You have not been to Rome? You must go, make it your next trip away. You have been already? Go again! Rome is constantly evolving and on top of wonderful traditional old school restaurants, there are lots of new and exciting things to explore when you next visit. And it is Rome, the Eternal City, a very special place. There are some cities that I will always try to spend a few days in if I am passing through. Rome is one, one of the first world cities that I visited at a very naive and tender age of 19. I didn’t leave Ireland until I was 18, so it was an exciting time, and I loved it.
Rome was magical for me. I had spent the summer in Nice, and hopped on the train to Florence for a princely sum of about £25, Irish pounds, there was no euro yet. The trains were still quite old school then, little rooms with wooden doorways and glass windows, with six seats in each. There was a lady with a cat in a box opposite me and it all felt so exotic and utterly European, I travelled wide eyed and excited, I mean imagine travelling with a cat, didn’t they just stay at home? (I was VERY naive). I hadn’t told a soul, it was my secret. This was really the awakening of my sense of adventure.
I stopped first in Florence but I found it it too quiet and there were so many old people (did I mention I was 19?) so I headed to Rome. Rome captured my heart swiftly by virtue of its sheer gorgeousness and further via channels of potato pizza, pasta and gelato. I couldn’t quite believe how beautiful was. I felt small, I felt overwhelmed, I felt every inch a part of it.
It was in Rome that I had my first coffee, becoming a daily cappuccino, the start of a fully fledged coffee obsession. I discovered chickpeas, I mean what were these things? In tins, but no tomato sauce? You said they were beans?! My childhood diet had been a very traditional Irish one, and I was experiencing a sensory overload. I stayed in a hostel near Rome’s Termini station and met people from so many different places all over the world. Rome changed the way I thought about food and the world that I live in. It sparked something joyful in me.
I have now been to Rome five times. Each time is different, that is just the way Rome is. There are so many areas, so much to discover and it is evolving and changing all the time. I do have favourite restaurants that I always try to return to there are always lots of new ones to explore. I have stayed in many different places, Prati a couple of times (near the Vatican), Termini (near the main train station) and the last two times I have stayed in the Aventino, a sleepy residential hill in Rome just next to Testaccio.
Aventino is wonderful. A residential hill peering over the Tiber with Tesctaccio to the side, it is sleepy and calm. There are lots of trees, few people (although there seems to have been a segway tour invasion recently) and a beautiful quiet orange grove overlooking the whole city. I highly recommend it for the sanctity and the calm. Last year, I sat in that orange grove and watched two young nuns gather pine nuts and eat them while I supped on a little glass of wine (smuggled from my hotel).
Rome is a calorific city but in a glorious way. Don’t even think about calories when you are in Rome, for me. Rome grabs you by the chops and forces you into submission. Romans love cheese, they love guanciale (the best bacon made from the jowl of the pig), they love pasta, which they in turn love to coat with cheese, bacon and egg. Romans love to fry things, they are famous for their fritti. And Romans will cut an enormous slice of Roman pizza for you using a scissors, or better still, a sandwich made from porchetta in pizza bianchi, as big as you want. I always order more than I can eat. I just can’t help it. And then I walk everywhere, at least 10 miles a day. It all balances out.
WHERE TO EAT PIZZA AND PASTA IN ROME
Yes, Rome does pizza too. In Rome there are two types: pizza al taglio and Roman pizza. Pizza al taglio is made in large rectangular trays and served at Tavola Caldas (places that sell hot food to go or eat in, translating as hot tables). The best of these are Pizzarium or Panifico Bonci, both owned by Gabriele Bonci. The pizzas here are excellent, as are the suppli (Roman croquettes made with pasta and other bits and bobs). At Panificio Bonci there is also tremendous porchetta which is served in a sandwich of pizza bianchi, an olive oil brushed flat bread and a must in Rome. Head to Antico Forno Roscioli for their pizza bianca which they are deservedly famous for.
The other pizza to try, is Roman pizza. This traditionally has a thin crisp base. Try it at trendy Pizzeria Emma, which uses the best of ingredients and delivers a solid product in the heart of Rome. My favourite was at old school rough and ready Pizzeria Remo in Testaccio who serve terrific pizza and fritti.
Rome = pasta joy. There are four main pastas of Rome that you have to try: cacio e pepe (pecorino and black pepper), gricia (pecorino, black pepper and guanciale), carbonara (pecorino, black pepper, guanciale and egg) and amatriciana (pecorino, tomato, guanciale, chilli). So that is your list to start, and here is where you have them.
You must go to Armando al Pantheon, a gem of a restaurant just by the Pantheon. Dodge the selfie sticks and tours and slide into the serene room that is Armando al Pantheon.The carbonara here has wonderful flavour and is golden from the yolks. I am ravenous just thinking about it and I want to go back. Also order the lardo on toast with fried quail egg. I mean, COME ON! You must book in advance.
The carbonara at Roscioli is a must. Roscioli is a superb restaurant in a deli. Far from undiscovered, there are lots of tourists here but lots of locals too. Again, order the lardo, a lardo selection, I die. Burrata with anchovies (or sun dried tomatoes) is wonderful, and the carbonara is one of the best in town.
Flavio al Velavevodetto in Testaccio is one of the favourites of lots of local food writers. I liked it a lot. The pasta used is rigatoni which makes a nice change from spaghetti (which no matter how much I eat, I can only love).
Da Felice a Testaccio is properly local. Everyone orders the Cacio e Pepe here, which they combine with speed and vigour and the help of a fork tableside. HELLO. I had a wonderful plate for fritti to start and a pretty lovely tiramisu to finish.
Head to L’Arcangelo in Prati for sublime Gnocchi di Patate alla Amatriciana. Pillow soft with a rich fruity sauce sharp with guanciale.
Lots more coming soon – I am working on comprehensive food and drink guides for everywhere I have visited, but as you can imagine, it ain’t a small job! You can always look at my instagram and twitter and search for places I have visited. I always put the places I loved there.