It’s really not very difficult to find 1001 ways to gorge when on a Roman vacation. If the smell of freshly baked pizzette and focaccias emanating from small artisanal bakeries on every other corner isn’t enough to tempt your taste-buds, just wait until you pop into any little supermarket. You’re bound to be greeted by a deli counter the likes of which you could only dream about in most other countries. It’s no joke! I’ve enjoyed a better meal standing at the freshly prepared food-counter of a CONAD in Viale di Trastevere in Rome than I’ve had in many restaurants the world over. Mamma mia, it’s no wonder most of us swoon at the mere thought of a vacation in Italy. Stuff the history and culture...it’s really the glorious food we all come to experience!
Just because feasting in the Eternal City is a given, however, it does not mean one should take culinary delights for granted. Italian cuisine may be delectable, but it is also extremely traditional and very, very regional. There are mouth-watering dishes served in Rome that you’ll never find anywhere else.
Following are just some of our favourite Roman delights. Buon appetito!
Before you say a word, stop right there. I know exactly what you’re thinking: did she just mention the most renowned pasta dish in the universe; the one half the world population cooks at least once a week? Yes, she did. The reason she did, mind you, is because the only place in the whole world where you can savour a real and authentic carbonara...is Rome. This creamy and totally addictive carb-fuelled bomb is possibly one of the most exported, yet atrociously altered, pasta dishes of all. Most of the world thinks carbonara is made with cream and even more people seem to think that the addition of mushrooms or the use of ham is ‘close enough’ to the real deal. Trust us, it is not. Carbonara alla Romana is creamy thanks to the inclusion of raw egg yolks right at the end of the cooking process, once the pasta has been tossed through the lightly fried pancetta. Topped with a generous serving of grated pecorino and oh mamma mia, you’ll be excused for thinking this is the very first time you’ve ever tried carbonara. It probably is! Be a real Roman and opt for rigatoni instead of spaghetti. The sauce gets caught in each and every piece and the whole dish is about as close to culinary heaven as you can get.
Carciofi alla Romana
Travel to Rome between May and September and you’ll no doubt see mountains of artichokes in open-air food markets and on offer on every restaurant menu. The humble artichoke is considered king in local Roman cuisine during these summer months and there’s no better time of year to indulge in this particular treat. To be honest though, the artichoke is not all that humble. It is actually a difficult vegetable to cook well and it’s for this very reason that most people have only ever tried the pickled-and-bottled variety up until they visit Rome. Carciofi alla Romana are stuffed with a delicious mix of fresh breadcrumbs, garlic and various herbs and then cooked very slowly in an olive oil and water bath. The slow cooking method not only ensures a sultry infusion of flavours, but also guarantees the artichoke is so tender it simply melts in your mouth.
Filetti di Baccalà
If you’re a fan of intense flavours then you’ll be happy to know that although Roman cuisine is not huge on fish and seafood, the fishy treats on offer are certainly BIG on flavour. Super salted fillets of baccalà (cold fish) are lightly floured and fried to absolute perfection and can often be flavoured with a side-dish of anchovies or sardines cooked the same way. It may not be a light meal on the waist line, this we’ll admit, but what it lacks in ‘finesse’ it more than makes up for in flavour.
Image: Mauricio Pellegrinetti