Although no longer the seat of a large empire, Rome is still one of the culinary capitals of the world, home to centuries-old culinary traditions. So what is the true food of Rome? What are the best, most authentic dishes to eat?
Based as it is on hearty peasant food, some of Rome’s most traditional dishes are, unsurprisingly, pasta and meat. Each Italian region has its own special shapes of pasta, and Rome is no different. Try the bucatini, a type of thick spaghetti with a hole running down the middle of it, or rigatoni (not exclusive to Lazio, but classically served in Rome alla carbonara, or with a bacon and egg sauce).
What more information on Rome? Check out our Tips for Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica
For the second (meat) course, Romans opt for saltimbocca alla romana (veal filets with prosciutto and sage in a wine sauce), abbacchio (very young, unweaned lamb distinctive of the Lazio region), or organ meats such as tripe or pajata. This last is made from the intestines of an unweaned calf, often prepared with a tomato sauce. I, an American, once ordered pajata at a restaurant in Rome and the waiter stared at me in shock. “Ma sei romana?” he asked me (“Are you Roman?”). Although delicious, it is not a dish foreigners (or even Italians from other regions) order often!
Two of my favorite Roman dishes are pasta alla gricia and carciofi alla giudia. The first is a so-called “white amatriciana” sauce. The traditional amatriciana is made with guanciale (think bacon, but made from pork cheek) and tomato, but the gricia version leaves out the tomatoes. The result is salty-smokey-garlicky-goodness topped with pecorino cheese. Carciofi alla giudia, part of Rome’s strong Jewish food traditions, is a young, flash-fried artichoke found only in spring.
But if you find yourself in Rome at this time of the year, try the filetti di baccalà (fried salt cod fillets) and puntarelle (curled chickory leaves dressed with a garlic and anchovy dressing). These homey Roman dishes are staples of the Roman winter and not what most Americans expect to find when trying Roman cuisine.
The countryside around the capital city offers equally fascinating culinary traditions. In hills outside of Rome, known as the castelli romani you can find small fraschette, a sort of combination of modest restaurant and delicatessen. These fraschette have their origins in medieval (and some say even ancient) times, and still specialize in such regional staples as porchetta (a stuffed, boneless pork roast sliced and served cold), local charcuterie and cheese, and of course local wine, which is poured off from great barrels into liter, half-liter, or quarter-liter carafes. Frequently boasting long tables, the experience gives one the feeling of having a communal indoor picnic with one’s fellow diners.
To explore the cuisine of the Lazio region, check out our cooking vacation in the Roman countryside. Or if you are looking to get up close and personal with the food of Rome, we also offer one-day cooking classes, walking tours, and personal dining experiences in private Roman homes. Check out our cooking classes in Rome for details.
By Peg Kern