EATING AND DRINKING
Ahhh, bella Italia… land of culinary delights! Food and drink abound in Rome, but it’s important to know where to go to get different things, at different times of day, for different prices. A warning to return visitors to Italy–the lira-Euro changeover has had the effect of raising restaurant prices staggeringly.
Grocery shop and deli, generally open 7am-1:30pm and 5pm-8pm every day except Thursday afternoon and Sunday (during the summer they are often closed Saturday afternoon instead of Thursday). If you’re on the go (or on a budget), stop at one of these and get a fresh-made sandwich with Italian meats and cheeses, about €2-€3.
These ubiquitous establishments are known almost everywhere else in the world as cafés. This is where you go to get your caffè (espresso) and cappuccino. Snacks and sandwiches may be available, but your principal reason for coming here is caffeine. Caffè (espresso) is usually €0.70; cappuccino €0.90.
Some bars in the hip areas of the historic centre become trendy hang-outs in the evening (you can spot them by all the unseasonably tanned people milling around outside), and €7 concoctions with vaguely Latin-American-sounding names replace coffee as the beverage of choice. Bar del Fico, Bar Bramante, and Caffe della Pace in the area west of Piazza Navona are perennial favourites and fun for people-watching.
Wine shop. Usually these places sell bottles to be taken away and consumed elsewhere (or taken home as a souvenir), but some enoteche will also offer wine by the glass. Prices range between about €2-€6 for a glass, anywhere from €4-€150 for a bottle.
Often found in conjuction with a bar. Here you can find pre-made refrigerated sandwiches of different types, the dominant ingredient usually being mayonnaise. Sandwiches (tramezzini, pizzette, panini) cost about €1.50-€3.
Follow the dripping cones and cups to one of these places offering **gelato. Common practice is to get three different flavours and a dollop of whipped cream (panna) on top. Good old fashioned cioccolato and vaniglia are always satisfying, and fruit flavours like fragola (strawberry) and pesca (peach) are to die for in the hotter months, but don’t be afraid to try out the Italian specialties of baci, gianduia, and zabaglione. Mmm! Depending on the size of your cup or cone, €2.50-€4.
A summer-only phenomenon-you’ll find these kiosks set up across the city, often close to the Tiber, offering shaved ice with various flavored syrups squeezed over. €1.50-€3.
You guessed it – pizza here. Usually only open for dinner, from 8pm or so. Décor may be spare, but a good forno a legna (wood-burning brick oven) is all you really need anyway. Roman pizza is thin-crusted, but some places do Neapolitan-style thicker pizza. Pizza in Rome normally costs about €6-7 for a simple margherita (every Italian’s favourite), a bit more for something more complicated. Do as the Romans do and order a fritto misto (plate of assorted fried foods) before your pizza.
Like a British pub or American bar, these have become extraordinarily popular in Rome, frequented by foreigners as well as Italians. A variety of beers on tap, plus wine, cocktails and other alcoholic beverages. A pint of beer is around €4-€5, glasses of wine €1.50-€3, cocktails €6-€7; prices are usually lower in the early evening, when there’s some kind of happy hour or drink special.
There is also a sub-category of pubs termed disco-pubs, which typically offer lower lights, higher prices, and a DJ.
Trattoria, Ristorante, Osteria
All names for places to sit down and eat lunch (12pm-3pm) or dinner (7:30pm-11pm). Trattorie, ristoranti, and osterie offer a selection of appetizers (antipasti), pasta dishes (primi piatti), meat or fish dishes (secondi piatti), and side dishes (contorni). Prices are fairly consistent throughout the city: if you order one course only plus house wine, you can sometimes pay as little as €10 per person–but €15 is more realistic. A decent-sized meal, including house wine, will cost from €20-€30. A five-course extravaganza, with all the trimmings, will set you back at least €40. To avoid tourist traps, don’t go to restaurants where the waiters are overly cheerful and solicitous, where the menu is available in more than five languages or, worse yet, where the menu has photographs of all the different dishes.
ROMAN FOOD GLOSSARY
Aside from the famous Italian dishes that you’re already familiar with, you might want to try some of these uniquely Roman specialties:
Amatriciana: a hearty tomato-based sauce with pancetta (bacon) and pecorino (romano) cheese. Usually served with bucatini (a thick, hollow type of spaghetti and impossible to eat without making a terrible mess, wimps ask for rigatoni).
Carbonara: a rich sauce made with eggs, pancetta and pecorino. Usually served with rigatoni or spaghetti.
Arrabbiata: a lighter tomato sauce made “angry” with more than a pinch of spicy red pepper and lots of garlic. Usually served with penne.
Pajata: For the adventurous eater, a tomato sauce enlivened with the intestines of the milk-fed unweaned calf- worth trying, and not as frightening as it sounds.
Gnocchi: potato-pasta dumplings usually served in a simple tomato sauce or a rich gorgonzola sauce. Thursday night is gnocchi night city-wide.
Saltimbocca alla romana: veal cutlet with prosciutto and sage
Agnello allo scottadito: lamb chops that “burn your finger”
Pollo alla romana: pieces of chicken (skin, bones, and all), prepared with peppers and tomatoes
FRITTI – Everything listed here is deep-fried
Supplì: rice balls, held together by melted mozzarella and tomato sauce
Fiori di zucca: zucchini flowers (tops), often with anchovies inside
Olive ascolane: green olives stuffed with meat
Mozzarelline: fried mozzarella balls
Filetti di baccalà: breaded cod fillets
Everything you ever wanted to know about preparing your own braised ox-tail!
One of the star dishes of Roman cucina povera, coda alla vaccinara, might have once been peasant food, but its preparation is anything but humble-it takes six hours and expert cooking skills to produce a proper ox-tail. First, get yourself a nice piece of tail (available at markets like Piazza Testaccio – see p. 44 – from any good butcher), wash it well, then cut it into small pieces. Meanwhile, in a frying pan, heat a mixture of lard and olive oil, then add the pieces of ox-tail. When it begins to brown, add chopped onion, two garlic cloves, some cloves, salt, and pepper. Keeping the flame moderate, cook for a few minutes, then pour a glass of dry white wine in the pan, and cover with a lid. Cook for another 15 minutes, then add your peeled tomatoes. Cook for another hour, then pour some hot water over your ox-tail/tomato mixture. Now, cook for another five or six (!) hours-until the meat separates from the bone. Blanch some celery stalks, leaving a bit of the water in the pot. Add some of the ox-tail sauce, pine-nuts, raisins, and some grated dark chocolate. Boil in the celery pot for about 5 minutes. Finally, take this sauce and pour it over the ox-tail pieces, and serve. Easy as 1-2-3, right? Alternatively, book yourself a table at Checchino dal 1887, where the best coda in town will cost you about € 25.
Traditional Roman food is offal!
Known as the quinto quarto (the fifth quarter of the animal) Rome’s traditional cooking is based around what the slaughter-men of Testaccio got to take home once the fillet steak had been sold to the toffs. Be brave; you can’t say you don’t like it if you haven’t tried it and, after all, they do say ‘when in Rome…’
Animelle: Sweetbreads (which is to say glands)- either stewed with artichokes, or roasted. Delicious. Honestly.
Coda alla vaccinara: Ox-tail stewed in a tomato sauce. (See recipe on p. 43)
Trippa: Tripe. That’s stomach in layman’s terms. Cooked with tomatoes and herbs, true Romans can’t get enough of it.
Pajata: see “Pasta Sauces” above
Coratella: A medley of offal (from sheep since the Mad Cow scare) including heart, lungs, and various elements of the digestive tract, often cooked with artichokes.
Fruit and Vegetable Markets
Indoor or outdoor produce markets are among the liveliest, loudest, and most colorful spots in Rome. Usually open 7am, close 2pm, Mon-Sat.
• Campo de’ Fiori: The biggest and most popular market in the historical centre, where the austere hooded statue of Giordano Bruno overlooks dozens of colourful stalls selling fruit, vegetables and flowers. Bus 40 Express, 64 or 62 to Largo Argentina.
• Trionfale Market: A five-minute walk north of the Vatican Museums, this market in Via Andrea Doria is handy and cheap. Metro A: Ottaviano or Cipro-Musei Vaticani.
• Via Lamarmora: The new site of the market formerly located at nearby Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. All kinds of fruit and vegetables, as well as a fine selection of Asian, Indian and African spices and ingredients. Metro A: Vittorio.
• San Cosimato: In the heart of Trastevere. Take in the true Roman atmosphere of the locals interacting early in the morning before the tourists arrive. Tram 8 to Viale Trastevere.
• Piazza Testaccio: May be the best market in Rome. Testaccio’s covered market has it all, from pears to prosciutto, endives to entrails. Tourist-free. Metro B: Piramide, then a short walk down Via Marmorata.
Other fruit and vegetable markets can be found just north of Termini station in Via Milazzo and Via Montebello. The most upmarket market is in Via Bocca di Leone, by the Spanish Steps.
(In Italy they’re called “drugstores,” even though they don’t actually sell any pharmaceuticals. They are however your best one-stop shopping for food, drinks, toiletries, and household supplies.)
- CONAD at Termini: Downstairs in the new “Forum Termini” mall.
- CONAD at Tiburtina Station: Not the most charming place at night, but excellent for those taking overnight trains from this station or catching a bus from the square outside.
- CONAD Clodio: Via Golametto 4A, near Piazzale Clodio, about a 15 minute walk from the Vatican area.
Up until a year or two ago, you were more likely to find a pot of gold than a supermarket in the centre of Rome. Things have changed, happily, and there are plenty of scaled-down versions of these all-purpose stores hiding in the medieval alleyways of the centro storico:
GS. The first supermarket in the historical centre (opened 1999). Via Monte di Farina (between Campo de’ Fiori and Largo Argentina). Open Mon-Sat 9am-8pm. Bus 40 Express, 64, 62, or 492 to Largo Argentina.
Despar: The second supermarket in the historical centre (opened 2001). Via dei Giustiniani, 19 (between Piazza Navona and the Pantheon). Open daily 9am-10pm. Bus 40 Express, 64, 62, or 492 to Largo Argentina or Corso Rinascimento.
Despar: Via del Bufalo (between Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain). Metro A: Spagna or bus 62, 492, 175 to Via del Tritone.
GS: Under the Villa Borghese, accessed by the long series of moving walkways from the Spagna metro station. Closed Sun.
Standa. A supermarket located in the downstairs section of a department store. In Trastevere: Viale di Trastevere, 60 (inside the Oviesse department store). Open Mon-Sat 9am-8pm, Sun 8:30am-1:30pm, 4pm-8pm. Tram 8 from Largo Argentina. Vatican area: Via Cola di Rienzo, 173 (inside the COIN department store). Open Mon-Sun 9am-8pm. Metro A: Lepanto or Ottaviano.
Basta Pasta! Where to get good ethnic food in Rome:
If you have been travelling in Italy for a while, you might be ready for a meal of something other than pizza or pasta. Besides McDonald’s and the Hard Rock Café, what are your options for international food? For a taste of the Orient, there’s good Vietnamese (with Thai and Chinese influences) at Thien Kim in Via Giulia (Campo de’ Fiori area). Hamasei in Via della Mercede (Spanish Steps area) serves up excellent sushi and sashimi as well as other, cooked Japanese dishes. And despite the proliferation of Chinese restaurants in the city, we have found that they all taste the same — mediocre and not very fresh. Burning for a burrito? Oliphant, in Via delle Coppelle by the Pantheon, has a variety of (heavy) Tex-Mex fare.
North African food is gaining popularity in Rome, and decent kebab and felafel can be found at Le Piramidi just off Campo de’ Fiori. Those craving a curry can satisfy their palate at Guru or Maharajah, around the corner from each other in Via Cimarra and Via dei Serpenti (between Via Nazionale and Via Cavour).