Milan-10 Unique Dishes and a Custom You Must Try

Art and architecture will reveal an attractive but limited aspect of Milan. 

Therefore, to literally get the full flavour of the city, you must savour a few of the unique Milanese dishes and customs . 

Thankfully the list of Milanese culinary delights is lengthy so you have plenty to choose from.

Risotto alla Milanese, Cotoletta alla Milanese, Osso Bucco with Gremolata, Cassoeula, Mondeghili, Polenta, Panzerotto, Michetta, Cannoncino and Panettone all hail from Milan. And Aperitivo is a very well loved Milanese custom.

These delights are listed with an explanation below. 

And to help you with your decision making, recommendations as to where to sample them are also included in our Expat Tips.

So when you’re choosing restaurants, do keep these options in mind.

Risotto alla Milanese

Creamy Risotto alla Milanese gets its vivid color and flavor from  saffron which infuses the rice.

This rich and intense dish, customarily flavoured with bone marrow, is the perfect accompaniment to osso buco, another signature dish of Milan.

Expat Tips

Ratanà-Via Gaetano de Castillia 28, Milan
Trattoria Milanese-Via Santa Marta 11, Milan
Nabucco-Via Fiori Chiari 10, Milan 
El Brellin-Vicolo dei Lavandai, Alzaia Naviglio Grande 14, Milan
El Barbapedana-Corso Cristoforo Colombo 7, Milan

Osso Bucco with Gremolata

One of the most revered and popular dishes in Milanese cuisine is Ossobuco alla Milanese.

It is traditionally made from the hind legs of the veal which are sliced horizontally through the bone, hence the name 'ossobuco' which translates to 'hollow bone'.

This cut exposes the marrow, which is what gives the dish its buttery richness.

The osso buco are slow-cooked in a broth until tender.

They are then served with risotto or polenta and finished with a topping of gremolata. This is a zesty herb relish made with minced garlic, finely chopped flat leaf parsley, lemon zest and occasionally mashed anchovies.

Expat Tips

Enoteca Regionale Lombardo-Via Stampa 8, Milan
Antica Trattoria della Pesa-Viale Pasubio, 10, Milan
Trussardi alla Scala-Piazza della Scala 5, Milan
Il Solferino-Via Castelfidardo 2, Milan

Cotoletta alla Milanese

Cotoletta alla Milanese is a breaded, pan-fried veal cutlet.

The cut of meat traditionally used to make it, is a nearly inch-thick bone-in veal chop.

This is breaded with bread crumbs and fried bone-in with butter.

A slight variation also found in Milan is the cotoletta a orecchio di elefante-elephant ear cutlet.

It is a thinner, larger cut of meat which is deboned, tenderized and breaded prior to frying. 

It's called 'elephant ear' due to its shape.

Expat Tips

Osteria Brunello- Corso  Garibaldi 117, Milan
Trattoria Arlati- via Alberto Nota 47, Milano
Il Ristorantino della Carne-Via Andrea Solari 12, Milan
Da Martino-Via Carlo Farini 8, Milan
Osteria Conchetta-Via Conchetta 8, Milan 

Cassoeula

Another dish dear to the Milanese palate is cassoeula.

It was the favorite dish of the great conductor of the La Scala opera house,  Arturo Toscanini. He described it as "a pleasure that it furnishes the soul as well as the palate, especially on a wintry day.”

It is a deliciously hearty stew made from pork meat and cabbage and usually served on soft and creamy polenta.

A really authentic cassoeula is a classic example of a true snout to tail dish.

The less desirable cuts such as ears, snout, rind, ribs, trotters and tail are used along with small pork sausages called verzini and cabbage. 

Expat Tips

Antica Hostaria Della Lanterna-Via Giuseppe Mercalli 3, Milan
Al Matarel-Via Laura Solera Mantegazza 2, Milan
Osteria dell'Acquabella-Via San Rocco 11, Milan 
L'Altra Isola-Via Edoardo Porro 8, Milan

Mondeghili

Another expression of Milanese culinary culture are Mondeghili, which are Milanese fried meatballs.

Like cassoeula, they are another delicious way of letting nothing go to waste.

The ingredients provided in the first known texts included leftover cuts of beef, enriched with sausage, raw salami, liver mortadella and other pork meat.

Other ingredients can include potatoes, milk-soaked bread crumbs, eggs, cheese, garlic, onion and nutmeg.

They are perfect to enjoy with an aperitivo, but may also be savoured for lunch or dinner.

Expat Tips

Trattoria Masuelli San Marco-Viale Umbria 80, Milan
Osteria Del Binari-Via Tortona 1/3, Milan
La Pesa Trattoria Dal 1902-via Giovanni Fantoni 26, Milan
Antica Osteria il Ronchettino-Via Lelio Basso 9, Milan 

Polenta

Whether an appetizer, first course, or main plate, polenta is the Milanese go-to comfort food.

Polenta, which is a cornmeal porridge made from coarsely ground yellow corn, is famous for both its simplicity and versatility.

Fragrant, warm and rich, it is delicious enough with just a little butter and cheese.

Polenta is also frequently eaten with meats and ragù, cheese such as Gorgonzola or condiments like mostarda d'uva, a grape-and-nut jam from Piedmont.

This versatile dish can be eaten either freshly cooked, as a thick hot porridge, or cooled and then sliced and fried, grilled, or baked.

Expat Tips

Trattoria Sabbioneda-Via Alessandro Tadino 32, Milan
Ristorante Nabucco- Via Fiore Chiari 10, Milan
Sciatt à Porter-Via Monte Grappa 18, Milan
Al Garghet- Via Selvanesco 36, Milan

Panzerotti

Although Panzerotti originated in Puglia, they have become a very popular "street food" in Milan.

They resemble small calzone pizzas, both in their shape and the dough used for their preparation.

But instead of being oven-baked, panzerotti are usually deep-fried.

The classic panzerotti filling consists of merely tomatoes and mozzarella, but they can be filled with pretty much anything savoury or sweet.

Expat Tips

Il Priscio Duomo -Via Santa Tecla,  Milan
Il Panzerotto- Via Spontini 4, Milan
Luini- Via Santa Radegonda 16, Milan
Il Panzerotto-Ripa Di Porta Ticinese 13, Milan

Michetta

Michetta is another key gastronomic symbol of Milano.

It is the only bread that has obtained the “De.Co” certification as being from the city of Milan.

It was officially granted a municipal designation of origin in 2007 which categorized it as a traditional gastronomic item of the region.

It is a historic white bread characterized by a round and bulbous shape, reminiscent of a flower or a star. It has a hard crust and an interior which has an airy, slightly hollow texture. 

It is best served fresh and it is typically filled and enjoyed as a sandwich.

Expat Tips

La Michetta De.Co.- Via Sismondi, 38 ang. Via Lomellina, Milan
Michetta- Corso Cristoforo Colombo 11, Milan
L'Antica Michetta-Via Giovanni Pezzotti 59, Milan
Michetta Porta Nuova- Corso di Porta Nuova 32, Milan 

Cannoncino

Cannoncino literally means "little cannon", a reference to the pastry’s slim, tubular shape 

Also known as cannoli milanesi, they are made by rolling a single strip of puff pastry dough around a thin metal cylinder, then baked. This produces a hollow tube-shaped shell which is filled with a sweet and creamy filling.

There are four classic fillings.

Pastry Cream which is the most popular, Zabaione, Chocolate Cream and Pistachio Cream.

Ideally the pastry is filled just before serving to keep the puff pastry crispy.

Expat Tips

Serge Milano-Via Giuseppe Manzinni 8, Milan
Panarello- Via Speronari 3, Milan
Pasticceria Castelnuovo- Via Dei Tulipani 18, Milan
Alvin's-Via Melchiorre Gioia 141, Milan
Pasticceria Vecchia Milano- Via Francesco Reina 14, Milan

Panettone

Panettone is one of Italy's most exported products.

Legend has it that it was invented by a Milanese noble as a means of conquering the heart of the local baker's daughter with whom he fell in love.

This delight, now traditionally enjoyed at Christmas, was supposedly served at their wedding.

The jury is still out on whether panettone is a bread or a cake.

Having been leavened with yeast, it has a slightly light and airy bread-like texture which belies its rich and buttery taste. 

However, like a fruitcake, this large, dome-shaped creation is studded with raisins, candied orange and lemon peel. And it's not terribly sweet.

To serve, panettone is sliced into wedges and can be eaten at any time of the day.

In the morning with a cup of coffee, as a midday snack, or as dolce after a meal with a glass of Marsala or Moscato d’Asti wine.

Panettone may also be served with hot beverages like eggnog and hot chocolate.

Adding ice cream is also a popular option, and depending on the region, some Italians will serve this sweet bread with crema di mascarpone or zabaione.

Expat Tips

Marchesi 1824 -Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan
Panettoni Giovanni Cova & C. -Via Cusani, 10, Milan
Pavè- Via Felice Casati, 27, Milan
Vergani-Via Saverio Mercadante, 17, Milan
Pasticceria Martesana- Via Giovanni Cagliero 14, Milan

Aperitivo

Nobody does aperitivo, the beloved pre-dinner ritual of cocktails and heavy snacks, like the Milanese.

The aperitivo is definitely an important part of the culinary traditions in Milan.

Around 6pm, 'spritz o'clock' haha, Milan's bustling pubs and wine bars start to prepare for the aperitif.

A northern Italian tradition commonly called "happy hour", the aperitivo consists of a drink such as wine or beer.

It can also be a cocktail.

A spritz, for example, which is a sparkling white wine with a bitter liqueur like Aperol or Campari, topped off with soda water. 

Or the classic Negroni which is gin, sweet vermouth and Campari.

A word about Negroni Sbagliato.

Literally translated as -"the incorrect Negroni" -the story goes that a bartender was trying to make the classic Negroni but added Prosecco instead of gin and this drink was born.

The classic place to get this drink is the place is was created, the old-school, Bar Basso.

The drinks are then paired with food such as meats, cheeses, vegetables, breads and other delicacies served on a small plate. 

Expat Tips

Bar Basso- Via Plinio 39, Milan
Cresio 7 - Via Cresio 7, Milan
Mag Cafè- Ripa di Porta Ticinese 43, Milan 
Terrazza Aperol- Mercato Del Duomo, Piazza Del Duomo, Milan
Pisacco- Via Solferino 48, Milan

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