Countdown to Rome: The Food

August 27, 2010 | Food, Italy, Rome, Travel

One week from today I leave for Rome, so for the next seven days I’m going to talk about all the things I want to do, see, taste when I’m in the Eternal City. And although I’m going to Rome because of a Church-related program, I am not starting with faith. I’m starting with food.

I’ve been reading and taking travel notes for the past few weeks. If you could see my little notebook, you would surely think that the ONLY thing I’m going to do in Rome is eat and drink. I doubt there will be time for anything else.

One of the most entertaining food-related things I’ve read in preparation for my trip is The Food of Love: A Novel, by Anthony Capella. Is it great fiction? No. Is it fun fiction for a foodie headed to Rome? Absolutely. (Disclaimer: Do not read this book if you will be offended by sexual situations between characters that are more than a little “risque,” as my grandmother would have said. They approach that subject with the same gusto they have for the food.) This book really opened my eyes to truly Roman food. I know Italian food because I am half Italian and have spent my life eating delicious pasta dishes and pastries and coffee and more, but my experience with Italian food is focused on what comes out of the Naples region, where my grandfather was born. My grandmother’s family, too, came from southern Italy.

Food of Love allowed me to wander into Roman cafes and smell the smells and taste the tastes before I ever set food in the country. It also alerted me to the fact that I need to know how to say “spaghetti with calves’ intestines” in order to avoid ordering it. The “fifth-quarter” of the animal is popular in Rome, and I know that, too, from my family background. My grandmother is known to say (whenever we bring up the subject in order to get her to say it): “The ears (knuckles, feet, insert any gross body part here) are the best part!”

So, here’s some of what I want to eat when I get to Rome:

Fried zucchini blossoms (fiori di zucca fritti), my grandmother talks about making these but I’ve never had the chance to try them.

Fried artichokes (carciofi alla Giudea), a specialty of Roman-Jewish cooking, which I hope to find in the Ghetto a few minutes from my hotel.

Artichokes alla Romana. Can’t have too many artichokes as far as I’m concerned.

Cappuccino in the morning. I understand you do not order coffee with milk after about 10 a.m. without looking SO American. I also have vowed not to order decaf anything while in Italy, even though I drink mostly decaf at home. So it should be an interesting and somewhat high-energy trip given that I plan to drink multiple coffees a day.

Espresso standing up. I have also vowed to drink coffee like an Italian, which means standing at a bar, knocking it back like a shot, slamming it back down on the counter and leaving. No lingering over a giant cup of joe.

Cornetti, those little pastries Italians eat with cappuccino in the morning. (My hotel includes breakfast, but from the photos I think I’ll be able to do all right there.)

Spaghetti (or Bucatini) all’Amatriciana (with pancetta and tomato). Yes, I’m going to be eating meat in Rome. I’ve been building up my resistance for a few weeks now, dabbling in prosciutto here at home to get ready for the real Roman deal next week. I’d prefer, however, if the meat I eat is somewhat reasonable, basic chicken, fish, maybe some sausage, nothing too outrageous, like tripe (ugh) or, again, intestines.

Gelato, of course. In as many flavors as I can possibly squeeze in over a ten-day period.

Wine. Often.

Limoncello, which I’ve had a couple of times here but know cannot possibly compare to sipping the real thing in Rome. (I will try Grappa if given the chance and with other people from our group who are doing the same. If only to say I had some.)

Roman pizza, preferably pizza bianca from Il Forno in Campo de’Fiore, although from what I’ve read that might be near impossible given the crowds there.

Sfogliatelle, which I love even when it’s a so-so version from upstate NY. I can only imagine what it will taste like coming from the source. I’ve got a recommendation for Bernasconi’s, a pasticceria in the Campo de’Fiore/Ghetto region. I wonder if I’ll ever even get out of that neighborhood?

And, of course, I plan to eat lots of things that are not on my list, pastas of every shape and size, carbonaras and aglio olios, seafood and vegetables, whatever they put in front of me (minus the intestines).

Have any favorite dishes you ate while in Rome? Know a great restaurant that’s off the beaten path, non-touristy? Please pass on your suggestions in the comment section.



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