Just as Tuscan cuisine is rustic filled with earthy flavors, Roman cuisine has a touch of sophistication. In fact much of what we know of Italian food is actually Roman. Think Carbonara, Alfredo and of course artichokes. However in terms of essence, it remains quintessentially similar in that it showcases the core ingredient. But the biggest misnomers of Italian cuisine is perhaps the relentless marketing of Pasta and Pizza as it’s star attraction, when really it is the protein-wild boar, beef, sausages, pork, lamb, duck, goose, chickens, small birds, fish, and shellfish that shine on the plate. And of course bread, glorious bread.
What will surprise most lovers of Italian food is that the Greeks inspired much of ancient Roman cuisine. Fava beans and lentils from Egypt formed the main course while pork was the preferred main dish for Popes and Kings alike, especially pig’s ears that is a delicacy even today. You may grimace, but ox tongue is almost critical to the texture of a good chicken broth!
Pasta is of course an important element of Roman cuisine with sauces like amatriciana, the famous carbonara– Please note that the authentic recipe is not the French white sauce but one made with pancetta or guanciale – pig’s cheek -, parmesan and egg tossed lightly in hot spaghetti. Then there is the Alfredo, (invented by the chef of restaurant “Alfredo alla Scrofa”) cacio e pepe and gricia. True aficionados can make a trip to Museo Nazionale della Paste Alimentari (the National Museum of Pasta). Rome’s most common pasta shape is spaghetti- something you will be hard-pressed to find at a good restaurant in Tuscany, and of course the strange Angel hair pasta.
But that is only the entree. For mains, Romans love their artichokes and Veal sautéed with fresh artichokes is always a winner along with fried zucchini flowers filled with mozzarella cheese and anchovies.
The most important thing most tourists get wrong when eating in Rome is where they eat. Don’t follow the flock to the small café’s lining Piazza Novona as more often than not its expensive and not that authentic. Look for small cafes in alleyways check with your concierge on a local joint that he frequents and you will always win.
“Always make friends with the Concierge, they know the best places to eat.”
Reshma Krishnan would love you follow Ayra Krishnamurty to Rome and Tuscany in her novel Fade Into Red (Random House India) which will be sure to whet your appetite. Pick it up here.