Italy is without a doubt one of the great cuisines of the world. Italian food is simple, sometimes only three ingredients in a dish. But in that simplicity you can make great ingredients sing. That is one of the greatest skills in cooking. Make anything too tortuous, too complex, and you can easily lose the flavor and the beauty of great ingredients.
That's one of the biggest reasons processed food has 75 ingredients. They are making up for using the cheapest, crappiest quality ingredients by using stabilizers, flavorants, texturants, colorants, and maybe some ant ants. (probably not)
The only problem is, everyone knows how good Italian food is. The great cooks, the people who take pride in their labors, the people who are making food for the love of it... are counterbalanced by the people who know that tourists will generally eat any crap you shovel in front of them. If you serve them the best food you ever made, they aren't coming back next week because they will be home. Who cares if you ruin their meal? The next batch of rubes are coming in tomorrow.
Unfortunately this is all too common in tourist areas around the world. Since I was only in Italy for a short amount of time and with friends doing the tourist thing we ended up eating a lot more tourist food than usual... Just goes to show, always be a traveler, never a tourist.
Bread with black olive tapenade... flavorless slightly stale bread, flavorless olive paste.
Leafy green salads... (we found mites crawling all around the plate half way through this salad...)
Oily Lasagna Verde
Pasta with some creamy tomato sauce on it...
Pesto Pizza... Actually this was pretty good for taking on long hikes through the Cinque Terre. Hiking for 8 hours makes anything taste good, but flaky oily bread tastes good no matter what!
I honestly think the best course of action, if you were in a touristy spot and didn't have a good recommendation for a place to eat, was to eat as simply as possible. Order some cheese.
Order some Sardines! Yum!
Always be adventurous, and ask locals where they eat. Avoid the tourist areas, take some time to walk further out or take public transportation somewhere random. Find a line and wait in it. Finding great food is an adventure in itself.
Take a little time to research local delicacies. But more than anything... never eat in a tourist district... It's almost always bad... If you can see a shop selling tchochkes, English language t-shirts, and key chains... run for the hills