By Rick Steves
Hanging out at a sea-view restaurant while sampling local specialties could become one of your favorite memories.
Local Specialities: Accuighe (ah-CHOO-gay) are anchovies, a local specialty — ideally served the day they're caught. If you've always hated anchovies (the harsh, cured-in-salt American kind), try them fresh here. Tegame alla Vernazza is the most typical main course in Vernazza: anchovies, potatoes, tomatoes, white wine, oil, and herbs. Pansotti is ravioli with ricotta and spinach, often served with a hazelnut or walnut sauce...delightful and filling. While antipasto means cheese and salami in Tuscany, here you'll get antipasti di mare, a plate of mixed "fruits of the sea" and a fine way to start a meal. For many, splitting this and a pasta dish is plenty. Try the fun local dessert: torta della nonna (grandmother's cake), with a glass of sciacchetrà for dunking (see "Wine," below).
Pesto: This region is the birthplace of pesto. Basil, which loves the temperate Ligurian climate, is ground with cheese (half Parmigiano cow cheese and half pecorino sheep cheese), garlic, olive oil, and pine nuts, and then poured over pasta. Try it on spaghetti, trenette, or trofie (made of flour with a bit of potato, designed specifically for pesto). Many also like pesto lasagna, always made with white sauce, never red. If you become addicted, small jars of pesto are sold in the local grocery stores and gift shops. If it's refrigerated, it's fresh; this is what you want if you're eating it today. For taking home, get the jar-on-a-shelf pesto.
Focaccia: This tasty, pillowy bread also originates from here in Liguria. Locals say the best focaccia is made between the Cinque Terre and Genoa. It's simply flatbread with olive oil and salt. The baker roughs up the dough with finger holes, then bakes it. Focaccia comes plain or with onions, sage, and olive bits, and is a local favorite for a snack on the beach. Bakeries sell it in rounds or slices by the weight (a portion is about 100 grams, or un etto).
Farinata: This humble fried bread snack — made from chickpea meal, water, oil, and pepper — is baked on a copper tray in a wood-burning stove. Farinata is sold at pizza and focaccia places.
Wine: The vino delle Cinque Terre, while not one of Italy's top wines, flows cheap and easy throughout the region. It's white — great with the local seafood. D.O.C. is the mark of top quality. For a sweet dessert wine, the local sciacchetrà wine is worth the splurge. Aged sciacchetrà is drier, and more costly (up to €12/glass). While 10 kilos of grapes yield seven liters of local wine, sciacchetrà is made from near-raisins, and 10 kilos of grapes make only 1.5 liters of sciacchetrà. The word means "push and pull" — push in lots of grapes, pull out the best wine. If your room is up a lot of steps, be warned: Sciacchetrà is 18 percent alcohol, while regular wine is only 11 percent. In the cool, calm evening, sit on the Vernazza breakwater with a glass of wine and watch the phosphorescence in the waves.