Don’t be put off by their names – these Italian foods are actually delicious

What's in a name? From 'mule testicles' to 'priest-stranglers', Italy is full of tasty foods with confusingly off-putting names. Here are ten of the most revolting-sounding dishes which we promise are nicer than the names suggest.

Don't be put off by their names - these Italian foods are actually delicious
Mule testicles, anyone? Photo: Umbria Lovers/Flickr

1. Little worms

Measuring between 2.08 and 2.14 millimetres in diameter – only slightly wider than spaghetti – the name of Vermicelli pasta means “little worms” in Italian. You don't really need to use your imagination to figure out why: perhaps this is where children's author Roald Dahl got inspiration for the scene in The Twits where an old woman substitutes her grumpy husband's spaghetti for worms dug up from the garden…But don't let the name put you off. Vermicelli are delicious, especially when served in a whoreish sauce (see below).

Photo: judywitts/Flickr

2. Whoreish spaghetti

The 'spaghetti alla puttanesca' pasta dish consists of anchovies, olives and tomatoes, and its name translates literally as “spaghetti in whore's style”. What on earth does it have to do with prostitutes, you ask. There are several stories about how the dish got its saucy name – some tales state that prostitutes used to make it to lure in clients with the smell, or because the bright tomato-red colour was similar to the clothes prostitutes would typically wear. The only thing that is certain is that its origins are fairly recent – and that it tastes far better than it sounds.

Photo: nishidaryuichi/Wikicommons

3. Priest stranglers

Another pasta shape with an odd name is strozzapreti, which translates as “priest stranglers”. Several tales account for the etymology of the pasta, the most enjoyable being that gluttonous priests used to gorge themselves on it until some of them, quite literally, choked to death. A more prosaic legend suggests that the twisted shape simply resembles a priest's collar. Either way, we recommend serving up some of these at your next dinner party – they go great with pesto.

Photo: fugzu/Flickr

4. Cat salami

No need to panic, cat lovers. Yes, the name of 'Salame di Felino' technically this does mean “feline salami” and might startle you on your first visit to the butcher's, but Felino also happens to be a charming town in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna where they make excellent salami. 

Photo: Basilicofresco/Wikicommons

5. Trouser leg

These spherical folded pizza slices are popular around the world, but did you know what the word 'calzone' means in Italian? In Italian a calzone means a “stocking” or a “trouser leg”. Still hungry? The dish got its name because of how it is 'hemmed' around the edge, and another point to remember in Italy is that the final 'e' is pronounced like a 'y' in English; it's not silent.

Photo: I, Calcagnile Floriano/Wikicommons

6. Little tongues

A steaming dish of “little tongues”? Mmm, yes please. Linguine, the odd, flatter cousin of spaghetti, gets its name from its elliptical shape that supposedly resembles a tongue. Originally from the port city of Genoa, the pasta is great with pesto or seafood.

Photo: Michele Ursino/Flickr

7. Grandpa's balls

The name of the Umbrian salami 'palle di nonno', which translates literally as “grandpa's balls”, doesn't exactly set one's mouth watering. Fortunately, no grandfathers were harmed in the making of the salami and it's made from 100 percent pork. The unique texture (see below) gives it its name.   

Photo: Umbria Lovers/Flickr

8. Mule's balls

Noticing a theme here? This salami goes by the name of 'coglioni di muli' (mule's balls) owing to it's slightly scrotum-esque shape that is somewhere between a cylinder and an orb. This time the name is not only off-putting but misleading too: much like grandpa's balls, mule's balls are made entirely of pork.

Photo: Florixc/Wikicommons

9. Friar's beard

'Barba di frate' or 'friar's beard' is another name for agretti, a wiry Italian green that is all the rage among top chefs. The reason for its popularity is simple: tossed in a pan with some butter, salt, pepper and lemon juice the stringy veg is way more succulent than its name suggests. The wispy shape was the inspiration for the name.

Photo: F Ceragioli/Wikicommons

10. Little ears

Yes, it's another pasta variety which sounds a bit gross in English. Fancy a plate of “little ears”? That's what 'orrecchiette', the name of this flat disk-shaped pasta from the southern region of Puglia means. You can sort of see the resemblance, although you might be a bit worried if your ears actually looked like this. 

Photo: Foodista/Wikicommons

A version of this article was first published in August 2015.

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From spritz to shakerato: Six things to drink in Italy this summer

Summer in Italy means lots of things - trips to the beach, empty cities, strikes, and metro works - but it also ushers in the spritz and negroni season. Here are some of the best drinks to cool down with in Italy this summer.

From spritz to shakerato: Six things to drink in Italy this summer


Venice wins all the prizes for being the home of the spritz: the jewel in Italy’s summertime daisy crown and one of the country’s most popular exports.

To first-time customers, the sweet-and-bitter combo can taste unpleasantly like a poisoned alcopop. Stick with it, however, and you’ll soon learn to appreciate this sunset-coloured aperitif, which has come to feel synonymous with summer in Italy.

The most common version is the bright orange Aperol Spritz, but if this starts to feel too sweet once your tastebuds adjust then you can graduate to the dark red Campari Spritz, which has a deeper and more complex flavour profile.

What are the best summer drinks to order in Italy?

Photo by Federica Ariemma/Unsplash.


If you’re too cool for the unabashedly flamboyant spritz but want something not too far off flavour-wise, consider the Negroni.

It’s equal parts gin, vermouth and Campari – though if you want a more approachable version, you can order a ‘Negroni sbagliato’ – literally a ‘wrong’ Negroni – which replaces the gin with sweet sparkling Prosecco white wine.

Served with a twist of orange peel and in a low glass, the Negroni closely resembles an Old Fashioned, and is equally as stylish. A traditional Negroni may be stirred, not shaken, but it’s still the kind of cocktail that Bond would surely be happy to be seen sipping.


Don’t fancy any alcohol but still crave that bitter, amaro-based aftertaste?

A crodino might be just what you’re after. With its bright orange hue, it both looks and tastes very similar to an Aperol Spritz – so much so that you might initially ask yourself whether you’ve in fact been served the real thing.

Similar in flavour are soft drinks produced by the San Pellegrino brand; bars that don’t have any crodino on hand will often offer you ‘un San Pellegrino’ as a substitute. These drinks are usually available in multiple flavours like blood orange, grapefruit, or prickly pears.

A barman prepares a Campari Spritz cocktail in the historic Campari bar at the entrance of Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuel II shopping mall. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP


Much like the crodino, the chinotto is another distinctive bitter Italian aperitivo drink.

With its medium-dark brown colouring, however, the chinotto bears more of a resemblance to Coca Cola than to the spritz, leading to its occasionally being designated as the ‘Italian Coca Cola’.

In reality far less caramelly and much more tart than coke, the chinotto has its detractors, and the fact that we’re having to describe its flavour here means it clearly hasn’t set the world alight since it was first invented in the 1930s (it was subsequently popularised by San Pellegrino, which became its main Italian producer).

If you’re looking for another grown-up tasting alternative to an alcoholic aperitivo, however, the chinotto might just be the place to look.


What’s not to love about the bellini?

Its delicate orange and rose-pink tones are reminiscent of a sunset in the same way as a spritz, but with none of the spritz’s complex and contradictory flavours.

A combination of pureed peach and sugary Prosecco wine, the bellini’s thick, creamy texture can almost make it feel smoothie or even dessert-like. It’s a sweet and simple delight, with just a slight kick in the tail to remind you it’s not a soft drink.


Not a fan of drinks of the fruity/citrusy/marinated herby variety?

If caffeine’s more your thing, Italy has an answer for you in the caffe shakerato: an iced coffee drink made with espresso, ice cubes, and sugar or sugar syrup.

That might not sound inspired at first, but hear us out: the three ingredients are vigorously mixed together in a cocktail shaker before the liquid is poured (ice cube-free) into a martini glass, leaving a dark elixir with a delicate caramel coloured foam on top.

You couldn’t look much more elegant drinking an iced coffee than sipping one of these.