Ancient Romans are infamously known as gluttons. There even came a time when an Emperor had to implement laws to abate extravagant eating in gatherings. They just love lots and lots of food! And why wouldn’t they? When you came from the race that gave birth to pizza (although it wasn’t invented ’til much later on), you would also be eating your way through life.
Hence, this day of gluttony. :))
I have been to Rome a few times before but never really tasted food that made me think, “Wow, so this is Italian food!” I’ve had delicious meals in other Italian cities, but never had a chance to explore Roman cuisine. It’s either my day is packed with must-visits and must-dos, that I just go to the first restaurant I see when hunger strikes; or I look for a place with nearly zero customers because the crowds are already giving me nausea. Sadly, I’ve had one too many underwhelming dining experiences, and not necessarily cheap ones too! Since I don’t really have a particular place that I want to go to this time, I booked a Walking Food Tour to satisfy my gustatory cravings.
I chose an afternoon tour which started in a forno, or bakery, near Campo de’ Fiori. Our wonderful guide, Valeria, talked about history, food and beverage pairings, proper terminologies, and food bastardizations that make Italians cringe. Think pineapple on pizza. Hahaha!
In a legit forno, there will always be freshly-made pizza cooked in small batches. They are sold by the weight (€10-15/kg depending on the toppings), instead of per slice. Real Italian pizza always has minimal ingredients so that each flavor will stand out in your palate.
Our next stop for appetizers is located in the Jewish Ghetto – an old district where Jews were confined during the 1500’s, and again was used during WWII. Now, it is a residential and commercial area with one of the highest lot prices in Rome. Most restaurants in this area serve Kosher food, but you can always find a few non-Kosher ones around.
In Pizza Franco e Cristina, we had samples of suppli – a typical roman dish of deep-fried risotto with a mozzarella center (yes, you read that right), caprese salad with mozzarella from the south of Italy (made fresh EVERY morning), and zucchini flowers – cheese and anchovies-stuffed zucchinis (also deep-fried).
We headed next to Trastevere, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Rome. While the crowds are all eating in restaurants near Fontana di Trevi, the locals are here, enjoying a quiet, scrumptious, and most importantly, not overpriced dinner.
I forgot the name of the pasta dish that I had, but it’s just fresh spaghetti with tomatoes and cheese. Again, simplicity in ingredients is the key! Valeria shared so many stories about variations on famous dishes like carbonara being made with cream (for them, it means the chef is lazy to make the real sauce), and bolognese sauce used on spaghetti (apparently, the thick meat sauce is for thick pastas like lasagna). I kept quiet through this discussion because I love both the “unacceptable” versions. Hehe!
Of course, there’s always room for dessert, and what better way to end the night than with artisanal gelato. Again, Valeria took us to a place where they only make their products on the same day they sell them. Their gelato is slightly more expensive than the ones sold elsewhere, but anything made with real and fresh ingredients is definitely worth it.
You can find many food tours/activities online, like market tours, cooking classes, or restaurant hops; and I highly recommend going for one. Go, not only for the sake of finding the yummiest food in the city, but also for the unique stories you will hear, the history behind the cuisine, and to just experience the ways food bring people together.