With a location so close to Italy, yet still definitely Swiss, the food in and around Lugano surprises some tourists. The cuisine of the local area is known as Ticinese and can best be described as utterly delicious. It takes influences from both countries to deliver something that is certainly delightful for your palette.
The staple soup of Ticinese cuisine is minestrone. This hearty vegetable soup has no set recipe, with each family giving it their own twist and declaring it the “best” soup in the region. Great for warming you up on a cold day. Another popular soup that you will see served is the tasty pumpkin soup.
Ages ago, the Ticinese people were rather poor and lived off of the staples of potatoes, polenta and chestnuts. To this day, polenta is still a staple dish in the area.
Salmì of Rabbit is another traditional Lombardi dish that you will find when dining in the area. The marinade has been used since ancient times as a way to preserve the meat and make the game more tender. Definitely a delectable dish to try while in the area.
A simple dish of marinated fish is popular among all the lakeside villages in Lombardy.
Bread cake is the typical sweet treat that you see as festivals and such in the area. You will also find that macaroons are a popular sweet treat with the people of the Lombardy region.
For typical drinks of the region, besides the very common red, white and rosé wines, there is fresh and thirst quenching lemonade but also grappa and ratafià (also called nocino), a liqueur made from walnuts of which, they say, only friars know the original recipe.
When you visit Lugano, it is inevitable that you will stumble across a grotto or two, which are very typical of Ticino. These grottos are rustic establishments that you can usually find located in remote and shaded areas off the streets.
Outside, it is characteristic for there to be a wide open space for eating your meals outside. There are plenty of tables and benches located in the shade under the trees. And, there is also the typical cellar on the premises. And, you will likely see plenty of locals out dining with their families. It will be a great mixture of people from all cultures and backgrounds coming together to enjoy the fine local foods.
What you will find for dining at a typical grotto establishment are only local products and dishes typical of the region. To drink, you can enjoy Merlot, local wine or perhaps Barbera and lemonade from a small jug or cup. Of course, the actual food is the real focus here – it is local and delicious. Expect to enjoy tasty things like home-made cold cuts (especially salami and bologna sausage), vegetable soup, busecca, risotto, marinated fish, veal tonne, roast beef (both hot and cold) with salad and sautéed potatoes, polenta with braised meat, rabbit, cazzöla, mushrooms, cheese and cheese portions, zabaglione, bread cake, wine flavoured peaches.
Your experience at a grotto is one to be savored and enjoyed. Do not attempt to rush through your meal and get on your way. Instead, relax and take in the moment so that you might enjoy the experience as you sip on some of the local wine or eat some of the local meats or dishes. Know that you will be treated like a family member and will gladly be welcomed back to the grotto, should you remain in the area more than one day.