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Local’s guide to Genoa

Meals can roll on for hours in much of Italy, but the Genoese love a quick fix. Do as the locals do and grab a crispy slice of foccacia and finish it off with the best pralines in town

Local’s guide to Genoa
Genoa. Image: Alamy

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Grab & go
Genoa’s street food tradition comes from its history as a port, and the best place for a flavour of the past is Carega, a hole-in-the-wall friggitoria (frying shop) by the Porto Antico. Time has stood still here, with its white-tiled interior and couple of stools to perch on. Depending on the catch, you’ll find anything from calamari and octopus to various types of fish, but go for the fritto misto, where it’s all piled together. Via Sottoripa 113/R. 

But focaccia’s probably the snack that’s made it furthest outside Genoa. Every bakery in town serves it but try the one from Priano in the west of the city. A family business that opened in 1964, it’s been renowned for its extra-light, crispy slices of focaccia since the day it opened. 

For something a little different, try farinata — a kind of pancake made from chickpeas. It’s as important to the Genoese as focaccia, and La Farinata dei Teatri is the place to try it. In the ‘new town’, but open since 1861, this small bakery cooks them in giant pans, slicing them up into generous portions to eat inside or take away. Piazza Marsala 5/R. 

If you thought pizza was as good as it gets, then you haven’t had pinsa; its rough-and-ready predecessor, and a dish that dates back to ancient Rome. Pinsaccio serves up rustic versions at startlingly good prices — including three vegan varieties.

For an overview of the city’s street food tradition, try La Sciamadda — halfway between a restaurant and a takeaway. You’ll find a range of specials from Genoese ‘cucina povera’ (‘poor cuisine’) from panissa to a range of tasty flans using seasonal vegetables including pumpkin, broccoli or onion. 

Sweet spots
The Cavo family have been trading from their historic bottega since 1250. They’ve been making amaretti biscuits since the 19th century, but don’t miss their Genoese pandolce — a traditional, brioche-y, fruit-studded cake originally made by sailors’ wives.

Chocolate has a prevalent history in Genoa, and Viganotti has been going strong since 1866 in its teeny workshop near Piazza delle Erbe. Its classic pralines are sublime, as are the more modern innovations such as salted chocolate and a tea-infused range. 

Meanwhile Zucotti, another chocolatier, is a little younger at just 80 years old. A family business, they’ve been working from the same recipes since the beginning, making everything by hand. Try the gianduia chocolates or the gelatine — fruit-flavoured jellies dusted in sugar. 

Part of the joy of these historical botteghe is in the buildings themselves — and Romanengo is a prime example. The confectioner has two premises in Genoa — go for the old one in the medieval centre where you’ll find sweets, candied fruits and chestnuts laid out in a wood-panelled, marble-floored shop. 

And if your teeth can still take it, Villa is another outstanding confectionery shop, with sugared almonds and chocolate ‘olives’ among its bestsellers. Come for its seasonal recipes, using fresh fruit in summer (such as peaches in amaretto and glazed strawberries) and marzipan at Christmas. 

Matteo Losio’s Top 5 foodie favourites
Matteo Losio is co-owner of Trattoria Bruxaboschi in San Desiderio, in the hills outside Genoa.

1. Douce 
The young pastry chef who owns this new shop is continuously improving his products — from perfectly-shaped cakes to chocolate creations. I love the shop’s French flavour, and the incredible amount of attention to detail in its products.

2. Panificio Grissineria Claretta
This is my favourite place for some of the best focaccia in Genoa. It’s set in a typical traditional shop, family-owned and run like a traditional bottega. Don’t miss the dove-shaped cake over Easter. Via della Posta Vecchia, 12A

3. Tripperia La Casana
Tripe is a true Genoese tradition, and here they serve it prepared to strict tradition. It’s all wood-fired, and the tripe is put in gigantic copper pots and cooked very delicately — all in front of you. Vico della Casana, 3R

4. Panificio Macrì
Don’t miss this superb spot for focaccia in the fishing neighbourhood of Boccadasse. The dough is left to prove for many hours, and they also make artisanal products such as pandolce. Via Cavallotti Felice, 26/R

5. Tagliafico
One of Genoa’s most famous pastry shops, its chifferi (traditional Genoese croissants) are superb. The place is family-run and the long-serving waiting staff putting together elegant little boxes of pastries are almost part of the furniture.

Top tip
Although tempting, don’t make big plans for dinner — aperitivo hour is big here, and an early-evening drink will come accompanied with copious snacks to fill you up.

Published in the October 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)