The Surprising Things About Living in Rome


As I have done in previous cities that I have called home, at some point, I write about the less than delightful things about daily life (Dhaka, Bogota, and Lima). For Rome, since the honeymoon is over (I’m no longer charmed), I’ve decided to write about a combination of surprising and annoying things. Mostly, it’s just surprising things.

Small breakfasts: Romans like an espresso and a croissant for breakfast. Or coffee with milk like a cappuccino. I’m surprised at how easy it becomes to getting used to drinking espresso (a “caffe” is an espresso by default), all day long. Most Italians use sugar so in a way it’s like a power bar every few hours. I prefer no sugar… just the bitter coffee…

Cookies: for breakfast. Even savory ones. It’s also easy to grow accustomed to eating a cornetto (croissant) every morning. Or a pizza, keeping in mind that pizza is not pizza as one thinks of pizza.

A savory tomato cookie, both for breakfast and with drinks at happy hour.

Pizza: pizza is doesn’t always have cheese, and pizza is a breakfast item.

White pizza and red pizza. No other toppings needed.

Raw seafood and meat: on everything. Shrimp is the most “gringo friendly” but there is raw octopus, raw sea bass, raw everything on pasta. Even raw meat.

Raw shrimp with spaghetti.

Greens: green vegetables that I’ve never heard of. And they all seem to be bitter.

Drinking fountains: are everywhere. They are called “nasone” (nay-so-neh) and most flow all day long. So you only need one bottle. The reason they flow all the time is to keep the pipes free of bacteria.

Cost of Internet: Under 30 euro for mine. Internet and cell phone service is not very expensive.

Bureaucracy: Getting service for anything from a bank account to setting up Internet and so on, can be a hassle.

Venetian blinds on the outside of the window.

Lack of public toilets: In Rome, you need to grab a coffee or eat at a restaurant to use the toilet. See my article about bidets to understand why you may find a bidet in every bathroom. One can flush the toilet paper in the toilet in Rome, but as you can see from the photo, sometimes, it’s best not to.

If you should be so lucky, the toilet will not be “out of service.”
And if you are really lucky, the flush is on the floor.

The crowds: Normally, there would be a few million people visiting Rome at any moment. If one lives in the tourist center part of Rome, one has to “go with flow” of the crowd when walking.

The customer service: one has to figure out how to navigate some places. The more touristy, the worse it is.

Tipping: One really doesn’t have to do it because it’s adding as a service fee. If you are American, they may expect you to tip.

Whipped cream: It seems like it’s on everything. But it’s not served in a pretty way, just applied with a spoon or spatula. I like that it’s offered at gelaterias.

The whipped cream gets applied to the gelato, not squeezed out of a canister.

So while the honeymoon period is over, it’s not all bad.

I Love Olive Oil — Tasting with Johnny Madge

Tomato bruschetta

Tomatoes are juicy and red,
Olive oil is gold and green,
Mozzarella is creamy and white,
And Johnny Madge is keen.

I felt inspired to write a cheesy poem!

Johnny Madge loves, lives, breathes olive oil. He even has “I Love Olive Oil” written on his van. Oddly, that is the least of the reasons to go on his olive oil tour. Sorry, Johnny. It’s not just about the oil.

Imagine living here.

If anyone is a natural at what they do, then it’s the legendary Johnny Madge. Taking an olive oil tasting class with him feels less like a class, and more like you just happen to have a wise friend who is an expert on olive oil… wild plants… wine… life? There are some professors and tour guides who seem scripted in their style of teaching. All respect to them, but Johnny is not one of them. Johnny Madge speaks with the ease of someone who knows vastly more than they are telling you. It reminds of advice a writing teacher once told me, “Make sure you know everything about the character, and then put none of that in your story.” Once in a while you meet people who are more than the product they sell. The fact that he has a British accent just makes everything he says sound more credible. It’s easy to get a crush on him (olive oil joke).

Johnny Madge inside an olive tree.

As I said, the olive oil tasting was a minor part of the day. The whole day was a celebration of good extra virgin olive oil (and the lifestyle that it symbolizes). Johnny Madge has a sensational high rating on TripAdvisor and rightly so.

He will pick you up from the train station in Fara Sabina (a small town about 35 minutes on the regional train line from Rome) in his van which can seat eight. If you drive your own car, you can follow him like the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamlin. The whole day had that fairytale feel to it as we meandered the undulating lanes.

You might wonder what could take so long. The pace is set by the lovely small streets along the neat rows of olive trees, the green hedges, and azure sky above gently rolling country. The tour starts in an olive tree orchard. Johnny will tell you about olive trees, the recent devastating fires, harvesting, and other facts about the trees. Did you know that an olive tree can survive a fire? As you walk around enjoying the clean air of the countryside, he will show wild edible plants like wild fennel, and explain other plants if you ask him (I asked about a seed that I found which it turns out inspired Leonardo da Vinci to invent the helicopter). Or you can wander away and sit in the shade of an olive tree. There are no demands that you pay attention and no exam. No stress.

Don’t drizzle, pour.

After the orchard, he takes you to visit the largest olive tree in Europe. The tree is famous for being large, but it was comforting to meet such an old tree. It is perhaps 2,000 years old but no one really knows. Olive oil trees hollow out making it hard to count rings. When we were there admiring the tree, the owner came out to chat with Johnny. They were clearly friends catching up with each other.

Then back to admire the vegetable garden. All the while, Johnny regales you with stories and anecdotes, pointing out this and that along the way. As a city person, it’s interesting to see Swiss chard growing like a weed. One could feel the pace of life slowing down to that sweet art of doing nothing (a saying in Italian)… the art of enjoying the sweet life.

The mill is entering prime time. They got game.

After this, we went to an olive oil mill, Il Frantoio Saporito, which, with a new store, a new YouTube video, new Instagram account, is ready for primetime. They got game.

Outside the main hangar-size building, there is a metal car scale built in to the parking lot. When the local farmers need their olives processed, they drive their olive-laden cars on to the scale. After the initial weigh-in, the car is emptied of olives. Then the car is weighed again. The client pays by weight. I say client because it turns out that many Italians own a small patch of olive trees and make their own olive oil each year. After the weighing, the olives get cleaned, crushed, and spun. In the old days, the olive mash would be squeezed in reed mats but now, the oil is extracted using centrifugal force. Super high quality olive oil is spun for a mere seven minutes — thus ensuring that minimal heat is created — making it truly cold pressed. Most extra virgin olive oil is spun for 30 minutes. After spinning, the oil is filtered. Olive oil doesn’t need to be filtered but it’s better to avoid the sludge at the bottom of the bottle. Unlike wine, olive oil does not get better with age.

There is also something about what can be called “virgin” and “extra virgin” — the “virgin” olive oil is defective. Shocker. I think that he explained that defective doesn’t mean undrinkable. But I wasn’t paying attention… I guess I’ll have to go on another tour. If you want to geek out a bit, read this newsletter. Olive oil’s quality is not based on color. How deep is that? Professional tastings happen with blue glasses.

When we came by, they surprised us with bruschetta (the green is pistacchio paste).

The mill has just opened a shop on site where small bottles of olive oil cost 5 euro and large bottles cost 8 euro. I didn’t get a photo of the shop because I was too busy shopping! They also sell flavored oils, but not garlic flavor (Romans really don’t eat much garlic), and spreads like pistachio with pesto. I think I spent around 90 euros… because I wasn’t sure when I’d get back. That said, the mill will deliver and you can purchase online. I don’t know if it was pre-arranged (despite what Johnny said) but when we visited the mill, they gave us freshly made bruschetta, which had been toasted on the olive tree wood barbecue. I’m not sure it gets better than that, in terms of experiential shopping experiences.

Maybe it was a mirage.

From the mill, we could see our lunch destination, across the valley, past neat green fields, impossibly pretty. Can this be real?

This course was maybe fourth?

Lunch was a leisurely feast of multiple courses including creamy cannelloni beans, crunchy bruschetta with tomato, cheese, golden oven roasted potatoes, yummy lasagne, and not too sweet apple pie. Johnny brought lots of wine to pair, but it was mostly about the olive oil pairings. Every dish had olive oil. At this point, Johnny explained how to taste olive oil and we tried a few straight up. I did not like most of the oil when tasted alone. I preferred the oil on the food. We actually started with olive oil on a chocolate crostini which brought happy memories of my days in El Cacaotal in Lima. I can’t wait to get these food nerds together and watch them nerd out.

Chocolate crostini.

To contact Johnny for olive oil tastings, or to feature him in your documentary or to hire him as an expert (he was in Pasta Grannies! Name drop!), here is how to contact him: Johnny Madge, oliveoil@johnnymadge.com, www.johnnymadge.com, +39 328 339 8479. He speaks English and Italian.

The olive oil tour, including lunch, wine, and olive oil tasting, cost 110 euro per person. The train costs 2.80 euro each way. You can also drive there in 35 minutes and leave your car at the train station or follow him around the countryside.

The vegetarian lasagne made me want to be vegetarian.

The day out was fabulous. Johnny loves olive oil and after a day with him, you might love olive oil as much as Johnny. Or maybe him.

A pomegranate tree in bloom.

If you really want to get an idea of how pleasant the day was (I mean, how olive oil is made!), enjoy this video by the mill again.

I end this with a version of the roses are red poem from Les Mis. We did go a-touring in the countryside of Rome where the pomegranate blossoms were orange and I loved, loved, loved it.

We will buy very pretty things
A-walking through the suburbs.
Violets are blue, roses are red,
Violets are blue, I love my loves.

I have also made a video of my own. Nothing compared to the mill’s… but, enjoy the song by Ed Sheeran and Andrea Bocelli. It’s perfect.

Taking a Taxi in Rome

I find it weird not being allowed to flag down a taxi on the street. In Rome, you must use a taxi stand, telephone, text, or app to get a taxi. This site has great information. The taxi stands are marked with an orange taxi sign and the taxis are always white. Some may be vans and some are in not so great condition, but they are always white. (Uber is only Uber Black which usually a luxury car and very expensive, and as I write this, maybe they have outlawed that as well.) There are lots of taxi stands all over the city of Rome but during these pandemic times, not all have taxis waiting around. The taxis have plastic barriers (well, most do) between the driver and the customers and generally the windows are open to help keep the air flowing. Everyone wears a mask. The base rate is €3 (three euro). Most rides around the center of Rome cost about 5-16 euro. No tipping although you can leave them the change. On regular city rides, the taxi driver will help you with your bags at no extra cost. Generally the drivers don’t speak English. If I can’t explain where I want to go, then I show them on my phone.

The taxi stand by Piazza Navona.

If you use an app like ITaxi (Italy Taxi) or Free Now, you can get a taxi anywhere you happen to be. The taxi meter starts when they ACCEPT the ride, not when you get in the car! This is what is shocking to most foreigners. Most of the rides I’ve taken have started at about €4.40 by the time I got in the car. This also means that the taxi will wait for you. It’s on you and not them. So it’s easier for me to get them show up. It is possible to pay by credit card and the drivers never have change for a 50. (Also, they have a color rating system for customers… one day I read the phone screen of the taxi driver and I could see my name and that I was “gold” level.) It is also possible to call or text to request a cab, but I prefer the app. I just wish that I could input the name of a restaurant instead of an address.

Airports: The rates from and to the two main airports, Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport (FCO) and Ciampino International Airport “G. B. Pastine” (CIA), are set to the Aurelian walls of the city. But, then it’s metered so while the base cost is 48 and 30 euro, it will cost you more. Tell the taxi driver that you want the set price so that at least that is a known quantity. From Fiumicino, a taxi ride to the historic center of Rome will probably cost in the 50-60 euro range (ride is about an hour) and from Ciampino (ride is about half an hour), from 30-40 euro. Plus extra for extra luggage.

Although you can walk everywhere in Rome, there are a lot of hills and groceries get heavy… Of course, people do flag down taxis on the street… but you are not supposed to.

East Asian Grocery Stores in Rome

This article is mainly about the Chinese and Korean (and Philippine) grocery stores in Rome (there are many Bangladeshis in Rome and many run the local produce shops). For more, read this blogger’s post on the Asian grocery stores in Rome. Almost all the Asian grocery stores are located near the Termini train station where there are many other Chinese shops selling non-food items. This area also has stores with supplies from parts of Africa and other parts of the world.

I get lots of questions about where to buy cilantro, as it is a big part of Southeast Asian cuisine and Mexican food, so I’ll include a point about that (it tastes like soap to me so I can’t stand it. Someone should start an Instagram just for cilantro…)

Back to the Asian stores. One thing that all these stores sell is a plethora of ramen. Who knew there were so many types?

This a tiny segment of the walls of ramen.

Asia Supermarket, Via Ricasoli 20: The entrance/exit is badly planned, and this shop is bigger than it appears. Fresh vegetables, fresh tofu, cooking utensils, fish sauce, etc.

Xin Ye Gruppo, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II 34: Mostly dry goods but it’s bigger than it looks so you can find rice paper, ground cumin, fresh ginger, soldering tools, and bowls, etc.

Tapioca pasta balls for “bubble” tea.

La Famiglia (Korean store), Via Filippo Turati 102: Located in a courtyard, you must leave the busy street and go into the building’s courtyard. Mostly Korean goods. No fresh vegetables.

When you see the sign, that’s where the entrance is located.
Enter and the Korean store is located in the right hand corner.

The Korean Market, Via Cavour 84: Mainly frozen and dry foods from Korea and Japan. Owners are Korean.

This store has the fanciest address on a main street. All items imported from Korea.

Nuovo Mercato Esquilino, Via Principe Amedeo 184: Famous ethnic market of Rome. It’s more like a suq or wet market.

Bok choy from my local South Asian vendor. Ask and they can usually provide. Plus, most South Asians speak English.

Unknown name, Philippino corner store, Via Calatafirmi 14/a (the street intersects with itself and this shop is on the corner – on google, it appears as Hotel Papagermano): This small shop sells dried foods but also jarred kimchi. This kimchi is the one that I like to eat.

Kimchi from Korea

Trionfale market, Via Andrea Doria 41 (this is not near the Termini station and is located north of the Vatican, in Prati): There are several stalls that specialize in Asian vegetables and foods, so you can find what you will need there. If you enter from the Via Andrea Doria main entrance, the staff is on your right (box # 238) almost the minute you enter the market. The stall also has noodles and other items that you might need.

Cilantro, ginger, noodles, fish sauce…

Testaccio Market, Via Aldo Munazio 66b (every taxi driver knows where the market is located, or should). Has parking: Also carries cilantro at times. There is an herb staff (stall #34) that has it. Cilantro is “coriandolo” in Italian.

Noodles, pasta, and snacks.

Many of the markets are beginning to sell exotic fruits and vegetables, and many grocery stores sell a few “international” items. I’ll update this article as I discover more.

Pizza, Pinsa, Focaccia, Schiacciata, and Cold?

Pizza is cut with scissors and a spatula.

Pizza in Italy reminds me a bit of that time when my friend, who had never had a wedge salad, ordered one but without the tomatoes or the blue cheese. She was speechless with disbelief when a wedge of iceberg was served to her on a plate. In Italy, a plain pizza, a “pizza bianca,” or “white pizza” is indeed a piece of pizza bread that looks like focaccia… no cheese, no sauce, no toppings (other than salt and oil), and often served cold.

White pizza and red pizza fresh out of the oven. No cheese needed.

During the pandemic, I’ve been keeping pizza in my freezer. After a few weeks of eating all the frozen pizza I’d sequestered in my freezer, I thought that I’d had enough pizza for a while… until I saw a potato and mozzarella slice at Alice (AH-lee-chay).

Alice is a pizza chain.

Now that I live in Italy, some of my friends ask me questions about Italian food expecting that perhaps I have become an expert. Not yet. The most recent question I received was about focaccia and pizza. What is the difference? It turns out that pizza is the type of dough, not so much the type of topping or how it’s served. Even a brioche can be a pizza. At Easter, a large brioche shaped like a panettone is called a “pizza formaggio” and it is a cheese pizza. See photo below.

Pizza formaggio

I actually quite like the bread that is called pizza because it’s made from the pizza dough.

Bread roll made from pizza dought.
Long pizzas are sold by the slice (taglio) in Rome.

This reminded me of the last time I was in Italy when I had a bread called, “schiacciata,” which is was a flat, oil-rich, salty, pillowy dimpled flat bread sold in squares. I recall those dimples of green olive oil and the slick of grease on my chin. It is a Tuscan version of what is known as focaccia in the North. It is a little thinner, and perhaps a little closer to a pizza.  

Cold shrimp salad on a pizza. Ham and cheese pizza (sandwich).

In Rome, the pizza is sold by weight and in rectangles. It doesn’t have to have red sauce or cheese. It doesn’t even have to be warm! Often the pizza is topped with cold salad or sauteed greens. An extremely popular topping is cold mortadella. Pizza is also available as a breakfast item, even mortadella with mayonnaise.

Notice how it’s an oval shape?

There is a style called “pinsa” which is slightly oval and it is not a pizza, it’s a pinsa. Got it? The pinsa is a type of flat bread that is baked first and then topped with fresh ingredients.

This a colorful array of pinsa from Pinsere (small pinsa) before they go in the oven once you order.

So basically a pizza is a type of bread, sometimes cooked with the toppings in the oven and sometimes dressed afterwards. Otherwise, the rest seems to be free to one’s creativity. Except for pineapple. No pineapple on the pizza here in Italy. I really like pineapple on pizza and I don’t even mind corn. A really good pizza here is blue cheese and walnuts. Nuts! Right? Many of the Italian immigrants to the United States were from Naples so the American pizza evolved from the Neapolitan pizza.

A white pizza with porchetta.

When I went on a food tour with a local guide, she confirmed that pizza is about the type of bread. Not what is on it, what temperature it is, or how it’s served.

This lesson pizza will have to be ongoing as I discover more types of pizza.

The Dove and the Eggs – Easter Treats

Easter, Pasquale, is the second biggest celebration for the Italians, after Christmas, and of course, there is special bread for the occasion. The Colomba, dove, is a bread that is shaped like a dove in flight (symbolizing the spirit in the holy trinity). It is a panettone baked in a four point shape. When I first saw the breads for the sale, I had no idea what it was supposed to resemble. I think it takes faith.

Eggs are big part of Easter because they were a part of the fertility goddess festival in honor of Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of sex and fertility. Easter was superimposed upon this festival. From that celebration, we get the bunnies and eggs related to Easter.

The Italians also eat lamb at Easter as that is a Christian ritual. The Italians also eat pasta, as they do all year round, but Easter is about the breads. Another bread is the Casatiello, a savory crown (crown of thorns) shaped bread decorated with eggs (rebirth) on the top and with ham inside. Also, at this time, bakeries make small milk based yeast buns, Valtellina, which are my favorite.

The chocolate eggs are given on Easter Monday. Or so I’m told, but I can’t imagine that children, of any age, can wait that long.

Binge Watching Italy

A shop in Monti, Rome.

If you want to binge on watching videos about Italy, here are some I’ve found. Mostly on food. Mostly about Rome. I will not list all of them as there are too many, but a few that will give you some leads to follow.

Rick Stein is one of my favorite TV chef presenters. The thinking chef’s chef. Here in Corsica and Sardinia.

Alex Polizzi is a British-Italian TV presenter. Here’s an episode from Puglia.

Spaghetti with clams in Rome.

Insider is a channel about food. This host is Italian and in this short video, the topic is Limoncello. There are many other videos from Insider like this one pasta in Bari. Or focaccia in Genoa.

WocomoCook is another YouTube channel that I found. Here is an episode about food in Umbria.

A show on pizza from Munchies.

A vlog channel by expat guys who live in Rome.

Or visiting during lockdown.

Choice TV show on Roman food.

Farm to Table, here in Tuscany.

Two Greedy Italians. Need I say more?

Floyd was a chef who had a good time, this time in Liguria.

Pizza by the slice (taglio) sold by weight is a very Roman food.

If you want months worth of binge watching, Rick Steves provides! Rick Steves has eight hours of free TV shows on Italy alone! He also has free audio tours, apps, books, etc. He is much raunchier on his audio tours! If you want a private guide in your ear, he has those! If you just want to watch him give good advice, watch him here.

Also, many people like Dream of Italy. Here, the host is in Amalfi and Naples.

Italy Unpacked is a more scholarly approach.

Then, there’s this guy is quite wealthy (he is an angel investor and helped start Virgin America) but decided to make a travel show because he didn’t find any that matched his lifestyle. Swish.

Possibly the most famous car in Rome? This is in Monti.

A BBC documentary on Rome.

Another BBC documentary, this one on Sicily.

A great way to learn history is with Tony Robinson. He is a great story teller, here about Caligula.

Reel Truth History makes documentaries. This one on Rome.

So many classical and historical views all in one.

And, if you want to watch people buying A Place in the Sun in Italy

Rome is very proud of their free drinking fountains. Stay hydrated!

Or follow tour guides (and me) on Instagram. More about who I follow in another blog posting.

A ‘bar’ in Rome. Drinking a coffee is a social activity and Romans do it all day long.

Why Americans Don’t Use Bidets

When in Rome? In ancient Rome, they used a rag on the end of a stick instead of toilet paper (one of the possible reasons for the phrase, “getting hold of the wrong end of the stick” — the other origin of the phrase may derive from 19th century printing press when the letters were placed in a stick and backwards — so if you got hold of the wrong end of the stick, you would not comprehend the sentence).

Toilet and bidet in Rome.

Modern Roman toilets look much as they do in other parts of the world, but the flush handle is usually a button on the wall. Another thing is that Roman toilets include a bidet (“bee-DAY” or “beh-day”). The bidet is basically a bathtub for your nether parts. It looks like a toilet bowl and to use it, you back down on it, wash yourself, and then dry yourself using a towel (hence why there is a towel rack nearby). The cultures that do use a bidet consider those that don’t, a bit baffling, as they wonder why one would only use paper to clean up a sticky situation?

In the middle east and Indian subcontinent, people use “the mechanical action of the left hand” instead of toilet paper. Many of these countries also have a “bidet shower” — a spray hose. In my apartment in Bangladesh, there was a spray hose near the toilet instead of toilet paper. The water pressure on the ones in my apartment had the force of a power wash, but I was told that it was to clean off my left hand, not for direct application. The bidet shower, or spray hose, is also used in Finland and Estonia, according to Wikipedia. The Japanese of old times used a stick to clean the backside but now they have electronic toilets with sprayed water and air, both warmed. Japanese toilets also can include a heated seat and “politeness” music.

The average American uses 50 pounds of toilet paper every year. Many countries do not use toilet paper. Many Catholic countries use water rather than paper, or a combination of the two. Also, considering how much paper and water flush toilets waste, perhaps the bidet shower is the way of the future? In terms of wasting resources getting rid of our waste, the city of Los Angeles spends four million dollars each year unclogging toilet paper from their sewers. In many countries, one can’t flush toilet paper down the toilet. In Peru, one puts the toilet paper in a trash can next to the toilet.

Can you tell that I’m writing a book about toilets? Due to the pandemic, toilet paper has been on our minds — a lot. I have actually been interested in toilets from a cultural viewpoint for quite a while, as toilet habits have been a bit different in many of the countries where I have lived. Going to the toilet is one of those things that people don’t talk about too much, but it is that one thing that we all do, and affects culture, from water usage, home construction, art, language, religion, and customs.

One of the many memes I collected during 2020’s toilet paper hunt.

Back to the bidet. The bidet means “little horse” in French and refers to the straddling position one assumes when using it. The bidet was popularized in France in the 18th century, supposedly much used by the French prostitutes. The British considered the French to be hedonistic, and therefore their bidets to be hedonistic. Americans of those times followed British customs and this is, supposedly, why Americans do not use bidets. But, I know more and more who are installing Japanese toilets and bidet toilets in their homes. Like in the ad below, perhaps it will become a thing in the new American toilet. Freedom Toilets?

Will the modern American toilet include a bidet?

The Money of Italy

Italy uses the Eurozone Euro. I heard that some people think that the Euro looks different in each country. Not true. The Euro is the same in all the countries in which it is used (Note: my father reminded me that each country can make their own coins and these coins are valid in the entire Eurozone — for example, Italy just put out a coin with the image of a Nutella jar on it). Here is a list of the countries that use the Euro. For photos and more info, here’s a link. The Euro symbol is derived from the Greek letter, epsilon, and is also from the E in Europe while the two lines that cross it are a sign of equilibrium. When writing the symbol in English, the symbol goes first. In other languages, it goes behind the number. So €1 = one euro (“yu-roh”) or 1€ = un euro (“eh-oo-roh” or “aero”). The euro is divided into 100 cents.

Generally, other than housing and utilities, the prices in Rome are not too bad (compared to Washington, DC). In terms of rent, shared housing, like in DC and New York, seems to be the way to go. A single room is about 500 euro ($600). The thing that really costs is utilities — three times New York City prices! Internet costs around 15 euro per month but Netflix is 22 euro per month. Gas and cars are probably pricey but I don’t drive here. Due to the virus, there is no tourism so I don’t know what it costs to be a tourist. Eating outside is not allowed right now, but back in November, I sat outside for a meal and it cost 13 euro. No tipping required. Ready to go food is also not very expensive so why cook? Just kidding. An added bonus about food in Rome is that due to European regulations, most of the food is preservative free.

Remember when chicken tasted like chicken?

Of course, there are expensive things too. A custom made eco-friendly bed costs 4,000 euro, but Ikea is here so you can also get a bed for a few hundred euro. Imported items are pricey. Office supplies and paper is on the pricy side with office chairs running about 200 euro. Gelato is also not cheap. But, considering it’s artisanal and all natural, it’s not that expensive. The sizing in Rome is smaller than in the U.S. so a medium gelato is about the size of a small or child’s size in the U.S. But, hey, you probably appreciate the portion control?

Whole wheat toasted ice cream sandwich for four euro ($4.40)

Most small shops and restaurants prefer cash, Euro, as they pay a hefty fee when a customer uses a credit card. Some shops will only take cash, although this is rare. When I was “antiqueing” I found that I had to pay in installments as I didn’t have that much cash on me that day. If it’s early in the day, many small shops can’t make change for a 50 Euro so I try and mainly use 20 and lower. One ends up lugging around a lot of coins as the lowest paper bill is a €5. A €2 coin can get you a coffee.

Speaking of toilet paper (Weren’t we?), I recall once paying for the most expensive toilet paper I’ve every bought… until 2020. It was back in the 1980s and it was at the Vatican. I’m sure that I climbed to the top of the Vatican and saw the impressive St. Peter’s basilica inside but what I remember, is the 100 lira I had to pay for one sheet of single ply toilet paper. The piece of toilet paper was only slightly larger than the 100 lira bill. I am not sure why I didn’t spend more to spend a penny. To get some idea of how expensive that square of toilet was back then, it’s the equivalent to about 25 U.S. cents in today’s money.

Crave – Food at the Source

I know that it is the general convention that dishes, food, is best tasted at the source. I think that does some disservice to the diaspora and fusion food that has evolved over the millennia. That said, here is a list of food that I often crave. Actually, for many of the dishes, I prefer in their newer form. But, then again… some I prefer at the source.

Ceviche — I like the classic old fashioned version. The Peruvians love fusion. They are a fusion and so is their food. So now one can find “warm ceviche” and ceviche not made with fish.

“Ceviche classico” with “leche de tigre” (tiger’s milk) making the fish turn white.

Danish hotdog — I prefer them in Denmark. The actual hotdog is special, the ketchup is different, the dog is served with crunchy fried onions…
New York pizza — also, one of those things. Some say that the New York pizza is like a Neopolitan pizza from Naples, Italy. We shall see…
Hamburger — Some of the best I’ve had are in the United States. American beef and lack of gristle in the mix.
Banh mi — I’ve had good ones outside of Vietnam.
Pho — Also, good in the certain parts of the United States. Very bland in other places.
Korean BBQ — If one sticks to the pork belly, then it’s fairly easy to get good Korean barbecue in many countries. I think that many people think that bulgogi should be made with a high grade of beef and grilled at the table. Traditionally, bulgogi was created to use bad cuts of meat that required marinating. Usually the slices are so thin that grilling at the table dries them out. Some places use good cuts of steak and then one can dip them in sesame seed oil and salt. This is a delicious way to eat barbecue.
Chicken wings — Oddly, some of the best barbecue wings I’ve had were in a pizzeria in New Mexico.
Dim sum — can be good in many places outside China.

Laksa — so far the best I’ve had, and even some of the mediocre, was in Singapore and Malaysia. What can I say?

Most of all, the food of other lands transports you to them.

Unexpected Things About Moving To Rome

Today is Boxing Day which is St. Stephen’s Day here in Italy. As we are on day three of red zone lockdown, I have time to reflect.

Moving to a new country has both its delights and irritations. Then, there are the things that I just hadn’t contemplated or expected.

Eating cookies for breakfast: that takes getting used to. They also eat croissants (un cornetto is a croissant) and pizza for breakfast. The breakfast pizza is a sandwich made with pizza bread which is like focaccia (the pizza can be many things here and is in many ways simply “bread”). Another thing is that mayonnaise for your sandwich for breakfast is okay, but most sandwiches are quite sparsely filled and have very little “lettuce, tomato,…” but instead the extremely popular bologna, mortadella, provides enough fat (there is a required amount of fat squares that must be visible) to butter the sandwich. Another thing is that you can get meatballs, ham with fresh mozzarella, sautéed broccoli greens, and almost anything in a sandwich. It just won’t be very tall.

Trash on the street: the trash dumpsters are communal and this means that there are trash dumpsters on every street. It’s all out there for everyone to see. Not hidden away in the bowels of the buildings or back alley.

Tupperware/food containers: I had not expected this to be so hard to find. I suppose it’s because Italians eat fresh food every day. Or at least they don’t cook up a storm on a Sunday and then neatly stack containers of food in the freezer. It’s not that Italians don’t have left overs. They do. They are extremely frugal. But, they just store it in some other way. I’m not sure what. On the other hand, I can easily find a pasta making board at the kitchen store.

Ham (proscuitto cotto): It’s so good here. And I’m not even talking about proscuitto and porchetta, and all those other lovely pork products. I just mean simple pink ham to go on my bread.

The freshness: fresh fruit is sold ripe here so it also goes bad a bit faster than in the U.S. Fruit is not stored in the fridge so it dries out or begins to molder. The clementines are lovely this time of year in Rome but I didn’t expect them to start going mushy on day five. One day I ate eight clementines to eat them all before they went bad. I could freeze the pulp but fresh juice is not as common here as in Peru. In Peru, one always new it was morning because of the sound of blenders whizzing all over Lima. In Peru, the method is to blitz the fruit and then sieve it. Here in Italy, the fruit, usually oranges, are pressed. The greens are really green and Italians love greens.

Preserved Fish: jarred tuna is in almost anything here — and on pizza. Anchovy: yes, on everything. Not gelato. But, the anchovy is good. Since Italian food is not that spicy, anchovy is the strong flavor. And it’s not that strong.

Prices: pizza is affordable ($4 for a personal pizza, no tipping so reasonable for lunch). Eating out/taking out is affordable (my pasta and a drink on Piazza Navona was 13 Euro). Christmas cards and stationery are pricey (4.5 Euro for a card). Taxis are not cheap as they run the meter from when they choose to take your ride, not when you get in the car. This makes it about 5 Euro per kilometer. But so worth it on these hard and ankle-mangling cobblestones. While the price of items in stores is higher than in the U.S., it is possible to shop at the many Chinese-run stores and buy the “made in China” straight from China. I went to one such store, loaded up my arms, and was shocked that it cost a total of 13 Euro. In contrast, my hot water kettle (it is fancy) cost 48 Euro.

English: I knew that most people would speak some English. They do. If not, they will probably find someone. But, it is possible to live in Rome without speaking Italian. Not as much fun, but possible.

Friendliness: I didn’t expect people to be so friendly. I never thought of Italians as friendly. Maybe it’s just in Rome? Maybe it’s because the shop owners and restaurant owners are so happy to see a customer after almost a year of COVID? Maybe it’s that unicorn called “customer service?” Maybe because I try to speak Italian? Or because I say “buongiorno” to everyone, even random people on the street… Whatever the reason, most people I interact with are friendly.

Feliz Navidad en Lima

While this year’s Christmas celebrations in Lima will be very different, I thought I would recount the lovely one that I had last year when I was invited to spend Christmas with my Peruvian family. Enjoy.

A Peruvian Christmas involves church for mass at 8 p.m. on December 24, followed by dinner. There will be ham, turkey, and there will be certain salads (involving mayonnaise) with rice and potatoes, but mainly there is dessert. From the Italians, the Peruvians eat panettone for Christmas. This a dry version of the British Christmas pudding, in many ways. There are certain brands that are more prestigious to give to one’s doorman, maid, or friends, and you will recognize them from the colors of the boxes. 

At midnight there will be fireworks but since private fireworks are illegal (the city will put on a show), many families will use sparklers instead. Christmas is during early summer in Lima, so it’s beach weather. That said, decorations will still be greenery, Christmas trees, and fake snow. It just doesn’t have the same feeling of a snowy cold wintery Christmas.

On the 25th, there will be more celebrations with other members of the family or friends. I was lucky to be invited out to a country house for the 25th. There were Marinera horses (they are trained to dance the national dance) to admire, games to play, a fully stocked bar, lots of traditional “creole” style food (served in traditional ceramics in this case — the hostess is the mostest, it must be said), and relaxed chatting. Oh, and Peruvian donuts, picarones.

My favorite were the appetizers of fried yuca with huancaina sauce and taquitos with guacamole. These are very Peruvian, at any time of year.

Being included in my friends’ family Christmas was the best gift one could imagine. Family, food, and friendship. Festive!

Even if you don’t celebrate anything at this time of year, I hope you still have a good one, even if it’s a dance around a festivus pole!