- George Miller, comedian, 1941 - 2003
Welcome to this very special travel post! The Parmesan Poet has been in Italy recently, on a rare and wonderful paid business trip that involved more pleasure than business. It feels rather privileged and grown up to go on a business trip at all, let alone one to Rome, but I'm going to shut my mouth lest someone at the university realise that they sent the wrong person.
So: what does a foodie do as she gears up for five free days in Rome? Other than squeal with glee and annoy a lot of flight attendants?
First, she downloads the brilliant "Eat Rome" app by food writer Elizabeth Minchilli, and scopes out the top places to eat around the city. And the top priority when determining the top places to eat? Gelato, of course. There's no shortage of gelateria in Rome - there's one on every street, at least. But they can be hit & miss, and coming from the land of Giapo, I demand perfection in my frozen treats. The best place I found was Gelateria del Teatro. They experiment with their flavours, and often combine herbs and fruit in interesting ways. Highlights were the raspberry & sage, peach & lavender, and rosemary, honey & lemon. (I have, of course, rushed home and recreated their flavours as best I can.)
|Flavours in centre shot: fig, Sicilian pistachio, chocolate-orange.|
Second, our travelling foodie researches the local farmer's markets.
|Bouquets of chillies are better than roses.|
|Available at the Campo de' Fiori market: piles of spices, fruit and flowers.|
|Chillies and tomatoes, sundried and fresh. All the makings of a delicious pasta sauce.|
Campo de' Fiori is also a great place to pick up a casual snack. I bought a punnet each of purple figs and blackberries to eat in the sunshine. You can also buy fresh squeezed pomegranate juice, which is everything that a New Zealand winter is not.
|Coffee, herbs, vegetables, and seafood on display at the Testaccio market.|
|Chillies, herbs, and pulses at Circo Massimo.|
|Clockwise from top left: moscardini, wine by the carafe, insalata di gallina (chicken salad), crespelle (crepes with asparagus).|
You know what else is a great system? Restaurants on the beach! Yes, this is no new concept to an Aucklander. The City of Sails is also the City of Beachside Restaurants, so I'm not unaccustomed to eating with an ocean view. But there was something about the dining at Sperlonga, a coastal town between Rome and Naples, that took it to the next level.
|Caprese salad; the beach at Sperlonga; fettucine ai frutti di mare.|
So: is Rome a foodie paradise? Actually, I wouldn't say so. These are the highlights, of course. And you can eat some amazing food in Rome. But 85% of my meals there were stock-standard pizza and pasta. There is zero diversity when it comes to restaurants in the central part of Rome. They are all trattoria or pizzeria, and they all have the same menu. Rome doesn't seem to have the culinary identity of, say, Naples or Florence. Food from other areas or other countries is very hard to find, and the Roman menu gets extremely samey. Honestly, my Anglicised palate would take a Nigella Lawson Italian dish over a Roman Italian dish any day.
That being said, if you do your homework, you can find the odd place that tries something different. If you're planning a trip to Rome, I'd recommend reading up on interesting restaurants (the Eat Rome app was a godsend for me) and staying somewhere that has a kitchen, if you can. You'll want to cook up a storm after visiting the markets. If you're planning to hit the tourist spots, either take a picnic, or prepare for some average pasta.
Oh, and after a hard day of touristing, you must sit down with the fashionable hordes of local professionals for a five o'clock Campari & soda. After all, when in Rome...