Italy Trip: Food in Rome

Food is extremely important... especially in Italy! In Rome, I didn't necessarily learn as much about food history as I did in the Tuscan region, but as our first stop in Italy, Errol and I learned a lot of the "traditions" and restaurant etiquette. 

I rarely ever eat breakfast... I prefer to sleep right up until I have just enough time to change and run to the bus for class. But when you're trying to have enough energy for the physical and mental toll that Rome takes out of you, carbo-loading is a must. And eventually, it became part of my stomach's food clock that has even rolled over to now! 

Of the three places we stayed in Rome (and in the other cities - more on those separately), the breakfast was the same: cappuccino, bread, pastries (filled with cream, nutella, etc.), and various spreads. Another benefit of breakfast was that it was always included in our hostel/B&B, so we saved Euros that way. 

We always wanted to have light but filling (is that possible?) meals for lunch so we didn't get food coma. That usually meant pizza! Pizza in Italy is quite a delicacy, and made me forget the greasy dough I used to get from Little Caesar's for $5 for a quick college dinner. We had lots of different types of pizza, but all menus had generally the same kinds:

  • Margherita - tomato + mozarella
  • Napoli - 4 to 5 anchovies spread across the pizza; only need a little bit for the full effect! 
  • Prosciutto - self-explanatory; delicious, melt-in-your-mouth slices 
  • BIG TIP: "Pepperoni" in America is "salame piccante" in Italy, and is much better! 

My absolute favorite pizza was in Dar Poeta in Trastevere, a quaint area in southeast Rome. This pizza had the perfect combination of tart and savory, and I couldn't get enough of it:

buffalo mozzarella with artichokes topped with parmigiano reggiano

Just as a heads up, restaurants try to maximize tables in a small area, so every place has an outside area. We almost always chose to sit outside! Just keep a look out for the scooters and Smart cars that try to squeeze through; they get pretty close!

Probably one of the more expensive places we ate was at Enoteca Cavour 313, recommended by our Rick Steves guidebook. These pictures are what we had for dinner one night, but count as appetizers in my book. We got to have some delicious cheeses, and a first - beef carpaccio! As you can see it's raw beef sliced extremely thinly, topped with olive oil, red onion, capers, and a couple of anchovies. Surprisingly it was almost too salty for me (those who know me know that's a rarity!), but I still really liked it.

Another restaurant we went to was our first full meal with multiple courses, and we learned a lot.
  1. Water is never free in a restaurant. You order one water for 2 people, and they bring out a 500 mL bottle that you ration on your own (generally 2-3 Euros a bottle!).
  2. Sitting costs money. There's lots of standing eating, or getting food to-go and eating at a square. In fact, when I think back I think only tourists eat at restaurants because true Italians think a cover charge is ridiculous (which it is). It will cost 2-3 Euros per person tacked onto the bill. 
  3. BIG TIP: If there's a cover charge, DON'T TIP. Really, don't. 
  4. There's a charge for bread, and you get it no matter what. Most Italian restaurants in America give you bread with olive oil and herbs, or garlic breadsticks. In Italy, you get bread with olive oil and vinegar (balsamic or white wine). And that's normally 2-3 Euros. 
With that, you already have added at least 6 Euros to your bill before you've even had your meal. Crazy, right? As we progressed through the trip, we ate at restaurants less often simply due to all of the extra hidden costs. 

That being said, the food at this restaurant (whose name escapes me) was delicious! Top left is buffalo mozzarella (absolute fave), bottom left was spaghetti carbonara (on my food bucket list), and bottom right was Errol's veal. 

If you are sick of pasta - which you are bound to be no matter how much you love it - there are kebab places all over the place! Super cheap, super delicious, they're essentially the gyros you know of, but in wraps. Once we discovered these, we ate at one every couple of days. I wish we had more places like this to replace McDonald's! 

Last but not least was the sweets! In Rome, I didn't have very much dessert. However, we did have plenty of gelato at any time of day! There are little window shops everywhere, where you can order your cone or cup and be on your merry way. There are tons of flavors, and some are quite interesting... but Errol's favorite was mango! Here he is holding one of the dozens of mango in a  "cono piccolo".

The only other dessert we had in a restaurant in Rome was the nutella calzone... I think you can guess if I liked it or not.

Another dessert on my food bucket list was panna cotta, a creamy dessert that is a mix between pudding and jello and is delicious! I grabbed one of these in a window shop for a couple of Euros.

Overall, the first city in Italy gave us a great introduction to food, and the best was yet to come! If you ever go to Italy, I hope you learn from our restaurant mistakes and try a lot of the things we did.

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