Over on FBG they’re talking all things travel this week — from packing like a pro to the vacation workout, they’ve got it covered. For me, the best part of vacation isn’t the R&R but the eats!
There’s no doubt that history, architecture and art are major parts of Italian culture, but surely the nation’s most brilliant tour de force is the food. Hoping to get a better sense of the local restaurant scene, on my recent Roman holiday I chose to participate in a moving feast through one of the less touristy areas of the city.
My Taste of Italy tour started outside the original city limits of Rome, in the Trastevere neighborhood. Our guide, Valerio, called this area home and referred to it as the real Rome. Buildings here date back to medieval times and a maze of cobblestone streets led us from one fabulous eatery to the next.
Our first stop was Da Enzo Al 29, a tiny family-owned restaurant operated by three siblings who consider themselves the keepers of Roman tradition. We toasted the twilight with a bubbly glass of Prosecco and sampled our first antipasto, a Jewish style artichoke fried to perfection — even the stem was edible!
Across the street we found ourselves at Spirito Di Vino, a slow foods restaurant. Standing on the 2,000–year-old wine cellar floor, we opened bottles of Montepulciano and devoured an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, including a hearty lentil soup.
While some of Chef Catalani’s recipes date back to ancient times (the pork shoulder is attributed to Gaius Matius, friend and cook of Julius Caesar), everything she prepares is fresh, local and 100 percent organic.
At this point on our journey we made a quick detour to visit a pasticceria (or bakery) that was about to close for the evening. There we sampled cookies made with olive oil (hello, vegans!) and buttery biscotti.
The owner spoke not a word of English, but none was necessary. Just point, eat and smile.
Mimicking the ancient citizens of the Empire, at the formaggio shop we nibbled on salty Pecorino Romano. One of Italy’s oldest cheeses, the original recipe has never been altered.
Meanwhile, Val popped across the street to score our next traditional Roman snack, the scuola (or rice ball). We devoured them while standing on the street, à la Roman style. When in Rome, right?
From the cheesemonger’s, we covertly headed down a back alley with one mission in mind: to sneak a peak at Osteria Der Belli’s massive hearth oven.
The bread oven, which would typically be fueled with wood, was instead stoked with hazelnut shells, which lended a nutty nuance to the 2,700 loaves of bread they bake each day.
There we enjoyed our first taste of pizza, cut in squares and sold by weight. Street pizza has a thicker crust than traditional hand-stretched dough, making it easier for travel.
For those keeping count, we are now headed to stop number seven.
At Checco Er Carettiere we were treated to fried zucchini flowers, two pasta dishes and basically as much wine as you could handle.
And finally, dessert.
At Fatamorgana, gelato is considered an edible form of art. Val encouraged us to try at least two flavors and gosh, we didn’t want to disappoint. I chose a combo of the more unique offerings — chocolate/tobacco and lavender/honey. They were out of this world.
We bid our host farewell and made our way home underneath a perfectly pink Roman sky. The experience was surreal.
What would your favorite course have been? —Karen