When I moved to Rome for 6 months of university study last year, I had one thing on my mind, and one thing only. Food. Sure, spending my time engulfed in Italian grammar books, or attempting to infiltrate the university’s coolest clique would have vastly improved my Italian, but then I wouldn’t have experienced the richest and creamiest of carbonaras, eaten the most succulent and flavourful mortadella or sipped on a velvet smooth Chianti with a local chef while he turned my wild boar and venison over the crackling coals of the restaurant’s fire grill.
As I’m sure you know by now, I believe that food and culture go hand in hand, and therefore no holiday is complete without scouting out the best eateries in town to try local dishes and delicacies. So for anyone who is heading to Rome for the summer, here are my top tips on what to eat, where to eat it and when to eat it! The why should be apparent.
Let’s start with breakfast. You are guaranteed to find a pretty decent caffè e cornetto at any corner café. Just look out for somewhere buzzing with locals, or regulars sat chatting at the bar. I recommend Giselda (Viale di Trastevere) where the selection of jam, chocolate, custard and plain cornetti (Italy’s answer to the croissant) are absolutely delectable. I love the friendly atmosphere at this place, where you can grab a cornetto and coffee, take a seat and be trusted to pay at the till before you leave.
In need of a mid-morning snack? Of course you are after all that sight-seeing! Il Fornaio (Via dei Baullari, a few hundred metres from Campo dei Fiori) is waiting to oblige with such an extensive array of freshly baked biscotti and crostati, it’ll make your head spin! Show a little interest and they are sure to let you have a try of something. Don’t miss out on their sweet, crisp and chewy amaretti, or their creamy crostata di ricotta e amarena (black cherry).
Time for lunch and perhaps something a little lighter after a morning of sugary treats? Escape from the crowds at Supplizio (Via dei Banchi Vecchi, neat to Campo dei Fiori); a fairly new eatery that serves Roman street food specialities, but elevates them to gourmet standards (even if they are served on paper plates!) As the name suggests, Supplizio specialises in supplì: golden balls of fried risotto rice, stuffed with cheese and meat. Pick from rosso or bianco to go on the side of their panzanella: a salad made with bread and salted cod. Trust me, you won’t regret this choice. If you prefer to grab a portable lunch to eat on the way to your next sight-seeing location, pick up a panino from Duecentogradi (Piazza Risorgimento, perfect if you’re heading to the Vatican) where the choices are endless and the bread is always fresh, or pop in to see Zia Rosetta (Via Urbana) where sandwiches are made in light and airy rosette bread. You could also return to Il Fornaio and try their legendary mortadella ham (check out the giant mortadella displayed by the door) piled inside pizza bianca: a quintessentially Roman thin focaccia bread drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt. Another Roman street food must-try is Porchetta. Try it at I Porchettoni, advocated by Rome-based food writer Katie Parla and celeb chef and ‘No Reservations’ host, Anthony Bourdain. If it’s a particularly lovely day, sun beaming in the clear blue sky, bird’s twittering amongst the trees, then I highly recommend a trip to the beautiful Pamphili Park where you will find Vivi Bistrot perched upon the hill, overlooking the greenery. This café serves fresh, colourful and healthy organic food. Pile your plate high with pasta, polpetti (meatballs), salads, greens, bread, dips and an incredible fresh ricotta drizzled with vibrant basil oil, for only €12. After lunch you can walk it off around the gleaming Villa Doria Pamphili.
I think by mid-afternoon you have probably earned yourself another treat. Make a pit stop at Bar Pompi (they have several locations—their main store is at Via Albalongo, but the take-away bar on Via della Croce, just off of Piazza di Spagna is a convenient central location). Pompi is the King of tiramisù, and you’ll find 6 varieties to choose from, including an outstanding pistachio version, as well as their summer limited edition piña colada creation. Feeling hot? You could opt for a cooling gelato at another infamous Roman bar: Giolitti (Via del Vicario, near to the Pantheon).
For a caffeine pick-me-up try Rome’s oldest and most authentic coffee bar, Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè (Piazza di Sant’Eustachio—make sure you get the right one, a couple have similar names!) This place has been serving its house-roasted coffee since 1938 and has people lining across the piazza! Make sure to mention if you don’t want sugar, or they’ll automatically add it. Rome is also famous for its book bars, such as Caffetteria Invito alla Lettura (Corso Vittorio Emanuele II) where you’ll quite literally be engulfed in literature.
Italians often enjoy an aperitivo before their evening meal out. Trastevere is packed with trendy bars serving quality wines, creative cocktails and beers. Unwind at Freni e Frizioni (Via del Politeama, Trastevere) where you can mingle outside with a delicious cocktail and nibble on their buffet for free, or head to Big Hilda (Vicolo de’Cinque, Trastevere) where their smooth, fruity and oaky Chianti can be enjoyed at a great value price. Bar San Calisto (Piazza san Calisto) has remained faithful to its regular locals for generations, so don’t expect charming service and English-speaking staff. But if you’re looking for authenticity, this is the place to go and enjoy cheap beers or wine, perhaps an affogato or house gelato, and watch the interesting melange of trendy youths and senior signori.
As the evening winds down, it’s time to retreat to a low-lit restaurant and converse over a plate of great food. With so much Italian fare on offer, you’re unlikely to eat somewhere dire (unless you fall into a tourist trap of course), but I do have a few favourites. The bruschette at Alle Fratte di Trastevere (Via delle Fratte di Trastevere) are divine, with a diverse selection from a rich and earthy mushroom bruschetta to a flavourful artichoke version. However, I love “old-faithful” tomato bruschette, and here the freshness of the tomatoes enlivened by fragrant basil and fruity olive oil is the best I’ve ever tasted. Roscioli (Via dei Giubbonari, walk from Largo Argentina) may be a little pricey, but it’s worth every penny for a romantic meal out. Here you can share a selection of dishes such as an indulgent, yet light burrata cheese with sun-dried tomatoes that oozes as you slice it open, hand-sliced charcuterie from Italy and beyond, and a luscious Sicilian caponata, all to be eaten along side a bread basket that could rival any bakery. This restaurant-cum-deli-cum-bakery is also great for solo diners who aren’t afraid of enjoying a glass of wine and some great food alone. Perch yourself on the bar stools and you’ll be first in line for a top-up of wine and bread. If you prefer a plate of food to yourself, Roscioli offers classic pasta dishes made with unique, gourmet ingredients, such as their heavenly carbonara tossed with Malaysian black pepper and Paolo Parisi’s esteemed eggs (don’t expect to be given a spoon for twirling; when in Rome do as Roman’s do and twirl it on your plate). Alternatively, Da Enzo’s (Via dei Vascellari, Trastevere) carbonara is also nothing less than perfection. The silky egg yolk and Parmesan sauce blankets the ‘al dente’ rigatoni. The menu here changes daily, and the chefs serve Roman food as it should be. The Jewish ‘ghetto’ is popular for evening diners, with Giggetto (Via Portico di Ottavia) pulling in the crowds to try carciofo alla guidia (Jewish-style fried artichoke) and other Italian-Jewish specialities. One more for the road; for a truly authentic experience of Roman trattoria-style eating, endeavour to get a reservation at La Sagra del Vino (Via Marziale) where nonna heads with kitchen with a strict ‘no pizzas’ policy, and a wealthy of knowledge to prepare home-style, no-frills dishes. Bring your appetite for a multi-course meal starting with traditional pasta e fagioli soup, followed by a pasta ‘primo’, then for the meat and vegetable dishes accompanied by bread, and lastly dessert (try their cantucci biscotti for dipping in sweet moscato dessert wine).
And that’s that. Walk off the day of grazing back to your hotel, through the lively streets of Rome, and get a good night’s rest before tomorrow brings more delights. You should now have everything you need to start you off on a culinary adventure. I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice: if in doubt, do as locals do. Ask around, keep an eye out for a crowd and never be afraid to try something new!