I’ve been to Turin three times over the last two and a half years and have come to like it a lot. They’ve only been short weekend trips so this in no way claims to be a comprehensive guide to eating in Turin, but I’ve done a lot of sampling in my time there and the food and drink are so wonderful – and famous to foodies – that I can hopefully give you a good start to knowing what to look for and where to find it.
Piedmont, of which Turin is the capital (indeed it was the capital of Italy briefly after unification in the 19th century), is rich in culinary history and tradition. You will find some of the very best food and wine in Italy here. With the Alps to the north (and visible from the city) and the fertile Po Valley, where it’s said the best risotto rice is grown, you will find wonderful meats, fabulous cheeses and the most glorious wines anywhere in the world.
As a visitor to Turin you’ll find the traditional restaurants have a strong emphasis on meat. And we’re not talking a simple steak or roast chicken, we’re talking the parts of animals we normally don’t use or talk about. One of the most famous dishes is Finanziera – a stew of sweetbreads, chicken giblets, brain, cockscombs. There is a lot of boiled meat – bollito – featuring calf’s head, pork belly, pigs’ trotters, and all kinds of offal. But you’ll also find some wonderful dishes cooked in local wines like Barolo. Even pasta often has a meat filling, especially agnolotti, which are like ravioli, and a popular speciality, or comes with a meat sauce. But you can find lighter food so vegetarians don’t despair. It’s just a good idea to check the menu before you go into a restaurant.
Truffles are a big thing in Piedmont and you’ll find them in pasta and risotto dishes. Many dishes have a hazelnut sauce for hazelnuts are grown locally. You’ll find few fish dishes on menus but anchovies feature a lot and tuna, especially in the famous Vitello Tonnato dish – veal with a tuna sauce. You’ll find wonderful fresh pasta and cheeses like Toma, Fontina and Robiola.
Turin is also famously home to the Slow Food Movement. It began here and there’s a big event in the city every two years.
Some of the most prestigious and wonderful Italian wines come from Piedmont: Barolo, Nebbiolo and Barbaresco. You will be able to enjoy really special wines at reasonable prices in Turin and if you’ve time and are keen to follow the wine trail, take a trip out to the Langhe area, though you’d need a car or to book a wine tour.
Turin is the home of Vermouth. It began in Turin back in the 16th century but the modern drink was created by the Cinzano brothers in 1757 and was later popularised by wine merchant Alessandro Martini and herbalist Luigi Rossi – Martini & Rossi – in the 1860s. It all happened in Turin and so when in Turin you simply have to have a vermouth – straight or in one of the famous cocktails like Negroni or Manhattan.
Breakfast & Morning Coffee
This isn’t about where to find the equivalent of the Full English Breakfast; I don’t imagine it exists in Turin! I’ve always had breakfast included at my hotel, which offers a grand array of choices, but I’m not a cooked breakfast person; I need to eat first thing … but not a lot. I like some fruit, yoghurt, cereal; maybe bread and cheese when there’s a good choice. Hotel coffee is often awful, but my hotel in Turin, Grand Hotel Sitea, did actually make an excellent Illy cappuccino. But it’s later in the morning that I like to go in search of a good coffee and the best pastry I can find.
I’m always drawn to the historic cafes, not only because they’re so beautiful and often come with romantic histories of poets, intellectuals and politicians, but they really do offer something special when it comes to food and drink. You only have to go to the beautiful Piazza San Carlo and you’ll find yourself near the best.
There are 3 important historic cafes in Piazza San Carlo: Caffè Torino, Stratta and Caffè San Carlo. Stratta is the only one that closes early – at 7.30pm (and closed Mondays) – so it’s a breakfast, lunch and aperitivo place. All of them offer outdoor seating so if you have good weather, it’s just the best place to sit and watch the Turin world go by.
Stratta is a favourite. Like a lot of the cafes in Turin, it began as a pastry and chocolate shop. Chocolate is one of Turin’s most famous creations – see below (and this link). They serve the most wonderful pastries. Last Sunday during my recent trip, I ate a Pistachio Croissant that had a filling of pistachio cream and it was just one of the most gorgeous croissants I’ve ever had. The pastry was so light and flaky and it had just the right amount of filling and wasn’t too sweet. But as you can see from the photo below, choosing which to have isn’t easy! They also sell gorgeous chocolates and have a wonderful display of chocolate cakes. There aren’t tables inside so you just have to stand at the bar like a local – but that means it also costs you less (about €3 for a coffee and pastry).
My two other favourites for morning coffee are Baratti e Milano (open 8am-8pm every day except Monday) and Caffè Mulassano (Open from 8am-midnight every day except Wednesday), which are in Piazza Castello, close to San Carlo.
I sat down one morning at Mulassano, which is a beautiful, quite small, art nouveau cafe and supposedly where the Italian sandwich – tramezzino – was created. In Baratti e Milano I tend to stand up because you can, and I like feeling more like a local. I think this may be my favourite place for coffee.
Baratti e Milano also win lots of favour by being the creators of a glorious chocolate spread that puts Nutella to shame (see below).
You’ll see lovely cafés everywhere for your morning coffee but remember that you’ll pay a lot more to sit down rather than stand at the bar like the locals. You might pay twice or even three times as much for your coffee if you want a table and waiter service. But sometimes it’s worth it! For more on Turin’s cafés, click here.
I prefer to eat a main meal in the evening and while at home I’ll snack on a simple bowl of soup or sandwich. On holiday it’s nice to have something a bit more … but not fill yourself up to spoil the evening meal. It’s easy to eat very cheaply by going into a bar for a snack but if you want something a bit more special you can find it in one of the historic or smarter cafés. My experience is that if you make this choice, there is no such thing as a ‘simple sandwich’ or ‘simple snack’. It always comes with extras, or it does if you order a drink – a glass of wine or beer. The ‘extras’ in the photo above were at Farmacia in Piazza Carignano when I thought all I’d ordered was a salad and glass of prosecco. It was wonderful place and a brilliant outdoor location on a sunny day.
Caffe Mulassano (see above) is also great for lunch, especially if you want to try the famous tramezzino (sandwich), as I did a couple of days ago, and got these ‘nibbles’ with my drink too.
I’ve had lunch at Caffe Torino a couple of times on my last day when I want a more substantial meal before my flight home. There’s also a branch of Eataly in Lagrange, near the San Carlo piazza (a much larger one on the outskirts in Lingotto and worth a special trip) which is a good place for lunch (click here). A small wine bar I found on my first trip is also good – Cantina Torino in via Montedi Pietà (click here for review). For the best pasta in town go to Pastificio Defilippis in Lagrange. I ate supper there but it’s great for lunch too (click here for review). Another great place is Cianci Piola Caffe in Largo IV Marzo, near the cathedral (click here for review). A piola is a small, casual and inexpensive place to eat. This one is open for dinner too and always busy and you can’t book so are likely to have to queue – but it’s worth it!
Aperitivo is the most wonderful Italian institution but in Turin they seem to want to enjoy it at times other than just early evening: you’ll see apericena and even aperipranzo. For the ‘cena‘ it’s enough food for supper; ‘pranzo‘ for lunch. You’ll pay a flat fee and get a lot of food with your drink. The more traditional aperitivo is an early evening event; an early evening drink before dinner with snacks. But be warned, the ‘extras’ can be so filling you may want to start early if you’re planning on a big evening meal. While there last weekend, I tended to go out for aperitivo at around 5pm, giving myself 2 to 3 hours before I planned to eat dinner.
It’s said that aperitivo originated in Turin in 1786 but it didn’t really take off until later, in Milan. But maybe it’s this origin that makes Turin so fantastic at it. I’ve been to many places in Italy, from the far north to the far south, but I don’t know anywhere that does aperitivo as brilliantly as Turin. I imagine it’s brilliant in Milan too but I haven’t been there for many years, and last time I found it very expensive. Turin isn’t cheap but it’s not a very touristy place and so you’ll find it full of locals and thus not overpriced.
I have to tell you that I always go to Caffè Torino for my aperitivo (photo above). There are plenty of choices – just stop at somewhere you like the look of, preferably one that is busy (busy is good!) – but I like Caffè Torino for its historic feel, the waiters in their long aprons (friendly but slightly aloof like a Parisian waiter), their fabulous drinks and delicious little ‘extras’. You can sit at their tables in the piazza, or inside, but I like to sit in the arcade which surrounds Piazza San Carlo.
You know you’re in Italy and couldn’t be anywhere else; you can see across the beautiful piazza, and you can people-watch as locals and visitors walk by. They’re also known for some of the best cocktails in the city, especially those made with vermouth, for this is where vermouth was born (for more on vermouth click here). I’ve nearly always chosen prosecco for an early evening drink in Italy, occasional an Aperol spritz, but each evening in Turin this past weekend I chose a Martini. A straight Martini – a rosado the first night, a dry the second and then a rosso on the final evening (€8.50). I thought I should enter the vermouth spirit of the place! And I very much enjoyed them. I did once have a Negroni in Caffe Torino, for which they’re famous, which was wonderful but so strong it almost finished me off for the evening!
Despite going there so many times it was only on this latest visit that I noticed people standing on, rubbing their feet on, or twisting round on, this large brass bull in the floor at the entrance.
Toro is the word for bull in Italian. Torino is the Italian name for Turin. The superstition goes that if you touch the brass bull with your feet it will bring you luck.
I would say that dinner is the most exciting meal of the day for me, but when in Turin every meal is exciting. However, it’s in the evening I look for something special and go in search of something fairly traditional and typical of the city. There are so many places to choose from! Here’s where I’ve been and liked.
Above is the dining room of Tre Gallini, one of Turin’s most iconic and traditional restaurants. This is where you go if you want a very typical Piedmontese food experience. It’s wise to like meat a lot! I had a great meal there and the service was wonderfully friendly and efficient (click here for review). My previous visit I meant to book there but booked their more informal wine bar, Enoteca Tre Galli, by mistake. This last trip I wanted to try to original, and I did enjoy it, but in all honesty the more informal wine bar is more my kind of thing with a lighter and more modern cuisine (click here for review). This is the one I’d go back to next time. Another place for traditional food is Dai Saletta (click here). It’s simple and very traditional; always busy, it’s essential to book.
Another favourite from my 2nd trip was Scannabue, which again has a more modern, lighter menu but exceptionally good. Often rated as one of the best restaurants in Turin, it’s certainly one of my favourites (click here for review).
For something lighter but truly excellent, in an informal setting, I really enjoyed Pastificio Defilippis this last trip.
You can go for a simple pasta lunch in their shop or take a slightly more sophisticated route by going to the restaurant upstairs. Do book. It gets really busy because it’s thought to serve the best pasta in Turin (see also Lunch above – click here for review). Defilippis is also open on Sunday evenings when a lot of the restaurants are closed. Another place open on Sunday evening is Caffè Torino (it’s always open!) and I’ve eaten there in the evening too (click here), sitting outside in the piazza.
Turin is where chocolate-hazelnut spread originated and we’re not talking Nutella (but that comes from here too, or nearby in Alba) but the ‘real thing’, the kind of spread that’s infinitely superior. And my favourite comes from Baratti e Milano. I bought one container on my first trip to Turin. A spur of the moment thing as I’m not a Nutella fan – too sweet! Then when I got home I was won over. It was a-ma-zing! It was so amazing that my family began to fight over it. And they are grown up! So now I bring three pots back – one for son and family, one for daughter and family – and one for me!
Chocolate as we know it began in Turin (see here for more). You’ll find famous gianduia sweets (chocolate and hazelnut praline) wrapped in decorated foil everywhere, and it’s almost mandatory to try the famous Bicerin drink – a mix of chocolate, coffee and milk.
The place to go to drink it is Caffè al Bicerin dal 1763, though it’s served in most cafés. And when it comes to desserts, you must try the city’s famous dessert, Bonet, a rich chocolate custard with crushed amaretti biscuits and rum.
Great gelato – ice cream – can be found all over Italy. I have a personal rule that I have to have a gelato a day while in Italy! Thus I’m always seeking out the best. I had to go to Grom this trip because Turin is where it began, and I sought out their very first shop in Piazza Paleocapa. Grom has been bought out by Unilever and is thus appearing everywhere and I can buy tubs in my local supermarket (Waitrose only as yet in UK), and their first shop in London opened last year, but it’s still wonderful. I can only hope its quality won’t suffer with the expansion. Another excellent gelateria is Pepino in Piazza Carignano. But my favourite – without doubt! – of my last trip was La Romana just off Piazza San Carlo. It was spectacularly good!
Porta Palazzo is the biggest open air market in Piazza della Republica. If you love food markets this is a ‘must’ on a Saturday morning. It’s huge and full of wonderful produce. Even if you’re not buying (because like me you’re staying in a hotel), it’s still great to see.
I’ve also found great Sunday markets in Piazza della Citta and Piazza Bodoni.
Turin is a beautiful city and for anyone who loves good food – especially Italian food and wine – it really should be on your list of places to go.
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