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Eating Through Rome: Prima Parte

Updated: Feb 28, 2019

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I really don't need to add anything else to this post. Go to Rome, find any pasticceria, and EAT THIS!

Just kidding, don't stop there. Rome is a beautiful and ancient city, full of wonders and magical human achievements. But forget about seeing the Pope or the Sistine Chapel and pish posh the Colosseums and Pantheons. Clearly, the most important reason for going to Italy, and Rome in particular, is to eat.

In fact, my whole reason for going to Rome with Bruna was to try the famous Pizza Bianca. Eating pizza is Rome is a little like ordering a cappuccino in Rome; it is a stressful experience if you don't know what you are doing.

Proper Roman pizza is lunch on the go. You pop into a small pizza shop or traditional forni (bakery), decide what you want to eat from observing the display case, tell the server what and how much you want. Pizza is not ordered by the slice, it is ordered by weight.

If you cannot speak Italian, put on your best De Niro face and practice bragging about the size of your fish catch, while making stereotypical grunting noises. This seemed to have worked for Bruna, who was ordering for me (however, she might have actually been speaking Italian, how would I ever know?!

Pizza Bianca is an Italian staple for breakfast, lunch, snacks or dinner. Baked first thing in the morning, it is a thin, white pizza baked on large square trays and served wrapped in paper. There can be many toppings, such as Bruna's favourite of figs and prosciutto, or just enjoy plain. Remember to ask for the scrocchiarella, if you are wanting the crispy end pieces.

After ordering, schootch out of the way and plant yourself at the counter like a proper Roman, gobble up your Pizza Bianca, chase with espresso, yell "Grazie! Arrivederci!"and be on your way quickly, to make room for everyone else in Rome that wants a slice for breakfast.


After you are fuelled up and ready to sightsee, perhaps jump back to that original caffe, order another espresso (they are small, so it's okay), and try a cannoli. The smaller size is just perfect for a small, after pizza before lunch snack. And this year is my 'Year of Cannoli', so I had to mention them. I like plain ricotta filling and a crispy shell lacquered with pistachio. Apparently most everything in Rome comes lacquered with pistachio.

Trust me in that you will need all of this eating in order not to eat the whole day long. We passed shop after shop of cheese and meat and pastry and more cheese, and ham and chicken, though never together in the same shop, and shops selling all things made with pistachio.

We found ourselves in a lovely little bistro opposite San Pietro in Vincoli, where we stopped to see Michaelangelo's Moses (Bruna's favourite because Moses has sexy arms) and the Chains of St. Peter. This was on a Thursday, which is, of course 'Gnocci Day'. I did not know why, but now I do.

Michaelangelo's Moses' arms
Moses Sexy Arms

Gnocci is a stodgy, potato pasta that can be prepared many ways. Mine was beautiful and served with fresh tomato sauce and basil. We came to learn that because Catholics cannot traditionally eat anything but fish on Fridays, they stock up on carbs on Thursday as to not go hungry. Good enough for me! My gnocci was delizioso.

And as I really wasn't looking forward to fish on Friday, I also had a caprese salad of buffalo mozzarella and bacon instead of tomatoes. I could have died from the perfection...I know sister Marcia would have (major bacon lover).

We had many more of Bruna's fave's as we wandered through the alleyways of Rome: gelato, or course, coffee ice with fresh creme on top and bottom, lemon ice-but only at the shop near the Parthenon, espresso from the Sant' Eustachio II Caffe, a late-night after the Vatican salami platter from Norcineria Viola in Campo de' Fiori, more cheese, more pizza, more pastries, on and on and on.

By Friday, no way was I eating fish.

By Saturday I was ready again to chow, so we headed to the Jewish Ghetto for fish. I begged Bruna to stop calling this area of Rome, a small group of streets found in the shadow of the Great Synagogue of Rome, the Jewish ghetto, as it sounded super anti-semitic. But, proves to not judge other people's cultures by your own as, when we got to this grouping of streets in the shadow of the Great Synagogue of Rome, I discovered it really is called The Jewish Ghetto.

puntarelli, italian chicory

Nonna Betta was recommended by Anthony Bourdain as being the only restaurant in the Jewish Ghetto to have Jewish people working in it, which a good enough recommendation for me. Bruna insisted we have the fish that I missed on on Friday. She had hers with puntarelli, which is a strange, chicory type veg, and I had the artichoke. Lunch was perfect, but there was still something I needed to try before I got on the plane that afternoon.

I had heard tall tales all week about the brave men and women who have grappa in their morning espresso. This was something I just couldn't pass up.

espresso grappa

Grappa is a sweet alcohol made by distilling the pips, stems, skins and other bits and pieces left over after wine making. Grappa is not to be messed with by the faint hearted as it is 35-60 % alcohol, or in American standards, 70-120 proof.

Bruna ordered for me, then had to convince the serving staff that I was serious as they all laughed at me and giggled ruinations of me in Italian. I would not be put off! I would have my espresso grappa!!! I then spoke hand-signal Italian, indicating a small amount of grappa, which made them laugh all the more.

I threw it back...and then my face melted off. I will say no more of espresso grappa.

A fun website to read about ordering food in Italy:

Phyl will be following this article up with a post in Eat This! as soon as she decides what exactly she will be making. Italian cuisine is difficult as it is all delicious and too hard to choose (as long as she doesn't make puntarelli or espresso grappa)!

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