To better understand the nutritional etiology of squamous cell esophageal cancer, we conducted a case-control study in 3 areas of northern Italy. A total of 304 incident, histologically confirmed cases of squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus (275 men, 29 women) and 743 hospital controls (593 men, 150 women) with acute, non-neoplastic conditions, not related to smoking, alcohol consumption or long-term diet modification, were interviewed during 1992 to 1997. The validated food-frequency questionnaire included 78 questions on food items or recipes, which were then categorized into 19 main food groups, and 10 questions on fat intake pattern. After allowance for age, sex, education, area of residence, tobacco smoking, alcohol drinking and non-alcohol energy, a significant increased risk emerged for high consumption of soups (OR=2.1 for the highest vs. lowest quintile), whereas inverse associations with esophageal cancer risk were observed for pasta and rice (OR=0.7), poultry (OR=0.4), raw vegetables (OR=0.3), citrus fruit (OR=0.4) and other fruit (OR=0.5). The associations with dietary habits were consistent in different strata of tobacco smoking and alcohol drinking. Among added lipids, olive oil intake showed a significant reduction of esophageal cancer risk, even after allowance for total vegetable consumption (OR=0.4), while butter consumption was directly associated with this risk (OR=2.2). Our results thus provide further support to the evidence that raw vegetables and citrus fruit are inversely related to the risk of squamous cell esophageal cancer and suggest that olive oil may also reduce this risk. Int. J. Cancer 87:289–294, 2000. © 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.