create a synonymous dish of Milan.
Although this is a popular dish in Milan, there are two standout restaurants in the city where visitors can taste Milanese risotto. Ratanà is a modernist bistro in a former railroad storehouse in the Porto Garibaldi district with steel
tables and original workshop lighting, hanging wires and all. Another more traditional option is Trattoria Masuelli San Marco which first opened in 1921. Their recipe is the original version, where the rice is cooked in a broth of 5 meats and served in an unassuming side street 10 minutes from the centre of the city.
SECOND COURSE – POLENTA
Milan is a landlocked city, so seafood has never really featured on its menus; traditionally polenta has replaced the fish course in some parts of the city. Polenta is a simple dish of cornflour that has been boiled and lovingly stirred for hours until it takes on its fragrant porridge-like consistency. Each restaurant has its own version of the dish, adding specific ingredients to make it their own.
Trattoria dei Magnani Al Cantinone serves their version of this local favourite in a splendid 17th century building between Duomo and La Scala with exposed interior brickwork and aged wooden wine shelves. Their version is a simple bowl of steaming corn porridge with a sprinkling of salt, nothing else. On the other hand, Trattoria Masuelli San Marco offers this family favourite in a bowl topped with a raw egg yolk and creamy cheese fondue, in a more rustic restaurant that has been in the Masuelli family for over 90 years.
MAIN COURSE – COTOLETTA ALLA MILANESE
Nothing symbolises Milan’s love of fine meat more than this centuries old veal dish. You don’t need to pay extortionate Michelin prices for Cotoletta alla Milanese, you can find it in budget cafes and street stalls right across the city. The dish is essentially a variable sized cutlet of milk-fed veal (depending on the price) which has been pan-fried in butter and allowed to rest so that the tangy flavour soaks into the meat. The veal is usually served coated in breadcrumbs with fried potatoes and seasoning.
A unique offering is Osteria La Vecchia Lira which opened in 2005; the owners wanted to keep prices at the pre- Euro exchange rate, so a full meal can be had in atmospheric surroundings for around ¤30. Osteria’s Cotoletta alla Milanese is simple but hits the spot; it’s a plate full of fried breaded veal with a lemon wedge, simple as that! The offering at Trattoria Del Nuovo Macello is a thick cut of veal cooked medium-rare served in a homely historic restaurant that is popular both with bankers, bus drivers, and everyone else in this diverse city.
DESSERT – PANETTONE
At Christmas around Europe, all manner of shops and supermarkets begin to stock “traditional” Italian panettone, but the only real place to sample this historic sweet bread is in Milan. An authentic Italian panettone is usually cylindrical shaped, between 12-15cm, and around 1kg in weight.
This sweet bread is thought to date back to Ancient Rome, but the fruity bread that we see today was first produced in Milan in 1919 by entrepreneur and politician Angelo Motta. He made his dough rise 3 times over 20 hours before baking, creating a legacy of light and fluffy panettone loaves.
In the opulent surroundings of Pasticceria Marchesi, a dark wooded bakery with tantalising cakes and breads filling the windows since 1824, this candied fruit and raisin filled bread is sold at a reasonable ¤24 per kilogram. Bankers from the stock market can often be seen picking away at their panettone at lunch time or after work. All bakers in Milan covet a spot on the ‘Best Panetonne in Italy’ list, and perhaps the most famous on this list is Pasticceria Martesana. Their panettone has been handmade since 1966 and hasn’t lost its yellow fluffiness since then. You can also pick up a selection of sumptuous chocolates while you’re there.
COFFEE – ESPRESSO
When in Rome (or Milan for that matter) do as the locals do, and that means sipping an espresso, or “un caffe”, to help your sumptuous Milanese meal go down well. An espresso is a coffee made by forcing hot water by pressure through finely ground coffee beans and served in a tiny cup. You don’t need to go to a fancy restaurant for one of these, you can find them just about anywhere around the city.
The bartender in Caffe Sforzesco is a suave, bow tied gentilissimo who can have a strong but tasty espresso on your table in less than a minute – well who has the time to wait these days? You get a cup full of sugar alongside your miniscule cup of black nectar, all served under a huge chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Alternatively try Majestic Café where the barrister can famously get an espresso served in 45 seconds, and it even comes with a piece of fruit to sweeten the deal.
Milan is a haven of food and a honeypot for food lovers. Even if you don’t go specifically for the local cuisine, there is an endless supply of cafes and restaurants to choose from after a hard day shopping in the world-class fashion boutiques across this wealthy city. Whether you fancy a low-priced homely affair amongst the working class or want to splurge on an upmarket Michelin restaurant with the wealthy elite, there will always be somewhere suitable in the city of food. Not only does Milan have a large portfolio of locally sourced dishes, it also has thousands of visitors looking to eat this food.
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