Italian

What Romans are Really Eating Today

April  5, 2016

Regardless of the setting, whether a library or a trattoria, one conclusion about Roman cuisine consistently emerged as I researched for Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City: what we eat in Rome today—not to mention how much of it and where we do it—has changed dramatically over the past decades.

Katie and Kristina Gill's book, Tasting Rome.

The city's food culture may still be shrouded in the romantic stereotypes forged during the post-war economic boom, but Rome's food systems and consumption patterns have shifted. The past 10 years of economic crisis have been particularly transformative, leading to new dining formats and driving new ways of eating and drinking.

Here's what's delicious in the 21st century:

Testaccio Market Photo by Ryan Powell

1. Market Dining

The Testaccio Market, which re-opened in 2012 in a modern building near the old slaughterhouse, has been a pioneer in market dining. Until Mordi e Vai opened on the Via Beniamino Franklin side of the market three and half years ago, hot prepared foods were non-existent in Roman markets.

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Top Comment:
“Les Vignerons ( via Mameli 61/62) is really amazing: it is the only natural wine and beer shop in Rome with a great variety of products from little producers! Another place to visit is the just opened Caffe' Roscioli, near Campo de' Fiori ( Piazza Benedetto Cairoli 16), the best coffee bar in Rome. He serves a great variety of Specialty coffees with tasteful pastries. There is also a room for tastings and cocktails. Enjoy!”
— Sandro
Comment

Today, nearly a dozen stalls in the market serve food, everything from deep fried artichokes to gluten-free pasta. Trailblazer Mordi e Vai is still the best of the lot, specializing in sandwiches filled with simmered meats and offal, and providing hearty economical food to market vendors and students.

2. Independent Wine Shops

For years, the Roman norm was for wine bars (and restaurants) to entrust their wine lists to huge distributors, which in turn provided discounts and bottle storage. The result was affordable but overwhelmingly conventional wine lists all over town. Over the past few years, a number of independent wine bars and shops have opened in and around the center of Rome. Owners work directly with vineyards or collaborate with small, specialized distributors to build quality-driven wine lists full of character. The Trastevere neighborhood just welcomed Les Vignerons, the city's premier natural wine shop that relocated from the eastern part of the city.

3. Natural, Artisanal Gelato

Walk into most gelato shops, peruse the ingredients list, and you're likely to find a litany of unexpected items, from artificial colors and flavors to vegetable fats and emulsifiers. Only a small fraction of the city's gelaterie use all-natural ingredients and churn gelato from scratch, but the number is growing.

A few long-established artisanal shops like Settimo Gelo, Fatamorgana, and Il Gelato di Claudio Torcè have been joined by others embracing a natural approach to gelato making: Otaleg, Gori, and Carapina. Unfortunately, institutions like Giolitti gave up on all-natural ingredients long ago, but their competitors are shaping the way some local gelato eaters choose Rome's most beloved frozen snack.

4. Craft Cocktails

While Rome's luxury hotels have hosted cocktail bars for decades, it wasn't until The Jerry Thomas Project opened in 2009 that the city welcomed its first craft cocktail bar aimed at the masses. Led by the Jerry Thomas team and mixologists like Patrick Pistolesi of Caffè Propaganda and Massimo D'Addezio of Co.So. and Chorus, the city has a small but growing number of bars where you can find a thoughtfully mixed cocktail, often intended to showcase the bitter flavor profile of historic Italian liqueurs.

5. The Cucina Tripolina (Libyan Jewish Cuisine)

As culinary tourism in Rome has gained momentum over the past few years, the Jewish Ghetto has become an increasingly popular dining destination for visitors in search of famous local specialties like carciofi alla giudia (deep-fried—aka Jewish style—artichokes).

A number of restaurants and takeaway shops have opened, many of them owned by Jews of Libyan origin. Accordingly, the menus at places like Ba' Ghetto and Ba' Ghetto Milky list ancient Roman Jewish classics like pezzetti fritti (battered and fried vegetables) and concia (fried and marinated zucchini) beside those of the cucina tripolina like spicy fish stew with couscous and syrup-soaked sweets.

6. Counter Culture

The steep costs of restaurants in a complicated economy has driven new dining formats. Places like Retrobottega in the centro storico and Pianostrada in Trastevere serve food at counters built around open kitchens. The casual service and limited seating cuts back on overhead and cultivates a closer relationship between the cook and the client. Prices at such places are also adapted to frugal customers who may want to dine out, but can't commit the time or funds to a full-blown restaurant meal.

"Fast food" at Pizzarium Photo by Ryan Powell

7. Fast Food

Let's forget for a moment that the Subway brand has been expanding in Rome for years and focus instead on Rome’s home grown fast foods: pizza by the slice and supplì (rice croquettes). Venues like Trapizzino, Supplizio, and Pizzarium thrive because they offer clever twists on local flavors in affordable, portable formats. All three places prominently feature fried snacks and often draw on non-Roman dishes for inspiration, as in the case of Trapizzino's Naples-inspired onion and beef rice croquette.

At Pizzarium, owner Gabriele Bonci acknowledges Rome's large Calabrian population in his "'nduja in carrozza", a twist on "mozzarella in carrozza" (a breaded and fried mozzarella sandwich), in which he layers mozzarella with spicy sausage from Calabria.

17 Comments

M S. March 22, 2017
Part 2 (continued). Actually, there are two question in the air about what is being eaten in Italy. First, who have the Italians adjusted to the food and diet information out there. Do they maintain the aperitif, pasta or soup, entree, salad, fruit stages of the meal, Are they eating less regular meals and when they do eat regular meals pasta, less meat, smaller portions etc-. particularly pasta. And, what about modern "hi-tech" meals like Noma, Robuchon, etc. Gabrielle Hamilton just did a whole chefs series. She focused heavily on the new cooking in several of the series, interviewing modernist chefs and questioning traditional or new modernist ways as she prepared the meal her mother-in-law made so beautifully.
 
M S. March 22, 2017
Now you have impaired my day by bringing up mozzarella in carrozza. Way back in the 70's, almost 50 years, Trattoria of Restaurant Associates in the Pan Am buidling served magnificent mozzarella in carrozza in an anchovy sauce. To me, one of the great dishes in nyc at that time. At one point I got the recipes from Restaurant Associates which has now divided into two companies. Digging it out today. Where is it again? Dinner tomorrow. All that because of KP.
 
Fresh T. March 16, 2017
Love! Thanks Katie! I yearn to travel to Rome and more someday (soon! I hope.)
 
Paige C. October 17, 2016
great insights! anyway check this Rome travel guide out! might be useful http://rometravelguidev2.3.pagedemo.co/
 
Sandro April 11, 2016
Les Vignerons ( via Mameli 61/62) is really amazing: it is the only natural wine and beer shop in Rome with a great variety of products from little producers! <br />Another place to visit is the just opened Caffe' Roscioli, near Campo de' Fiori ( Piazza Benedetto Cairoli 16), the best coffee bar in Rome. He serves a great variety of Specialty coffees with tasteful pastries. There is also a room for tastings and cocktails. <br />Enjoy!
 
Author Comment
katieparla April 12, 2016
Caffe Roscioli is the best by far for coffee in Rome. It's such a fantastic addition to the center's grim coffee offerings.
 
colleen April 8, 2016
I just got back from Rome, Florence and the Amalfi Coast and it was spectacular. You must try the suppli, it is a rice ball filled with rice, sauce, cheese and a little ground beef. We went to this tiny place in trastevere called Suppli pizzeria - via S. Francesco a Ripa 137 is the address. There are only 2 small tables that you can stand at in the place, so most people get food to go, Great suppli, pizza, and pastas and reasonably priced. We also ate at da Sabatino a S. Ignazio best lasagna and carbonara. If anyone is going to the Amalfi coast and needs a tour guide/driver we used Luigi De Martino, he was wonderful. you can read about him on trip advisor. His website is www.abeautifuldaytour.com and his phone is 0039 3332218812. He made our trip so memorable with the places he took us, he is a local who knows everything and everyone.
 
Diana P. April 5, 2016
Perfect timing for my trip to Rome next month, grazie! Love the sound of those fried artichokes.
 
kzmccaff April 5, 2016
I'm going to Rome (and Puglia) in May! This couldn't come at a better time--Thanks Katie! (Side note: think it would be ok to wear Gizeh Birkenstocks around as a tourist? Also, what would you recommend bringing back to the US?Any specific olive oil or snacks or anything?)
 
Sophia R. April 6, 2016
I lived in Rome for a few years and when I now go back, the things I tend to buy are nuts (almonds, pistachios and pine nuts - cheaper and better quality than elsewhere), whole candied fruits like oranges and cedro (you can buy these by weight at places like Castroni for example - much more aromatic if bought in whole pieces than those tiny tubs of pre-chopped ones most supermarkets sell), alcohol you cannot easily get elsewhere like alkermes, hard to find pasta shapes, polenta di tarragna (a buckwheat polenta from Northern Italy that is incredibly flavourful) and things like nice honeys and jams. I would skip the olive oil as that is fairly easy to find elsewhere (even if more expensive abroad).
 
amysarah April 6, 2016
Grappa, Nocino and/or Limoncello (makers you can't find here); really good balsamic vinegar; dried porcini - better and cheaper than here, plus as very lightweight to pack, nice for gifts.
 
kzmccaff April 6, 2016
Adding to the list! Thanks Amy Sarah!!
 
kzmccaff April 6, 2016
Yum, yum, yum. I'm going to bring an extra bag for all of these things!! (buckwheat polenta?! whole candied fruits?! alkermes?! YUM!) So excited--thanks for the tips Sophia R!
 
Author Comment
katieparla April 12, 2016
Feel free to rock your Berks but having a nice pedi never hurts! I always bring back chunks of Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano in 150g pieces back to the States with me. I go to La Tradizione or Roscioli and have them vacuum seal the packages, which make wonderful gifts. I also buy Pastificio dei Campi brand pasta, anchovies, vermouth (check Jerry Thomas Emporium), wine (Bulzoni, Les Vignerons, and La Barrique are great for finding affordable natural and traditional wines). For nuts, you should check out Emporio del Gusto in Testaccio, which carries much higher quality products than its competitors. Enjoy!
 
Nancy March 15, 2017
I kind of disagree with bringing foods back from Italy. Its very heavy to lug back to the US. And I was amazed what you can get through Amazon or Market Hall Foods on line. I did, however bring back some pesto in a jar, some honey, and truffle butter, and some Le Trofie, a specialty past often served with pesto. Bring back photos, bring back memories. Although I am a HUGE foodie and cook constantly, my favorite bring backs were beautiful scarves, a purse from the market in Florence, some Venetian glass, a mosaic in Ravenna, earrings in Rome. Food you really can get here, and in a meal it will be gone. Yes, as new to traveling overseas, we ended up buying an entire suitcase to bring our souvenirs home.
 
carol W. March 16, 2017
Any suggestions for a trip to Apuglia this June?
 
priya April 16, 2017
this is obviously late, but i would recommend buying olive oil. i was never a fan of it, but we stayed in a small village for a week (in addition to visiting rome & florence), and had some of the best evoo! so many families made their own. so if you find a small, family run shop, taste the olive oil and buy what you love<br />