12 MUST TRY food & drinks “Made in Turin”
Tips and ideas for an amazing experience.
Bicerin, literally meaning ‘small glass, in Piedmontese, is a historic hot, non-alcoholic drink typical of Turin. Served in a rounded glass, it comprises a mixture of coffee, chocolate, and creamed milk sweetened with syrup. The bicerin ritual requires the three ingredients to be served separately. Initially, there were threevariants: pur e fior (today’s cappuccino), pur e barba (coffee and chocolate), and pòch ëd tut (a bit of everything), with all three ingredients mixed. It was the latter formula that was most successful and prevailedover the others. Each component is accompanied by bagnati, or artisinal sweets, with a total of 14 differentkinds. It is believed that bicerin was invented in Turin’s Al Bicerin café, which is located in Piazza della Consolata and has been in existence since 1763. The café jealously guards its traditional recipe, requiring itsemployees to sign a contract to commit to secrecy. Nevertheless, bicerin can be found on the menu of many coffee shops around Turin, with slight variations from the original that may not even be obvious to the common man’s tastebuds.
In 1865, confectioners and chocolatiers across Italy were suffering from a lack of cocoa imports during the Napoleonic embargo – but this also led to a delicious discovery. Chocolatiers Gay and Prochet from the Caffarel confectionery factory in Turin’s Borgo San Donato decided to replace a part of the cocoa portionwith hazelnuts, which was readily available in the Langhe region and considered the best in the world. Theypresented this creation in that year’s carnival and distributed it through a person dressed in Gianduja, the mask from which the chocolate takes its name – and Gianduiotto was born. It was the first chocolate wrapped in a fine silver card and was able to keep its scents and flavour. Eventoday, gianduiotto remains one of Turin’s products of excellence and can be found in the best Turin chocolatiers. Top pastry chefs recommend eating gianduiotto one after the other, so as to unite the flavoursand aromas to those that emerge as each piece of chocolate melts in one’s mouth.
In the city of Alba, less than hour south from Turin, Pietro Ferrero opened a bakery laboratory that brought about the world-famous Nutella in 1964. A lesser-known fact is that Nutella is made with a gianduia cream recipe, created in Turin in the 19th century, and accentuated with hazelnuts – which remains one of the greatest riches of the territory.
Another world-famous flavour invented in Turin is Vermouth – the aromatised, fortified wine, flavoured with roots, barks, flowers, seeds, herbs, and spices. Vermouth was traditionally used for medicinal purposes, but in the late-19th century, it became popular with bartenders who began using it as a unique ingredient in classic cocktails – the Martini, the Manhattan, and the Negroni, just to name a few. In 1786, the 22-year-old distiller Antonio Benedetto Carpano from Turin goes in search of a new drink that was typically Piedmontese – and his instinct led him to combine wine with botanicals. To cater to the feminine palate, he selected a white wine – and infused it with about thirty aromas, together with alcohol and sugar. He sends a case of the resulting concoction to King Vittorio Amedeo III’s court, which the sovereign appreciated tremendously. It became the turning point for Carpano and his business, which takes off from the small shop in Piazza Castello, at the corner with Via Viotti, where a plaque celebrates his memory. Other notable Vermouth brands from Turin are Cinzano, Contratto, and Martini & Rossi, a top-selling international brand today.
Agnolòt dël plin, a special Piedmontese stuffed pasta, is characteristic of the Langhe and Monferrato area. The term ‘plin’ refers to the pinch at the top to ‘close’ the pasta. These delicious pasta dumplings are protected by the Piedmont region and is recognised in the list of Traditional Italian Food Products – a must-try for any visitor to Turin!
Vitello tonnato is a Piedmontese dish that combines cold, sliced veal, with a creamy, mayonnaise-like sauce flavored with tuna. The dish is prepared at least a day in advance by braising or simmering the veal, then cutting it into thin, individual servings. For the sauce, fresh white tuna is simmered until fully cooked in white wine, cider vinegar, white onion and garlic, then puréed with a mix of olive and vegetable oil and egg yolks in a food processor to form a thick mayonnaise. A variety of seasonings can be added to the mayonnaise, including anchovies, cayenne pepper, capers, and lemon juice. The thick, smooth purée is slightly thinned with a little water and cooking liquid from the veal, with a few capers are stirred in. Some of the sauce is spread out on a serving platter and the cold slices of veal are arranged in a single layer on top. The rest of the sauce is then poured over the veal so that it’s completely covered. It’s a delicacy not for the faint-hearted!
A true Turinese will tell you that a good meal can only end with a glass of San Simone, the city’s traditionalherbal bitters. Its intense aroma and delicious flavor also comes with beneficial properties and a storiedhistory. The Amaro San Simone takes its name from a brotherhood of monks who lived in Turin in 1500 in the Dora Grossa district, (known as Via Garibaldi today). Here, more than half a century ago, the learned monkscreated a purifying herbal elixir from plants, fruits and roots that had medicinal values. In the early 1950s, the recipe for this herbal elixir was found in the archives of the Antica Officina Farmaceutica San Simone. Inspired by this original recipe, a more palatable version was created to cater to modern tastes. In the following decade, again in the pharmaceutical workshop, the current Amaro San Simone formula wascreated with 34 herbs from the region. With a 26% alcohol content, San Simone is traditionally served atroom temperature – but is also good when served cold. The success of San Simone isn’t restricted to Turin. Today, it can also be easily found in the bars of Milan, Rome, and other parts of Italy. For the Turinese, it’s a comforting taste of home – wherever they may be.
The list of delicious Piedmontese biscuits is a long one, but a special place is reserved for the Baci di Dama (Lady’s Kisses). Legend has it that in 1852, King Vittorio Emanuele II requested the royal cooks to come up with a new dessert that he had not tasted before. The cooks set to work with flour, sugar, eggs, and chocolate and shortly after they baked – bringing to life this delightful biscuit, much to the King’s delight. With the sovereign’s approval, the delicacy was then served on royal tables in the rest of Italy and even Europe. In reality, Baci di Dama originated from Tortona, a Piedmontese town in the province of Alessandria, not far from Turin. The two round biscuits seem to be locked in a romantic embrace and kiss, held together by a drop of dark chocolate. Others suggest that the name references the shape of the biscuit as a whole, whichresembles the lips of a girl about to give a kiss.
Bonèt, one of the oldest and best desserts from Piedmont, comprises just five ingredients – eggs, sugar, milk, cocoa, liqueur, and dry amaretti. The origins of Piedmontese Bonèt are very ancient, but the era of its creation date is undetermined,although there is indication of similar desserts from as early as the 13th century. In Piedmontese, the word bonèt means a rounded hat or cap worn by the men of the countryside – which isreminiscent of the shape of the copper and aluminium mold in which the dessert is made. A more interesting theory has its origins in Langhe, where the dessert was first created: Because it was served at the end of the meal, the bonèt was the ‘hat’ to everything that was eaten before – the hat being the last thingone puts on before leaving a place.
Battuta di fassone al coltello, or Piedmontese Fassona meat tartare, is a typical dish of Turin featuring a very tasty meat as its main element. The Fassona is a fine breed of bovine bred in Piedmont, producing meat that is very tender and lean, and suitable to be eaten raw. The meat tartare dates back to the time of the Tartars, a nomadic warrior people accustomed to galloping for many kilometres, used to put raw meat between the horse’s back and saddle to support themselves during travels. In this way, during the rides, the meat was minced and beaten, and ready for immediate consumption. The quality of the meat and of the oil is essential, and today, this meat tartare is a gourmet dish for true connoisseurs and refined palates.
In Turin, no lunch or dinner can be served without this delicious and fragrant grissino (or breadstick) on the table. The birth of this crumbly bread is closely linked to the Savoyard city and its history. History has it that Antonio Brunero, a royal baker, was tasked by the royal doctor with creating a type of bread that could be digested by future king, Vittorio Amedeo II, who was in poor health and couldn’t digestthe crust of regular bread. It is said that King Carlo Felice loved them so much that he ate them in large quantities, even during shows at the Teatro Regio. Napoleon Bonaparte, on the other hand, loved them to the point of creating, at the beginning of the 19th century, a bus service between Turin and Paris dedicated almost exclusively to transporting what he called «les petits bâtons de Turin» (the sticks of Turin). Around the world, breadsticks are one of Turin’s most well-known (and much-appreciated!) inventions – while representing the ingenuity that has beautifully painted the history of the Savoy city.
Turin is the birthplace of espresso, one of the most popular beverages in the world. In 1884, the Turin-born hotel-owner Angelo Moriondo created a machine to produce coffee more quickly to better serve the rush of customers at certain times of day – thus brewing the first cup of espresso. That same year, Moriondo presented his espresso machine at the Turin General Expo. In this machine, water was boiled and through a system of pressurising coils, it reached the container with the coffee beans. With this ingenious machine, it was possible to make 10 cups of coffee every 2 minutes and up to a whopping300 cups in an hour – hence the name, ‘espresso’ The resulting cup of coffee was more concentrated, and, therefore, better at preserving the fragrances and flavours of coffee. Moriondo earned the bronze medal at the Expo. However, while he filed the first patent in 1884, Moriondo never commercialized his idea – preferring, instead, to create a few machines by hand that were used in his hotels. It wasn’t until the early years of the 20th century when the Milanese Desiderio Pavoni bought all of Moriondo’s patents and began mass production of these machines, founding the Pavoni company. The spread was rapid and the success enormous. Over decades and generations, many different espresso coffee machines have been created – but their mechanism will always be the one born in Turin.