Rome is a city steeped in a magnificent and glorious history. Rome, Italy’s capital, is a sprawling, cosmopolitan city with nearly 3,000 years of globally influential art, architecture and culture on display. Unfortunately, a lot of sightseers looking forward to fantastic Italian food end up disappointed by the mediocre tourist traps that line the streets leading up to a lot of the famous architectural sights that dot the city. The only way to enjoy food as a local would is to befriend one or to know someone in the city who has lived in Rome long enough to know the right spots. This city is a pleasure to explore on foot, and there is nothing like getting lost in the cobbled alleyways of the central city, and chancing across a little trattoria selling fresh pizza by the slice or “Spaghetti alle Vongole”, a Roman pasta specialty with white clam sauce.
There are three common classifications of restaurants to be found in Italy: the osteria (wine bars that serve simple meals), the enoteca (bars, taverns), the trattoria (traditionally family owned, casual, neighborhood restaurants that serve fresh, unassuming, conventional local food) and the ristorante (full service restaurants with several courses including aperitivo (drinks like spumante, prosecco, or champagne and small snacks like olives, nuts, cheese), antipasti (charcuterie boards, sandwiches like paninis, vegetables, prawn cocktails), primo (the first course which could consist of non-meat dishes like risotto, pasta, soup), secondo (meat dishes such as sausage, pork, lamb, fish, or turkey) insalata (fresh garden salads), dolce (desserts like panna cotta, tiramisu, gelato or sorbetto), caffe (coffee such as espresso drunk in small amounts at high temperatures), and finally, digestivo ( drinks to conclude or “digest” the meal like grappa, amaro, limoncello).
Ofcourse, being the diehard foodie that I am and liking to blend in with the local crowd and discover the secret convivial and rambunctious pizzerias and trattorias that tourists miss out on, I have compiled a list of primarily authentic trattorias that one cannot miss while traveling in Rome.
The best trattoria…at a tourist sight: Armando al Pantheon
The Roman Pantheon is the most preserved and influential building of ancient Rome. It is a Roman temple dedicated to all the gods of pagan Rome. Although Armando is popular with snazzy businessmen and tourist groups, it is not a “touristy trattoria” and has retained its quality over the last fifty years that it has been in business. Surrounded by mediocre restaurants in a very congested area of Rome, it stands out as a gem. It serves classic dishes with modern flare such as the roman classic “caccio e pepe” – which means “cheese and pepper” in several central Italian dialects. As the name suggests, the ingredients of the dish are very simple and include only black pepper, Pecorino Romano cheese, and pasta.
The best “plain and simple” trattoria: Hostario Romana
Hostario Romano is a simple, compact eatery where wall graffiti is encouraged – totally old school. The tables are crammed together, and past diners have scrawled their signatures and messages on the walls. If two people at your table have ordered the same pasta, it is spooned out of a pan right at your table – talk about fresh! This is the right place to come for the classics – not culinary innovation and fusion. You can’t go wrong with orders of antipasti which includes fresh mozzarella and fresh ricotta, olives, beans, fried eggplant/onions/zucchini, roasted peppers, and Bucatini Amatriciana (a traditional Italian pasta based on guanciale (cured pork cheek), pecorino cheese, and tomato).
The best trattoria…a daytrip from Rome: Trattoria del Falcone
Tivoli is a historic hilltown in the Lazio region of Italy, and is one of the most popular destinations for daytrips from Rome. Tivoli’s two most famous tourist attractions are the magnificent gardens of the Villa d’Este and the extensive ruins of Hadrian’s Villa. Our group ate at Trattoria del Falcone and the bruschetti selection was the most delicious I have ever eaten. I also thoroughly enjoyed my order of ravioli with spinach and ricotta in a chicory and walnut sauce. We then followed the meal with a visit to Villa d’Este and Hadrian’s Villas, where I was amazed by the views of the Roman Campagna (countryside) and the Tivoli Gardens and Fountains.
The best trattoria…for seafood: Il Tempio di Iside
Il Tempio attracts seafood lovers. Its owners Franceco and Cristina often drive to two fish auctions a day to get the finest catch. A must order here is the pasta with granseola – spider crab – and the sword fish agnoletti with red pepper sauce. For secondo, the fish is also delicious.
Bonus: Best gelato: Gelateria del Teatro
What an absolute gem of a find. Located in a neighborhood away from the hustle and bustle of central Rome in Via dei Coronari, this gelateria is all about fresh flavors not the sugar and serves up some beautiful and unique combinations. Choose from flavors like ginger and orange, chocolate and wine, rosemary, and lemon and honey. My favorite flavors were sage and raspberry, and Sicilian wine. No matter what happens, do not miss this spot. This is the best gelato you will ever have.
Remember the famous quote: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Apply the same for the food – follow the locals where they go and you will not have a disappointing culinary adventure in this ancient and timeless city.
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Contributor: Disha Samaiyar