Food and Italy; they go together like cheese and wine. With a culinary heritage going back centuries, Italians pride themselves on their knowledge and love of good food and drink. Rome’s historic sights attract visitors from around the world but the way to its heart is through its food and drink. Here are my top tips for making the most of Rome’s foodie scene.
Eating out in Rome
1. Ask a Roman
Rule Number One is always ‘Ask a Local’. Of course, you can use websites, blog posts, guide books and people who have visited but to discover the best places to eat and drink in Rome ask a Roman. It may be the hotel receptionist, someone you meet in a cafe or a friend of a friend. I got excellent tips from Citalia Rome Concierge Dany, who loves his city with a passion and was able to give me some very useful insider foodie tips. They included suggestions places for quick snacks, traditional meals, fine dining, good wines and local markets.
2. Try street food including ‘pizza al taglio’
Pizza is Italy’s most famous export and Rome is renowned for the quality of its wood-fired pizzas. Search out the ‘hole in the wall’ pizzerias to try ‘pizza al taglio (a slice of pizza) You can find these pizzerias all over the city. Da Remo (Piazza Santa Maria), Pizzarium Bonci (Via della Meloria) and La Boccacia in Trastevere come highly recommended. Eat on the hoof or sitting beside one of the historic sights.
I got a tasty artichoke and mushroom pizza to take-away from Pepy’s Bar on the Piazza Berberini. Their sandwiches are works of art. Other street food includes delicious pastries and pies; check out La Renella, one of Rome’s oldest bakeries, founded in 1848 (see photo above.)
3. Explore Trastevere by night
The narrow streets of Trastevere (across the Tiber) are crammed with excellent bars, cafes and restaurants. It’s difficult to get a bad meal here but rule of thumb says the more Italians there are and less tourists, the better the restaurant will be. Down a tiny lane away from the main area, I saw about 20 people (looking Italian) waiting patiently for a simple restaurant called da Enzo to open.. That’s a good sign. Wandering about in the early eve, I found a tiny bar buzzing with lively chat, serving a good selection of anti-pasti and simple main courses.
I sat outside with an aperitif, Aperol Spritz (prosecco and Aperol), a dish a VERY fresh pistachios and watched the world go by. I can’t remember its name, but it was just round the corner from Le Mani in Pasta which is on Via dei Genovese (see Tip 4).
4. Eat like a Roman
Seems obvious but so many people go abroad and then look for food they have back home. Search out Rome specialities like carciofi (artichokes) cooked in various ways, saltimbocca (veal escalope), gnocchi (potato dumplings), bucatini all’amatriciana (tomato-based sauce with pancetta, chilli and cheese) and suppli (fried rice balls coated in breadcrumbs with cheese or other filling) similar to arancini found in other parts of Italy. Freshly baked Italian bread such as focaccia with goat’s cheese is a simple treat.
5. Understand the Italian menu
The majority of restaurants in Rome will have menus in English but it is worth understanding the different courses. Antipasti (starter) may include cured meats, cheese, bruschetta (toasted bread with toppings), olives. Primi (first course) is usually a pasta dish or soup. Be warned, this may fill you up so much you won’t have space for Secondi (second course). This consists of either fish, meat, chicken and more commonly nowadays, a vegetarian option.
Contorni are vegetable or salad dishes. Dolci is dessert, which could be tiramisu (coffee and cream), gelato or maybe panne cotta (cooked cream). Finally you may have a Caffè (coffee) or Digestivi (liquor such as grappa or limoncello) or both. Lunch is from around 12 noon – 2.30pm and dinner from 8pm – 11pm. (Adapted from Walks of Italy How to Read an Italian Menu.)
6. Eat well in in a Trattoria
If you want simple food, served with (usually) friendly service, look for a trattoria, or osteria. These traditional restaurants, usually family-run, can be found all over Rome, but especially in Trastevere. They often have tables outside and offer a decent range of ‘home-made’ dishes and wines. The Menu de Dia, is good value, with a basic choice of starter, main and often dessert, plus a drink included in the price. One of the best meals I have ever eaten was at Le Mani in Pasta a stylish osteria in Trastevere. (See menu above.) The starter was sublime: bresaola (cured beef) with soft, creamy buffalo mozzarella and grapefruit slices. The sharpness of the fruit cut through the cheese and, despite it being such a large plate, I ate every divine mouthful.
The waiter recommended house speciality spaghetti carbonara; I watched the chef cooking it through the kitchen window. It was glossily rich and went very well with Le Rubie, the house red from Lazio region. (See photo of spaghetti carbonara dish here) For dessert I had a refreshing lemon sorbet and finished off with an espresso.
7. Visit one of Rome’s markets
One of the best ways to get a flavour of Rome is to wander round one if its markets. Here you will see the Romans doing one of their favourite things; debating which is the best meats, cheese, vegetables, fruit, flowers, wine, pasta, pulses, olive oil and flowers to take enjoy at home. Campo de’ Fiori is the best known, but for a quieter experience, try Circo Massimo Mercato di Campagna Amica (Circus Maximus Farmer’s Market.)
8. When in Rome – eat gelato
Italy has the best ice-cream in the world. Well, to be accurate, gelato is not ice-cream. It has a lower fat content but more sugar with fruit or nut flavourings . So when in Rome, eat gelato. Virtually every street in the main tourist areas of the city have a gelateria (ice-cream parlour) and it’s difficult to get a bad one. The best-known is Giolitti (Via degli Uffici del Vicario), a 19th c café near the Pantheon. One of my favourite flavours is pistachio; go for the sludgy green, not bright green, as it will be natural not artificially coloured.
9. Avoid the worst pizza in Rome
A tip from Dany, the Citalia concierge; avoid cafes, bars, restaurants and shops right next to the famous sights like the Colosseum, the Parthenon and the Forum. Common sense, yes, but let this be a warning to you. I was joining a Grey Line tour of the Vatican City and we met beside cafe bar L’Ottagono, in Piazza del Risorgimento. I’d not eaten so for speed, even though Dany had told me to avoid it, I ordered a pizza. Don’t. It was as bad as it looks here; overcooked, flabby, salty ham and stringy cheese …
10. Shop for food and drink souvenirs
Take home a flavour of Rome (import regulations permitting!) from one of the many foodie shops, delicatessens or wineries in Rome. Olive oil, fresh herbs, cheese, olives and pasta are all easy to pack and will remind you of Rome. Lazio region wines include some very good whites, including Orvieto and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and reds from such as Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Merlot grapes. I brought back a rope of garlic bulbs and some fragrant rose-flavoured biscuits from the market and crunchy almond biscotti from Paneterria Romana in Trastevere. Delicious flavours from a tasty weekend in Rome …
Many thanks to Citalia, leading specialist in Italian holidays, who organised 48 hours in Rome weekend. They earned the title of ‘Best Tour Operator to the Italian Peninsula’ for six consecutive years. The Citalia team are friendly, expert and knowledgeable in all things Italian and have local concierges in each destination for personal recommendations, advice and help with day trips, car hire, or restaurant bookings. For more information visit the Citalia Rome page. This trip was a Travelator Media world-wide campaign. Find out more about Travelator Media here.
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