The food you need to try when in Rome
The truth is, many dishes served overseas are not actually Roman as restaurants claim. And when in Rome, you should do as the Romans do. Leave all your expectations of Italian cuisine at home and start getting a taste of what Roman cuisine really is. Also known as “cucina povera” or “poor man’s food”, Roman food is known for being tasty and hearty but extremely simple at the same time. You’ll often find the same ingredients used in various Roman dishes, but you’ll find that the outcome is extremely different. Keep reading to find out about the best traditional Roman dishes and where to eat them in Rome.
What are the best Roman antipasti (starters)?
Before going for the main course, you should absolutely try a Roman antipasto. One of the most famous and simple ones is the bruschetta – a slice of toasted casareccio bread rubbed with garlic, drizzled in olive oil and topped with fresh tomatoes and basil. It’s the perfect Roman starter and you’ll find it in many other Italian regions, too. While ordering, remember to pronounce it correctly: BrusKetta.
Carciofi alla Romana
Carciofi, or artichokes, are frequently used in Roman cuisine. You’ll find artichokes served as starters, side dishes or even in first courses. If you’re visiting Rome from late autumn to spring, make sure to try them. You’ll find them served in two different ways: Roman style (carciofi alla romana) or Jewish style (carciofi alla giudia). The main difference is the way in which the artichokes are cooked: carciofi alla romana are fresh artichokes stuffed with parsley, mentuccia (a kind of mint), and garlic cooked in water, white wine, and oil. While the Cariciofi alla Giudia are fried. Both versions are delicious and must-tries when in Rome.
These delicious fried rice balls should be on your food radar during your trip to Rome. The classic version is made with ragu and mozzarella but you can find numerous different fillings around the city. From carbonara and gricia to cacio e pepe supplì, there are many options to choose from. Apart from being a great starter along with other types of fried goodies, supplì are also a perfect Roman street food snack.
What are the best Roman pastas?
Cacio e Pepe
You will immediately adore this classic Roman dish. Cacio e Pepe is the real expression of Italian expertise in cooking, it’s unlike any pasta dish you’ve ever tasted and believed to be one of the most ancient recipes. You’ll ask the waiter, “So… again, what’s in it?” And he will repeat “Just cheese and pepper.” When the richness of pecorino romano, the perfect amount of pasta water, homemade tonnarelli pasta and fresh ground black pepper come together you will find yourself grinning and shaking your head in reverence. Like the carbonara, this is again, a glorious example of how creaminess can be achieved without cream. I promise you, it is NOT some congealed cousin of macaroni and cheese, but rather, a dish that lets you really luxuriate in that slight bite in the al dente pasta, the sharp saltiness of the cheese and Italians’ gift for stripping things back to celebrate a single flavour yet still serving up steaming plates of comfort food.
This is a Roman classic. Forget cream, forget bacon – this is made with the natural richness of eggs, delicious guanciale (pig’s cheek), pecorino cheese and ground pepper. It’s a celebration of saltiness and while it is undoubtedly Roman, the story regarding its invention is a little vague. Some say it came about after the war when the presence of the Americans brought about an abundance of eggs and ‘bacon’, however, most link it to the ‘carbonai’ (coal miners or charcoal workers) among whom it is believed to have been quite popular. It certainly tastes like a hearty dish a coal miner might tuck into. Foreigners can wince at the idea of cooking the egg and cheese mixture purely by the heat of the freshly cooked spaghetti and a little pasta water but trust me, once you’ve tried this dish in Rome you will weep at the shameful imitations overseas involving chicken, cheddar cheese, creme fraiche or – God forbid – ham! In terms of your pasta choice, most places in Rome will serve it with the simple spaghetti or rigatoni.
Not suitable for vegetarians and vegans, but a blessing to others. The sauce in Amatriciana is an artistic combination of guanciale (pig’s cheek), tomatoes, and pecorino (sheep’s milk) cheese as a topping. Do not confuse this with ‘arrabbiata’, which is another tomato-based pasta sauce bringing together garlic and chili. Amatriciana comes from the town of Amatrice, which is in the province of Rieti just out of Rome. Amatriciana is an evolution of Gricia, which lacks tomatoes, as it is a creation before tomatoes were imported to Italy. The types of pasta typically used in this dish are spaghetti, bucatini (tubular spaghetti), or rigatoni (ridged-like penne).
Sometimes called “white Amatriciana”, the Gricia uses the same ingredients as the Amatriciana, minus the tomatoes. So, Pecorino Romano (sheep’s milk) cheese and crispy guanciale (pig’s cheek) compose its ingredients, sprinkled with lots of ground pepper. Rigatoni or spaghetti is the usual pasta of this dish. The word Grici referred to Greek bakers in Roman times. History says that Gricia was a favorable dish to Roman bakers, which was easy to prepare, tasty, and nutritious.
What are the best Roman dishes for meat lovers?
Saltimbocca alla Romana
A good option for meat lovers, if not the best! Saltimbocca alla Romana are cooked veal slices topped with prosciutto and sage and cooked with dry white wine and butter. It is one of the most widely known dishes affiliated to Italian cuisine. Some countries have their own version of Saltimbocca, which is not even close to what you can get in Rome. That’s why you should absolutely order it in Rome and try the original Roman recipe.
Abbacchio alla Romana
A typical rustic Roman dish for meat lovers! It is a popular secondo (second main course) often served during Easter celebrations. So what’s all the fuss about? It’s simply roasted lamb seasoned with various aromatic herbs, salt, anchovies, vinegar, white wine and olive oil. But it’s oh-so-good and the meat is super tender.
Where to try Roman dishes in Rome
The best places to taste Roman cuisine in Rome are known as trattorias and osterias. They’re no-frills family-run restaurants that serve the real deal. From yummy supplì and carciofi alla romana to heavenly carbonara and saltimbocca alla romana, here’s a few restaurants to put on your list!
Flavio al Velavevodetto: Via di Monte Testaccio, 97
Ristorante Pecorino: Via Galvani, 54
Zii Umberto, Piazza della Malva
Da Gino, Vicolo Rosini 4
La Carbonara, Via Panisperna, 214
Da Casare al Casaletto, Via del Casaletto, 45
Augustarello a Testaccio, Via Giovanni Branca, 100
Tavernaccia Da Bruno, Via Giovanni da Castel Bolognese, 63