M’s Adventures Rome Food Tour

After having more than 30 visitors in the last year, I thought I would share my “food tour” of Rome. This is an addendum to my “Tourist Information for Rome.” While I recommend going on a tour with a professional guide as they are worth it because it is a rigorous test and it takes two years to pass the test to be a licensed tour guide. Not sure what the regulations are for food tours. But, maybe you want to do one or two things, in which case, you can try some of my suggestions. Many of these places are mentioned in my list of Roman restaurants to try.

Go to three markets to see three different markets: where normal Romans shop, the touristy version, and zero kilometer (everything produced from within a 100 km/68 mile radius of Rome). I recommend going to Trionfale, Campo de’ Fiori, and the San Teodoro (Campagna Amica Circomassimo) farmers market. I wrote about local markets earlier. Trionfale is the large central market and you will experience real normal Romans doing their shopping. Campo de’ Fiori will bring you into a mix of what was once a real local market now overrun by tourist tat vendors (limoncello, spice mixes etc.), and San Teodoro (only open on weekends) will show you a yuppy farmers market where many social media influencers can be seen filming. But, ignore them and hone in on that fact that everything, from olive oil, cheese, meat, wild greens, bread, honey, pasta, and wine, was made locally.

Look at these beautiful “weeds” at the San Teodoro market.

Markets are open Monday-Saturday from 7:30-2, generally. The San Teodoro market is only open on weekends (closed all of August) from 8-3. If you want to go when it is quiet, try 9 am. If you love the crush of old ladies in housecoats cutting in front of you in line, go at 11:30 am. I do not recommend going after 1:30 pm, as the vendors are hangry at that point (they have been up since 4 or 5 so not in the best of moods at 1:30 pm). If you want to go to another “real” market, try a local one or Esquilino. For a market with a combination of local, touristy, and influencer plus with more restaurants, try Testaccio.

Trionfale, Via Andrea Doria (near the Vatican so you could do it on your way).

Campo de’ Fiori, Campo de’ Fiori (it is a plaza).

San Teodoro, Via San Teodoro 76 (near the corner of the Circus Maximus, around the corner from the Mouth of Truth, and behind the Palatine hill).

Sample spreads and dips at San Teodoro market.

Testaccio, Via Aldo Manuzzio 66B (but any taxi driver will know where it is — say, “mer-CAT-oh-test-AH-chi-oh”)

Grab breakfast at the market. Or explore and eat at a bakery or coffee shop. The “cornetto” (croissant) is a normal breakfast food, but so is pizza. Any “forno” sign you see is a bakery. Buy a piece of white pizza (no cheese and no toppings other than salt and oil) and enjoy that or get something more substantial.

Forno Monteforte is my favorite Italian bakery/cafe. Via del Pellegrino 29. You can sit down and people watch. This is the place for you if you like classy elegant types of places.

L’Officina della Pizza, Via Cicerone 22: Not only the most delicious and varied pizza “al taglio” (by the slice, but really by weight), but they also make fantastic house sliced potato chips. They only have high tables but you can take your pizza to Piazza Cavour which is nearby and eat your breakfast there. Or eat it while walking and let the olive oil run down your hand. Yummy!

Mushroom pizza in the front and a pumpkin pizza sandwich in the back, topped by a potato pizza at L’Officina della Pizza.

Stop for some gelato. Gelato can be eaten any time of the day from 8 am to after midnight. It is not dessert. It is a separate thing. I like Gunther’s but Neve di Latte is also good. Otaleg in Trastevere is one of the best in Rome and they make the best sorbetto (non-dairy sherbet/sorbet).

Osteria del Rione, Via Basento, 20 (near Villa Borghese): This place is a real local place located in a basement. They have an extremely limited menu (basically what Bruno, the owner, tells you he has), and a set menu for 10 euro. The food is always good and “on point.” The only downside is that this place is mostly a lunch place so go at 12:30 to get a table.

Fuoco Lento, Via Flavia 63/65: Old school waiters, outdoor seating, never had anything bad here (But I would avoid the proscuitto as it is house cut and too thick for my liking). It’s my “go-to” place. Open on Sunday night as well. Outside the touristy area so much easier to get a table.

Saltimbocca, Via di Tor Millina 5, is on a small street off Piazza Navona so if you find yourself down there, you could go here for lunch (even at 3:30 pm) for an authentic Roman experience.

Then do some food shopping. Go to a wine tasting. Or olive oil tasting. Or cheese tasting. If you go in to a cheese shop, they will usually let you try their cheeses.

Beppe and His Cheeses, Via di S. Maria del Pianto 9A (in the Jewish Ghetto so a good anchor for your visit to the area of Rome that had Jewish people 500 years before JC). This shop/restaurant will vacuum pack your cheese so you can take them with you. The last time I was there, I sampled seven cheese, including one they put on a piece of bread, and they gave us a glass of Prosecco… it’s a fun place. Also, sells pasta and many other delightful things. Take a sturdy bag with you.

Castroni, Via Cola di Rienzo, 196/198: Visit this emporium and buy gianduia gold nuggets. There are other branches of this store but I like this big one. This is also a place where you want to take a backpack or other sturdy bag as you will invariably buy many things.

Gold bars of gianduia (like fudge nutella) at Castroni.

Colline Emiliane, Via degli Avignonesi 22 (near Piazza Barbarini): This place makes delicious food. It is the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna (Bologna, Modena, Parma, etc.). Small and with no outdoor seating. But, they have a window where you can watch the pasta being made fresh every day. You have to call to make a reservation. It is a very popular place so I recommend walking past one night and making a reservation for the next night.

Tratteria Valentino, Via del Boschetto 37 (in Monti): great local place on a side street in Monti. Near Quirinale palace. Hidden in plain sight because they kept the old facade from when the space was a ice shop. (Not to be confused with Trattoria da Valentino on Via Cavour, which is also fine.)

MiVa, Via Ezio 23. This is a bit out of the way (although not far from the Vatican) and they make excellent food with modern offerings but NOT molecular cuisine. There may be foam but it will play a supporting role, not be the WHOLE dish.

I list other places but these places are currently on my “Rome in Two Days” food tour when people visit… which are doing a lot…

Also, check out my Instagram @madventures.me to see what I’m up to on the daily.

Budva, Montenegro’s Mini Dubrovnik?

The old town seen from top of the citadel, with the modern city in the background.

As my time living in Rome draws to a close, I decided to travel to see other parts of the former Roman empire. One such place was just across the water in Budva, Montenegro. Budva was part of ancient Greece and it became part of the Roman empire in 200 BCE (150 years before Caesar, 200 years before Jesus).

If you want to avoid the crowds of Dubrovnik, visit Budva in the off season. I recommend staying at La Villa boutique hotel. Be silly and enjoy yourself making your own Game of Thrones video clips. Even if you have never seen GOT, Budva will charm you.

The citadel. One has to pay an entrance fee but it was worth it for the view.

The old town of Budva is a walled medieval city sitting on a peninsula in the harbor of Budva. It’s a tiny walled town with paved streets that match the same taupe stone buildings. Most of what one can see today in the old walled town of Budva was build in the 15th century CE (500 years ago).

The old city at night. I highly recommend off season as it is very crowded in the summer.

Montenegro is part of the European Union. If you enter by land from Albania, the border crossing may take you over an hour. Once we got on the road, Budva was only a couple of hours away (if you land in Albania), mainly because there is a stretch of road that is not highway. One gets a nice “local” route, bumping through neighborhoods and increasingly beautiful views. It all seems like potential for commercialism. Budva seems to be all resort hotels and construction, which contrasts so nicely with the old walled town. The staff at La Villa gave us good advice to park in the public parking and pay for a day pass (minimum is two day pass at 20 Euro) because otherwise the rate is per hour!

Sveti Stefan from a convenient overlook along the road.

On your way in or out, visit the other towns of Sveti Stefan and Bar. Sveti Stefan is another tiny jewel of a town. It was bought by a private resort so no longer open to the public during tourist season. Can you imagine?

Real Roman Scenes Seen from A Taxi

The quality of the photos is not high as most of these are shot from the car. Rome is not always beautiful. It is also a place of beggars, homelessness, trash, food banks, traffic, and always, the one eternal thing is tourists.

A beggar. Some will approach you and talk to you.
Typical mode of transport.
For the tourists…
Always luggage.
Selfies…
Lots of dogs here.
A selfie at the forum.

Roman Holiday Advice

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?”

In Testaccio market. Photo taken by a friend.

Eat pizza by the slice.

Go to Fuoco Lento for spaghetti carbonara.

See everything. Take a billion photos.

Walk and walk. Then walk some more.

That’s what you should do.

Happy new year.

In Search of Spicy Chinese Restaurants in Rome

There are many Chinese restaurants in Rome, but I like spicy Chinese food (like food from Sichuan). I have been to about 15 Chinese restaurants at this point and I am finding that most are the “same same” — so I do not want to continue. The first three are places where one can get spicy “Sichuan” style food. The rest are where you can get okay Chinese food. ***update December 2022 — I did finally find really spicy food at the hotpot restaurant called Tianci Chongqing.***

The spicy hotpot is sure fire way to make sure you eat something spicy!

Sichuan, Via di San Martino ai Monti 33: It was supposed to be spicy but I didn’t think it was. The food was good. I took a Chinese person with me so maybe the food was better because of that.

Xiao Shenyang, Via di S. Croce in Gerusalemme 91a: On a dingy thoroughfare but if you can speak Chinese to the owner and he does the cooking, then you can get authentic spicy Chinese food.

ChongQing Impresiones, Via Vicenza 10: Near the train station with a casual cafe feel but excellent cucumber salad and other vegetables. I’ll be back. Sichuan style food but not sure about it.

Mi Cucina Cinese, Via Giovanni Botero 31: Located quite a bit out of the city (five miles is a long way in Rome) with good dishes but not worth the haul. They fried rice with beef and fried egg served on a massive iron hotplate is straight up comfort food.

These were interesting, and not bitter.

MiFang, Via Firenze 30: In Monti, and a bit fancy inside. They have excellent special fried rice but the portions are small. The sweet and sour chicken balls are worth it just because they are served in a bowl of ice… and still are hot enough to burn the roof of your mouth.

Tea & Noodles fried dumplings.
Inside Tea & Noodles.

Mandarin Chow, Via Emilia 85: Considered one of the best. I thought it was good but not sure it was the best, but maybe I have a faulty memory.

Tea and Noodles, Via Conte Verde 38. It’s comfort food when you need it. Homemade noodles and dumplings. While it is a casual cafe, the menu is extensive and even includes Peking Duck. The homemade dumplings, fried rice, chicken crunchies (not sure what they are called but that is what they were), and pork belly were probably the best things but I love the garlicky cucumber salad and the sour pickled radish.

Tea & Noodles chicken crunchies.
Sichuan – Dumplings in spicy oil, chicken with chiles, and hot and sour soup.

Apparently this plum drink is what one drinks with spicy food. It tasted a bit like ice tea.

Chinese Tea House, Via Otranto 3 in Prati: This place has an all you can eat sushi offer that one orders through a tablet at the table. But, they also have a Sichuan menu which is really more generic Chinese food. Not bad for generic. I’ll go back for the shrimp.

Online reviews say that the Tea House is hard to find but it is not. It’s covered in flowers, which you can see in the background.

T’Ang Cout, Via Filippo Turati 54: The service is nice. The place is well lit and pleasant. The food is okay.

Coconut tapioca dessert at T’ang Cout.

Oolong, Piazza di San Paola alla Regola: Very fancy with a strict Chinese owner. Outdoor seating, a vast menu, housemade noodles and dumplings, oysters, and the best part were the desserts.

This dessert at Oolong was the best thing there.

Heji.

Heji, Via Daniele Manin 61: This is a newish place and they are not finished decorating. It has a hole in the wall feel, and it located on a busy street with a tram line chunting along outside. The folks are friendly and they seem to do a massive delivery service.

Water spinach, kang kong, is very popular and is in season in the fall.

I also went to some others, like Green T, but I don’t recommend them. Green T had nice decor, too pricey, food was cold, and too fancy with no flavor.

The Park of Monsters

Spoiler: It looks more amazing in photos, and in your imagination. But, it was still a fun outing.

This is the most monstrous of the sculptures.

The Bomarzo Monster Park in Lazio, a few hours from Rome, is supposedly where there be monsters. This article describes it quite well.

When done with all the other touristy places (what am I saying?), there will still be more places to explore near Rome. The monster park in the sacred wood, Bosco Sacro, is a place you can go wander around for a few hours. There is parking, bathrooms, and walkways. Most of the walkways are gravel and dirt and there are stairs so it is not a wheelchair friendly place.

The same architect worked on Villa D’este but this park is meant to be a fantasy world of the weird and scary.

On a bright sunny day, with children running around, this place does not seem scary. But, imagine if they opened it at night?

Someone Else’s Treasure – Flea Markets

With many of the Romans downsizing, there is perhaps a treasure for you to find in one of Rome’s flea markets. When I got here two years ago, I may, just may, have bought some gold red velvet furniture… but not at a flea market.

Here are the major flea markets:

Porto Portese, Piazza di Porta Portese (or Via Portuense & Ippolito Nievo): This is the most famous of the flea markets in Rome. This massive long snaking street market is at the south end of Trastevere.  Sunday, 7-1. I thought it was a waste of time, but maybe because I am no longer in the market for someone else’s junk. I have plenty of my own.

Ponte Milvio, Ponte Milvio: Every second Sunday, 9-7.

Mercato di Via Sannio, Via Sannio: Mornings Monday-Saturday.

Borghetto Faminio, Via Flaminia 32. Only on Sundays, 10-7.

Mercato delle Stampe, Largo della Fontanella di Borghese: This is the place for rare books and stamps. It is located right downtown so an easy place to look for treasures. Every day, 7-1.

This shop separated out the furniture from the rest.

What can be harder to find is used furniture. There are antique stores in Rome but many are expensive. To find the cheaper ones, you will need to go to the outskirts of Rome in the more residential neighborhoods. The photos are from one of these residential shops.

One that is not too far out is Deal Done Ventino at Viale Aventino 62.

This was under an apartment building.

Even then, you may think to yourself, “this is hideous but I kind of want it…” Remember that you can haggle. Even in antique stores.

Some stores will have a delivery service so ask about that. The cost may be almost as much as the item itself. 50 euro for large furniture, for example.

Just because it is used, does not mean that it is cheap.

Lastly, sometimes you can find a furniture restorer who is also selling furniture. There are two that I can think of. One is a tiny place near the Deal Done shop, and the other is Antichito Barrique Restauro, at Via Collina 28 (on the corner of Via Collina and Via Cadorna on Piazza Sallustio, but I can’t find it on Google maps!) This is a furniture restoration shop that also sells furniture.

Happy shopping!

9 Best Korean Restaurants in Rome

There are only 12 so that makes it easier. I am listing the restaurants on flavor, authenticity, and selection.

Seoul Restaurant is old school.

Seoul: This place was filled with Koreans and the atmosphere is more family than business lunch. They have no mandu (dumplings) but otherwise a full menu. The service was fast and the flavors were authentic. Not a wide variety of panchan but at least the kimchi was okay. This is on the south side (also figuratively) of Termini. This newly renovated place is down in a basement and I think it is located where the previous highly rate Hana was once located. I would go back.

Seoul restaurant is newly renovated down in a basement.

Starbaps: This tiny three high table top take out place has five things on the menu (bento box, rice bowls, dumplings, rice cakes, and soup) but the flavor is authentic. But it annoys me that they deep fry their mandu as this destroys any “chew” factor. I go back all the time.

This a tiny place with a few high top tables.

Gainn: Perfectly acceptable place to eat Korean. Elegant enough for a nice meal. Near Termini on the nice side. Probably would take newbies here.

Gainn is a fairly classic Korean place.
HanCook in south Rome.

Hancook: New restaurant, pleasant atmosphere. They are a bit south of the center. The seafood pancake was good, but the bulgogi was bad. It tasted blah. The japchae noodles were excellent. They had no beef mandu (dumplings) but have small deep fried scallion gyoza. They also have pork dumplings in a money sack shape were “sold out” when I visited. The pork, seafood, and tofu stew was spicy and okay. The rice was not sticky Korean rice. The restaurant looks nice but there were not too many Koreans eating there even though the owner is Korean and the waitress is also Korean. She bops around in her mom jean shorts and speaks Italian. Might go back.

At HanCook, the bulgogi looks okay but it has no taste.

Jangbaeksan/Chang Bai Shan: It’s Chinese Korean. Perfectly acceptable Korean food. A bit far out down south of the center of town. Might go back.

Lettuce included at Jang Baek San.

Da Lui Bian BBQ: This place is listed as a yakitori (meat on stick in Japanese) place but the photos show Korean items. The Korean items are all fine. The bulgogi was more like roastbeef so not too sinewy. This place is also near the center of town so convenient. Might go back.

Large but few portions of panchan at Da Lui Bian.

Kombi Ni Ni: is a pan Asian place but they do make some Korean items. Very generic pan Asian but okay if your live nearby. It is actually a Korean owned shop but they are doing well enough that it takes 90 minutes to get the food so it is best to order online. I liked their fried chicken but it could have been fried anything. Good though. The kimbap (like sushi rolls/maki but these are with beef) were good too. No kimchi served with meals/bento boxes. A bit like Starbaps. Too far away to go back to.

Mamma Coreana/Corea: This is a bit like eating at a Korean mamma’s house. They have all you can eat which includes some basics including rice and soup. There are a few a la carte items but not much of a menu. When the food is done, it’s done. This is bare bones, TV on, children running around, businessmen on video calls with wife while eating, kind of place. I might go back.

Arirang is down those stairs…

Arirang: The food was very average, the location and facade make it a hole in the wall. This is the place that I’ve seen from when driving around Termini… I even walked around twice looking for this place with the Korean painted frontage… and then I searched on Google Earth… finally, I found it by reading other lists of Korean restaurants in Rome, but I clicked on the image search instead of the regular search. Read that list here. I would not go back.

I-gio: This is possibly the most trendy of the Korean restaurants. The restaurant is elegant. The food was okay but I didn’t find it good enough to finish or take home. I would not go back.

Galbi: This was another strange frankenstein of a place. The menu is made for Italians. If you want the food served more Korean style, the owner will do so. I wish him good luck, but I would not go here for Korean food. I might go back to grill steak on the mini grill for an Instagram video. Would not go back.

Biwon: Sad. I did not finish the food and I left quickly.

There are two other restaurants listed on Google but…

Kumkan-san: way outside Rome, near Ciampino airport. Temporarily closed.

Rist.coreano: Outside the ring road around Rome. I think this is only for organized tour groups and I don’t think this is really open to the public.

And then there are places with Korean food on the menu:

Raviolieri: It’s not Korean but while many restaurants are trying to get a piece of the “Korean chicken wing” action, this place actual has several pages of Korean items on their menu. The items are fusion Roman-Korean.

Most of the restaurants now make “Korean chicken” wings but they are not. They are chicken wings. Some have sauce. It is not the same as the ethereal rice flour wings of real Korean chicken wings.

The Digestivo Will Cure You

An digestif made from arugula. I can’t recall what the other one was made from.

As they say, what does not kill you, will make you better. I am always suspicious of things that are supposedly really good for you or things that will increase my sexual stamina. Usually these things are things that are terrible tasting.

Often, you are offered a limoncello at the end of the meal.

Italians have an obsession with their intestinal and gut health. Drinking a little digestif, digestivo, is something many of them are accustomed to.

“Amaro” is bitter. No kidding.

Digestifs are usually an alcoholic beverage that you enjoy at the end of meal. It is not meant to be downed like a shot. As with many things in Italy, most of the Italian digestifs are bitter. Oh how they love bitter here!

I have tried a few. Some made from walnuts and some made from arugula. The one made from arugula is a specialty of Ischia, an island near Capri.

If they are not too bitter, then they are often too sweet. When I tried the Ratafia, I was delighted because while sweet, it at least tasted good.

The “elixir from Abruzzo” was quite good.

The Nine Levels of Life In Italy

Some countries are great for tourists. Italy is one of them. Is it this way for everyone? Here is my list of diminishing joy.

The Amalfi Coast.

Tourists: At the top, tourists. To be a tourist in Italy is a delight. All the mechanisms are here, from ATMs, efficient trains, to affordable food to make you spend your money! The average salary in the United States is almost double that of the average Italian salary, making American dollars welcome.

An Aperol Spritz during aperativo.

Exchange students: With the benefit of home and host nation working to make your study abroad semester ah-maze-balls, this is clearly a great place to be. A semester is like a long holiday filled with movie sets, people flirting with you, free things (sample this, take this, have this), and the massive moshpit of AYCE other students all here to find the dolce vita, or meet Romeo, or feel inspired by Raphael, in a land of where wine is part of daily life (and gives no hangovers because of the rules limited wine production to grapes). Every year, Florence receives over 7,000 American exchange students (80 percent women).

The streets are cute here. Even in big cities like Florence. Sorry, “Firenze.”

Digital Nomads: This new group of people will find Italy a great place to be. The limits on sitting in cafes and restaurants is fairly limitless, the Internet speed is not bad, WIFI is almost everywhere and free, and overall prices are not too high.

International organization employees: Life in Italy with the aid of your home and host nation to smooth out the transitions makes life in Italy a cushy place. Depending on how many years one is assigned to Rome, reality may set in.

Some locations just blow your mind. Yes, one of those wine jugs would be a perfect souvenir (it’s the size of a carryon suitcase).

Native born white Italians: Yes, life is sweet. The bureaucracy is just a reminder to slow down…

Students: This includes non-exchange students, Italian and foreign. Being a student in Italy is a life filled with optimism and discounts.

Expats/binationals: For these long term residents of Italy, it is a great place but you still have to deal with the bureaucracy which may drive you absolutely bonkers at times, but then, after a stop at a coffee bar, it will seem all okay.

This pizza can be had at the Napoli train station! Upstairs in the food court.

Long term white immigrants who speak fluent Italian: Life is good, even sweet at times.

Newly arrived immigrants: For those who are not white and do not speak Italian, life in Italy is confusing but it will get better.

The water that pours from the fountains is potable. It tastes pretty good and is usually cold.

There are currently 60 million Italians. In 2019, 65 million tourists visited Italy. It may seem like there is no more room, but actually, there is. Try visiting Le Marche, Abruzzo, Basilicata, Sicily, Calabria… or visit in the off season.

Ten Unknown Local Dishes to Try

While there are many local specialties that everyone will recommend, like orecchiette in Apulia, I want to mention some that do not get mentioned as often.

Egg soup, Salina: A soup with poached eggs and vegetables.

Egg soup

Fried cheese, Abruzzo (and other areas): This fried cheese is a bit like haloumi in Greece, but not as salty. Served melted from the oven. In Salina, it is deep fried.

Fried cheese

Pizzeli (wine cookies): Most regions of Italy have round hard not sweet crackers that are for dipping in wine.

Egg cheese balls, Abruzzo: These were like a cheese egg souffle in a round donut hole size and shape. Served with red tomato sauce.

Raw artichoke salad: Actually, try any of the salads and vegetables that you have never tried before like raw fennel or artichoke.

Fried egg tart, Campania: A frittata which is then deep fried.

Taralla (Napoli): These are another baked bread twist. Many places in Italy make them like a small ring but in Naples, they are longer.

Fish balls, Salina: On this island off of Sicily, one can try tender fish balls. Try them. They are surprisingly good.

Fish balls

Pizzette (small pizzas), Rome: Many bakeries sell mini pizzas (many with no cheese or red sauce as a pizza just means a type of bread). These pizzette are often served at happy hour.

Pane Cunzatu, Salina: This is like a giant garlic bread. The plate-sized bread is toasted and smothered in toppings. Absolutely awesome!

Cunzatu

The melon-cucumber of Apulia: I wrote about this before. When in season, it is served as the “vegetable” but only to locals so make sure to ask!

Melon cucumber slices served with radishes

Why Italy Does Not Need Michelin Stars

The best pickle I’ve had in Italy but is it worthy of a Michelin star? Signum.

Some of the worst meals I’ve had in Italy have been in fancy expensive Michelin star restaurants. Some people get super excited about Michelin stars and deem those restaurants better than others. I do not get it. The Michelin star system started out as a way to get the tires worn out. Italy does not need these fancy restaurants. Actually the Michelin star system has nothing to do with how fancy the restaurant is but solely the food, cooking, and constituency of those things. The general public seems to not know this. Michelin is not even all over the world yet (they say that they are taking is slowly). Michelin has not reached South America yet. Imagine that! There are restaurants in Lima that should have a star, but Michelin hasn’t gotten there yet. If consistently making good food was really the reason to give a place a star, then many more would have them.

Eggplant parmesan with anchovy from Mamma Santina, Salina. Not by a Michelin chef. But stellar nonetheless.

The food in Italy is already natural, local, and delicious. The various types of Italian cuisine (there are many) are based on local, simple, and delicious. Michelin seems to go for innovative, expensive, and small portions. Add to that how hard it is to get a reservation at a Michelin star restaurant, and it is just not my idea of a good food experience. Some of the finest dishes I’ve tasted were not by a Michelin star chef.

One thing that many people like about small portions is that it allows them to try many things and it is a form of portion control. You can try that anyway in Italy. The portions of appetizers and first courses are not necessarily that huge. Or share with a friend. Most restaurants will even split the dish onto two plates.

Bao at the Michelin star chef’s place, Signum.

The last Michelin star restaurant experience underlined why Italy doesn’t need Michelin Star restaurants. One of the dishes “invented” was a bao, a steam Asian style bun. But it wasn’t as good as the authentic ones and I do not think it highlighted the ingredients. Then we had an appetite stimulant of pickles which were the most sour I have had in Italy. I can see how this was innovative for Italy where sour is not sour. One dish was a roasted escarole (half an escarole head). It cost 38 euro.

Caponata at Signum. One of the normal dishes there.

I guess my biggest peeve with these restaurants is that they are so pricey and pretentious. Most of the places on my list are not expensive, and not pretentious. Nothing makes food taste bad like attitude.

The current system where restaurants are listed in the Michelin guide is just like Yelp or TripAdvisor. The guide in Italy is Gambero Rosso. The Michelin guide is separate from a chef earning a star, of which there are 367 (318 have one star) in Italy. I am glad when a woman gets a star but I don’t think that makes the overall system better. The Michelin guide badge is a round red sticker that you can see on many restaurant doors alongside the ones for TripAdvisor.

I tend to use Google ratings because I like the democracy of the system. It relies on average eaters reviewing places and not a specialized team of experts who want to wear out your tires in France. In Italy, most restaurants make consistently good food. Or consistently bad. Try them for yourself.