By Patricia Boccadoro
ROME, 19 OCTOBER 2010 Guidebooks are full of how to visit
Romes "best," the countless museums and galleries, the 300 fountains, as
well as the Forum and Colosseum, but the locals themselves seem
unconcerned with all the ancient ruins that lie carelessly around every
corner. They are more interested in their next meal; and quite rightly so,
for eating out in Rome can be both a joy and an entertainment.
Traditional Roman cooking relies on the local markets, packed full of
fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables, where it appears to be spring and
summer all year round. They are a feast for the eyes as well as the
stomach. Eating is taken seriously and, unlike in France, there is no such
thing as a national haute cuisine. Food is la cucina di
casa delicious, regional, and soul-satisfying.
On a visit to Rome some years ago, I discovered a restaurant in the
heart of the old city, just off the Campo di Fiori, the home of Romes
most colourful and vivid outdoor market. To this day, I have not forgotten
the Gnocchi di Patate alla Romagnola I ate there, preceded by a
fresh Roman salad of crunchy green lettuce and rocket (arugula), the like
of which can only be found in Rome. But leaving the restaurant, we spied a
tantalizing layout of antipasti. There were tasty roasted red peppers and
anchovies, grilled aubergines with peppers and cucumbers, chopped
marinated mushrooms, the divine carciofi (artichokes)alla Romana,
as well as tiny tomatoes stuffed with tuna, anchovies, eggs and capers.
Campo di Fiori fruit and vegetable market in Rome
I know they were tasty because I went back to eat them the following
day, after the salad and before the gnocchi. But just as we finished our
meal, plates of grilled, aromatic white fish went wafting past
rombo (turbot), explained our waiter. As an arrivederci
to Rome the next day, yes, we ate the crispy fresh green salad, the
mouthwatering platter of antipasti, the gnocchi di patate alla
Romagnola, the meltingly juicy roasted turbot, and rounded it off by
a bowl of ripe fragole (woodland strawberries), which arrived in
huge baskets as we sat there.
So on a trip to the Italian capital last month, imagine my feelings to
find this incomparable trattoria no longer there!
But excellent food and drink are always to be found in Rome, and two
cappuccinos later, plus a gelato at Giolitti's, good humour was restored
and plans for the evening made.
Giolitti's gelato parlour in
The Osteria del Pegno is a pretty, candlelit, atmospheric eating place
that lies hidden in a patchwork of picturesque, narrow, cobbled streets
near the Piazza Navona. And although the speciality there is
lAbbachio al Forno, (roasted milk-fed lamb, Roman-style), we
enjoyed a perfect risotto. It was made with zucchini, and came close to
being food for the Gods. Roman, of course. Seduced as much by the
friendliness of the owners as by the crisp-fried wedges of artichokes on
the trays of the waiters shooting past in all directions, this was the
restaurant we opted to return to two days later.
Wise tourists might find themselves at Isidoros after a visit to the
Colosseum, but we went there from the other side of Rome for the pleasure
of the place. It is a noisy, gregarious little trattoria, where the
waiters are only too happy to pull out chairs to squash you in around the
crowded tables, full of feasting Romans. It owes its reputation to its
risotti with nettles, which, belying its description, was scrumptious. The
antipasti were again a delight for the eyes, while the desserts all
homemade, from the scamorza e miele (white cheese and honey), to
the panna cotta with its coulis of red fruit, to the tiramisu
Hostaria Isidoro al Colosseo, Rome
Checco e Carettiere is where the best of Roman cooking is to be found.
Its situated in the Trastevere, the area across the river Tiber, one of
the most picturesque old quarters of the city. The food is strictly
traditional, with plenty of meat, offal, fish and fresh fruit and
vegetables available. Deliveries are made daily.
Its where the average Italian family will congregate on a Sunday,
devouring a succession of dishes, each more delectable than the next.
After long deliberation, I opted for an immense platter of moist, pink,
meltingly tender Parma ham, which I had spied being cut on the bone,
sharing it happily with my companion who returned the favour, sharing the
selection of those succulent grilled vegetables, crunchy salads, and
skewered marinated lamb, chicken or fish titbits that, again, one can only
find in Rome. The main course was a seafood risotto smothered with
delicious juicy scampi, while the variety of desserts we polished off
defied all reason.
Undecided between the tiramisu and the torta al zabaglione, a
light, fluffy cake filled with a wine-scented creamy froth, we ordered
both as well as a bowl of fresh raspberries, blueberries and strawberries
spotted on the table next to us. But as it was Easter, there was an
enormous chocolate Easter egg adorning the entrance to the restaurant that
proved not to be a decoration at all, for one of the waiters brandishing a
large hammer began to crack pieces off it which he then handed round to
all the diners, accompanied by generous slices of the best panettone Ive
eaten. And eat it all we did. Generous glasses of limoncello were then
offered around; a digestive.
However, no gastronomic visit to Rome is complete without a meal in a
more adventurous setting, even though the menu offered might seem a little
fearsome. Romans, despite their heritage of being surrounded by priceless
art treasures and wealth, have not always eaten fillet steak, and a
tradition of dealing with variety meats has developed.
Ristorante L'Arcangelo in Rome
LArcangelo, a smart, sophisticated restaurant in the upmarket area of
Piazza Cavour has transported the cuisine of these "inferior" cuts into a
fine art. Their short, chic menu boasts lamb sweetbreads and veal tripe
with mint and pecorino cheese Roman style, while their "foie gras" menu
would daunt the most cast-iron of stomachs.
Foie gras with jams and jellies paves the way for melon soup, then
mortadella and foie gras, and then the main course of an escalope of
grilled foie gras served with warm, salted brioche. The menu is capped by
a hot chocolate fondant accompanied by a pear mousse with chili
I chickened out and ordered the classic rigatoni alla
matriciana (pasta with tomato sauce), bypassing such culinary
delights as baked squid and spicy pancotto (bread soup) with
bitter chocolate, and scabbard fish escalope accompanied by black pork in
colatura (anchovy sauce). I didnt jump either at the white
chocolate dessert with capers (the capers of which had perhaps escaped
from the antipasti of warm octopus salad with olives, red wine sausage and
capers), but I did wonder if I might be looking at a misprint on the
However, each to his own, and lArcangelo is worth a visit, if only for
trying their pasta, so al dente that it made my jaws ache for the
next two days.
Osteria del Pegno
Vicolo di Montevecchio,
Tel: (39) 06 68 80 70 25
Via San Giovanni in Lateran,
Tel: (39) 06 700 82 66
Checco er Carettiere
Via Benedetta, 10
Tel: (39) 06 58 17 018
Via Giuseppe Giocchino Belli
Tel: (39) 06 32 10 992
Via degli Uffici del Vicario
Tel: (39) 06 69 91 243
One of the most
famous ice-cream parlours in Rome. Excellent coffee too.
Based in Paris, Patricia Boccadoro is a culture critic and
senior editor at Culturekiosque.
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