Nothing is as important as food in Italy and if you don’t have some interest in what you eat you’re in the wrong country. Getting to know Rome requires getting to know its dishes which are distinct and delicious. Breakfast here is not the most important meal of the day and Romans prefer lunch and dinner. Midday and evening meals provide a lot of variety and sampling as much as possible is as satisfying as visiting the Coliseum or throwing a coin into the Fountain of Trevi. Here’s what to order:
Every morning bars and bakeries around Rome serve cornetto pastries. These high calorie treats are the Roman version of the croissant and can be plain or filled with chocolate, jelly or cream. The best are prepared on site and served warm. They go well with cappuccino and are an inexpensive (€1) way to start the day.
Frappé are dangerous for anyone on a diet. These thin strips of dough come baked or fried and covered with a thin layer of powdered sugar or honey. They begin appearing in bakeries and bars in mid-January and can only be enjoyed during Carnival season along with the Castagnole (above) which are golf ball-sized pastries. If you don’t happen to be in Rome in winter you can always sample tiny mignon pastries that come in a variety of shapes and toppings and are made daily in most pastry shops.
3) Tremezzini and Panini
The Roman sandwich comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and fillings. Most bars in the capital have a selection of Tremezzini sandwiches on display from mid-morning to late afternoon. These triangular sandwiches are made of crustless white bread and are filled with cold cuts, shrimp, tuna, egg salad, artichokes or vegetables. They are inexpensive (€2-3.50) and a perfect snack along with a fresh-squeezed orange juice (€2-3).
Next to the tremizzini you’ll usually find other types of panini (€3-5) made with pizza blanche bread or rolls and containing prosciutto ham and mozzarella, zucchini and mozzarella, eggplant and mozzarella or some other simple but appetizing combination. Freshness is essential so if you have any doubt or the selection is not up to expectations just walk away. A delicious sandwich is never far in Rome.
4) Fiori di Zucchini
Roman cooking is the story of inventiveness and thrift. Nothing is wasted and a good example of that is Fiori di Zucchini (€2-3). You may not know it but zucchini have flowers and rather than throw these away Romans stuff them with anchovies and mozzarella, cover them in batter, and fry. The result is surprisingly good especially if you like anchovies and can handle fried foods. They are generally served in pizzerie or trattorie restaurants as an appetizer along with suppli (€1.5-3) rice balls and potato croquettes. Most menus offer a plate of mixed fried starters which is a good introduction to the genre.
Roman pizza is different from the Neapolitan variety. It’s thin, baked in long trays and served by the kilo at hundreds of pizzerias around the city. Toppings range from the simple pizza biancha (white pizza) and margherita (tomato and mozzarella) to the more elaborate potato and sausage or four cheese. The best thing to do is enter a pizzeria and check out the selection at the counter. If you like what you see order a couple different kinds and indicate with your hands how much you want and if you want to eat on the spot (per mangiare qui) or to go (per portare via). Many restaurants prepare the familiar round pizzas and menus are divided into red served with tomato sauce and white served without.
6) Cacio Pepe and Amatriciana
Italy is known for pasta and every region has its own particular shapes and sauces. In Rome two dishes are particularly famous and both began as working class meals. Cacio Pepe (€8-11) consists of goat cheese and pepper. It’s a deceptively simple dish that’s delicious when the sauce has the right creaminess and flavor. Amatriciana (€8-11) wasn’t invented in Rome but has been adopted by Romans. In this case the sauce is made from tomatoes and guancia di maiale (pork cheek) and fried until it’s mouthwateringly crisp. Both dishes are served with short pasta and are on the menus of most restaurants. Every Roman can point you to an osteria they say makes the best. The fun part is trying to find the best for yourself.
The artichoke holds a special place in Roman cuisine and is served nearly year round except during the summer. The two most popular ways of eating artichokes are alla Romana or alla Giudea. The first involves stewing this versatile vegetable over a low flame with olive oil and parsley. The second is a Jewish recipe that deep fries the artichoke until the leaves are golden and crispy. Both methods are served as side orders and a good place to sample alla Giudea (€5) is in Rome’s Jewish quarter also known as the Ghetto. A third way of preparing artichokes is by breading then frying them in a pan. Deciding which method is the best is a real treat.