Roman food is a hearty, rustic affair with bold flavors and inexpensive ingredients that have their history in a less prosperous time. Despite its meager roots, signature Roman cuisine is renowned the world over for its great taste, filling nature and classy aroma. These are our picks for the seven dishes you have to taste in Rome.
Pasta is Italy’s staple food. Estimates are that the average Italian eats roughly 60 pounds of pasta per year. Each region has its own typical shapes and sauces. Pasta in Italy is cooked al dente, which is slightly firmer than you might be used to.
1. Buccatini Amatriciana. Buccatini is a long, hollow spaghetti-like noodle and is usually served with an Amatriciana sauce. This classic Roman pasta sauce is made with tomatoes, onions, pecorino cheese and crispy guanciale, which is similar to bacon.
2. Cacio e Pepe. Cacio e pepe means cheese and pepper, and it’s an incredibly simple dish. It’s basically spaghetti, salty Pecorino Romano sauce and generous helpings of ground pepper. Think of it as the Roman mac and cheese. It’s as satisfying as it’s easy to make. Perfect for loading on carbs before a long day of sightseeing.
Rome in the aftermath of World War II was a place beset with difficulties. An easy way to add much needed calories to foods was to deep fry them in olive oil. Over the decades, food with this key ingredient evolved from simple survival rations to legitimate dishes that celebrate Italian resourcefulness and ingenuity. Don’t miss the items on the list below for some hearty meals that will power you on your travels.
3. Fiori di Zucca. Fried Zucchini flowers are stuffed with mozzarella cheese and a sliver of salty anchovy. The mix is then battered and deep fried to perfection. Don’t let the anchovy scare you off: this stuff is absolutely delicious!
4. Carcofi alla Romana and Carciofi alla Giudia. Carciofi are artichokes that are found in abundance during the fall and spring. They are prepared two different ways and both are usually found on a traditional Roman menu. A key feature of the Roman artichoke is its tender, edible leaves and chokes. Carciofi all Romana is a trimmed artichoke that is braised in olive oil, lemon and sprigs of a local mint called mentuccia. Carciofi alla Guidia is the Jewish style of preparing the artichoke. It’s fried deeper and whole, opening like a beautiful golden flower and making the leaves look like a flavorful, crunchy chip.
5. Coda alla Vaccinara. The neighborhood of Testaccio once housed the city of Rome’s slaughterhouses. The workers got the offcuts that became known as the Quinto Quarto, or the fifth quarter. Many Roman meat dishes are made with these off-cuts. Coda alla Vaccinara is oxtail that is stewed for hours in a rich tomato sauce.
Vegetable side dishes do not typically come automatically when you order a main course. Look for the Contorno section on the menu or just ask.
6. Cicoria This dark, leafy green looks like spinach and is a type of endive that has a slight bitter flavor. It is most delicious when prepared in a style known as ripassata in padella. The cicoria is initially boiled until it becomes tender. It is then sautéed in a pan with plenty of garlic, olive oil and spicy chili pepper. If you like your veggies, you can’t go wrong with this one.
7. Puntarelle. This delicacy is only available during the colder seasons in Rome. The crunchy, bitter stalks of the chicory plant are hand sliced and curled in icy water before they are put in a messy tangle on your plate with a garlic anchovy dressing and lemon dressing. The garlic perfectly complements the anchovy, then the bitter greens accentuate the experience, creating a very unique flavor. If you’re looking for something you’d be hard-pressed to find in the US, this is the meal for you.
Alright, those are the seven dishes that you simply can’t miss when visiting Rome. Don’t confine yourself to the meals you can easily find in the States like pizza, lasagne and spaghetti. There’s plenty more to Italy than what you already know about, so dive in and let us know how it goes.