So you are visiting Rome for a vacation? And you want my advice? I wrote about tourist information back in May but here is a reminder of what I would tell you if you asked me, “Where should I eat? What should I see? What should I do in Rome?”
It so transpired that I got an insiders’ list of a different kind. Through a cousin of a former colleague’s colleague, I was sent a list of recommendations of, “names of restaurants and trendy places attended by upper class and local inhabitants.” Not all these places are upscale.
At the restaurant Quinto Roma, you can eat in igloos.
Il Datterino Giallo, Piazza Ledro: “Il Datterino Giallo, vi propone una cucina genuina e verace, al contempo sana e molto attuale, in un ambiente sofisticato ma non troppo, un mix di arredo tra il provenzale e l’industriale in una ‘location’ prestigiosa come quella del quartiere romano…” translates to: … offers traditional Italian cuisine, Mediterranean, at the same time innovative, in a welcoming location, inspired by a hybrid style between Provencal and industrial… in a prestigious location of Rome.
I have not been to any of these places. If you go, let me know how it was.
Traditional classic Roman dishes are heavily “nose to tail” or “quinto quarto” as this city is proud of eating ALL of the animal, and all plants. Some of these traditional dishes are coda alla vaccinaria (beef tail), trippa (tripe), and pajata. Romans also eat an immense amount of seafood, much of it raw. In terms of classic dishes not mentioned earlier, here is my list of Roman dishes to try. I have listed the dishes sort of in order of what time of the day you might try them, not in order of preference. I’ll mention what I think of them in the description.
Maritozzo: Is a cream filled brioche bun. Usually eaten for breakfast or as a snack. This is delicious but quite ridiculous.
Suppli: Is the deep fried rice or pasta croquette incredible popular with Romans. Available everywhere and usually sold at pizzerias (which is weird because there is nothing deep fried at a pizza place except for this…) and eaten as a snack or appetizer. “Suppli” is the word for telephone cord because the melted cheese looks like an old fashioned telephone cord. I don’t really like this but it is super famous.
Fiore di zucca: Stuffed zucchini flowers almost always filled with mozzarella and salted anchovy. Some places will make it without the anchovy if you ask, but that would not be authentic. The anchovy adds a touch of salt and umami. Most places make this dish and it looks like a UFO, unidentified fried object. I prefer it at places where they use light batter or breadcrumbs. I also prefer it without the anchovy because I like the delicate flavor of the zucchini flower.
Taglio pizza: Is square focaccia type pizza sold by weight. There are so many kinds of pizza I recommend going to a chain like Alice (ah-lee-cheh) and ask for small pieces so that you can try different flavors (This is also a good thing to order for a party). Romans eat pizza for breakfast (my preferred Roman breakfast), lunch, and party snack. Usually the pizza had for dinner is not “al taglio” but Roman style. A Roman style pizza is ONE round pizza per person. No sharing. You eat with a knife and fork. Beer is usually the thing to drink with pizza in the evening. Pizza is not something you would cook at home because you need a pizza oven. The taglio pizzas are baked in industrial electric ovens but a dinner pizza (The Romans consider it a social thing done from 9 pm to midnight) is usually baked in a wood fired oven (forno a legna).
Porchetta: Is from a town near Rome (but then everyone likes to claim that they invented gelato, so don’t let that stop you), but is much beloved here. It is a deboned pig rolled up with crackling/pork rind on the outside and inside it is flavored with rosemary and other herbs. Usually served sliced as a sandwich component.
Pasta carbonara, cacio e pepe, gricia, and amatriciana: These are the four most common pasta sauces in Rome. Carbonara is made with guanciale (pork jowl bacon) and egg yolk. Usually with spaghetti or short pasta. Almost never with fresh pasta. Cacio e pepe (caw-chee-oh-eh-peh-peh) is pecorino cheese and black pepper. People make a big deal that this is a creamy sauce without any cream. Pecorino is sheep’s milk cheese common to this part of Italy. It is much in texture like Parmesan. Cacio e pepe (cacio is related to the Latin word for cheese. Formaggio is the modern Italian word for cheese). Gricia (Gree-chaw)is the same sauce as carbonara but without the egg. Amatriciana (Ah-mah-trey-chee-ah-na) is named after a town called Amatrice. It is a sauce with tomatoes, guanciale, and pecorino. I prefer the carbonara, but generally I prefer pasta with clams or meat sauce.
Pasta is eaten as a meal on its own or as a first course. In general, most Romans do not eat three or four course meals on a daily basis. If they eat pasta for lunch, then they probably won’t eat it for dinner. Also, the portions in Rome are not as huge as in the USA. Italians generally consider certain sauces appropriate for certain shapes of pasta. Most of the Roman sauces I have mentioned work on both long and short pasta. Almost always on dried pasta, which gives a better tooth and mouth feel.
Gnocchi alla romana: Roman gnocchi are larger dumplings that are sliced and served “au gratin” hot from the oven. Thursday is the day to eat gnocchi because traditionally, as Catholics, Friday would be a day of fasting or lights meals, like fish. Gnocchi are usually on the pasta menu because it is a type of pasta made of potato and flour.
Puntarelle: Is the classic Roman salad. It is made with the white stalk of the chicory leaf which are trimmed, put through a metal tool to split, left in cold water to “open up,” and then served with anchovy dressing. I prefer this without anchovies, because then it’s a crunchy fresh tasting salad.
Cicoria: Is usually sautéed chicory. It is always in season, on every menu, and always the vegetable of the day. It’s bitter.
Carciofi alla giudia (Jewish style artichoke) and Roman style artichoke: The Jewish style is deep fried until the artichoke looks like a flower. The Roman style is steamed and dressed with olive oil. I do not like the deep fried ones because the artichoke flavor is gone. I adore steamed artichokes, but I usually just steam them in my microwave. Italians also eat the stalk of the artichoke so when you buy them, they will sell them with the stalk attached.
Guanciale di manzo: Is beef cheek. This is always served slow roasted. The Romans are famous for eating the “off” cuts.
These were the dishes that are typically Roman and perhaps less “scary” to try. Plus, gelato. Always gelato and tiramisu. If you are given a choice of dessert, I would always choose the tiramisu. Otherwise, have a coffee and go get a gelato. Gelato shops are open all day, usually from morning (when they may serve pastries) to midnight or later. While restaurants almost always close from 3 pm to 7:30 pm, a gelateria will always be open.
So why another wine tasting? Didn’t I just write about another? Yes, read about it here. The background to all this wine tasting is this. I had a visit from a friend who is a wine enthusiast/expert who came to Italy for a round birthday. I had this wild plan to go on a wine tasting for every decade of his life. He told me that we didn’t have to go that wild, and that surely we would drink wine every day. We almost did. But, we only did two official wine tastings. Which keeps more in line with his celebration, once again, of his “21st birthday.”
Torre in Pietra has an elephant as its logo because prehistoric elephant bones were discovered here when the castle owners expanded the tuff caves in the 1500s.
The vineyard is located north of the international airport (layover? go for a lunch) and cost 35 euro by uber from inner Rome. It is off in the countryside so a bit hard to find.
The location is also used as wedding destination and includes a chapel just for that reason. Castle, wine, chapel, it’s got it all.
One can go just for lunch but for 40 euro, we had lunch and a wine tasting. All four wines were from their own vineyard. One was bubbly, one was white and two were red. I think. Christian, the manager, presented them and poured while he explained about them. I don’t recall too much about the wines because I’m not a wine nerd. The vineyard is located near the coast so the grapes benefit from the salinity of the air and soil.
After tasting all four wines, Christian said that he would take the white away to the fridge to keep cool. When my friend asked if we keep one of the wines on the table to have with our lunch, Christian responded, “they are not for looking.” We did not manage to finish four bottles of wine as there were only two of us.
The lunch was the massive appetizer board, carbonara, and tiramisu. The appetizer board included house made porchetta, allowing one’s guests to try that specialty as well.
The really good thing was that we started with the meal and the wine tasting before going on a tour of the aging room. This tour does not include walking in the vineyard (no touching grapes) but it does include the bottling area, the aging cellars, and the lunch. The day that we went, it was a drizzly cold wet day, but as we were inside the dining room, we were cocooned in our wine drinking hug.
Christian, the manager (has a degree in agriculture and wine), is half Danish and half Italian, making him this combination of efficient and warm. When you communicate with him before, he is not overly responsive but once you get there, he is immensely warm and friendly.
After the lunch and the tour, we bought wine and olive oil. We had house olive oil during lunch and immediately asked about it because the aroma was so heady.
Monday to Saturday 8:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. Sunday from 09:00 to 16:00
Lunch every day, no Wednesday. Dinner on Friday and Saturday.
Just as Roman cuisine is famous for using the “quinto quarto” (fifth quarter) of the animal, Rome famous for four pasta sauces — with one that is made from the part of the animal that no one wants to mention — the fifth quarter. Or is it the opposite?
In most restaurants, you order your pasta dish by the sauce as there are traditionally certain pastas for certain sauces. In a few, by the shape of the pasta, although most places will have already decided which pasta they are cooking that day. I find that many restaurants use the large tubular pasta as it fills the plate better. There are officially 350 shapes of pasta but many have different regional names and new shapes are being invented constantly. Italians will tell you that the pasta should fit the sauce so that the sauce sticks to the pasta. Some Romans will tell you that only certain sauces go with certain types of pasta.
A basic thing about Roman cooking. It’s simple with few ingredients and use the best quality that you can afford. Also, almost no garlic or chili. The Italians are sensitive to regional names so even describing something as “like bacon” can be controversial.
Cacio e Pepe (catch-ee-oh-eh-peh-pa): Basically it’s called “cheese and black pepper” and that’s what it is. Usually a long string-like pasta like spaghetti although traditionally, tonnarelli (a rougher hand cut “square” long pasta) is used. Spaghetti means “strings.” The cheese used is Roman Pecorino, the sheep’s milk version similar in hardness and age to Parmesan (which comes from Parma), and pepper. One makes the sauce by using hot water that the pasta has been cooked in. There is no cream added. It’s a very simple sauce.
Carbonara (cARR-boh-nar-ah): This is the one with the famous story about how the American GIs missed eggs and bacon and so this pasta sauce was made to cater to them. Not true but a nice story. This sauce involves pork jowl, guanciale, fried to bacon bits (they will tell you not to use bacon — but if that’s all you have…), grated pecorino, and an egg yolk. The result is a thick golden sauce.
Gricia (gree-CH-ah): Is basically carbonara without the raw egg yolk. If you like bacon bits but don’t want the cloying creaminess of the carbonara, this is the one for you. It’s often used with tubular pasta like rigatoni.
Amatriciana (ah-mah-TREE-chee-ah-na): If you like the pork jowl bacon, you like the Pecorino, but you don’t like the egg yolk, and you wish they’d add some tomato sauce, then get the amatriciana. It’s called that because the pork comes from Amatrice, a town in northern Lazio (the region where Rome is located, south of the famous Tuscany).
And the fifth… is hard to find these days and never on the English language version of the menu (some traditional Roman restaurants will have a printed menu in English for the foreigners and a hand written on for the locals). It’s a dish called “rigatoni alla pajata” and is rigatoni with veal’s intestines (or bowel, as they will say here). It’s that particular part of the intestine from newborn calves who have only had milk. When the calf is slaughtered, the undigested milk is still in the intestine and it looks a bit like a creamy sausage.
None of these are my favorite pasta sauces. I like spaghetti alle vongole/spaghetti con le vongole (spaghetti with clams) and aglio e olio (garlic and oil) with chili flakes, a dish so simple that it’s almost never on the menu in restaurants. Apparently, it’s a drunk food that people make when they come back from being out on the town. Both of these dishes are from Naples. Many of the Italian immigrants to the United States were from Naples so the American idea of Italian food is often shaped by that. This is evident in the New York style pizza which is most like a Neopolitan pizza.
Oh, I also like penne with canned/preserved tuna or salmon. It’s one of the most common things to get in a Roman cafeteria. It’s easy to make and all the ingredients are already in the pantry.