Eating and drinking in Rome is an adventure on its own, but just like in the adventures, Rome has many scary places. Sure, you could do all your research on Yelp or Tripadvisor before every meal, and walk around with your phone glued to your hand and face, but come on, don’t be that guy. Just don’t. Some of the magic about cities like Rome is to discover that perfect little place, hidden away from the tourist tracks, but chances are that after a long day of walking and sightseeing, you’ll strike out sometimes and bumb into a tourist trap with photos of the food on the menu. But to really be able to appreciate the great places, you have to experience the bad ones too.
As with most Italian cities, you can’t walk far in Rome without finding a place to eat or drink. A huge part of the Italian culture (and a huge part of why we love it so much there) revolves around the food, and everything associated with it. The Roman kitchen is famous for it’s delicious food, and several of it’s dishes are internationally known, such as Spaghetti alla Carbonara, veal Saltimbocca alla Romana, bruschetta, pasta all’Amatriciana, and the oh so delicious Cacio e Pepe. Just to mention some. But be aware, that even though these dishes originated in Rome, not every restaurant serves a good version.
Romans usually eat dinner at around 8pm, so many restaurants close after lunch from 3pm, for then to open again at around 7pm. The restaurants closer to the bigger tourist attractions and piazzas are usually open all day, but keep in mind that these places cater to tourists, and the food suffers from this.
To start the day, Italians aren’t usually big on breakfast. They have an espresso or two, preferably standing in the bar at the coffee shop, maybe throw down a cornetto or biscotto, and then continue their day. This is also the only time of day you can drink a cappucino without coming off as a clueless tourist. Why? An Italian waiter once told me that Italian children get enough milk when they’re small, so they don’t drink it as adults. And if they drink cappuccino, it’s only early in the morning. Fact? I don’t know. But I do know that if you take your coffee (and breakfast, if you’re that type) sitting down at a table, you have to pay more than if you chug it all down at the bar.
A must for delicious espresso, just around the corner from Pantheon, is the beautiful coffee bar Tazza d’Oro, meaning the cup of gold. Established in 1944, they still live up to their name, and if you want an unforgettable cup of brown gold, this is the place. Patrons are adviced to drink their coffee standing at the bar, and since this place is always buzzing with coffee-thirsty people, there’s no need to sit around for long.
Since Italians don’t have a big breakfast culture in general, don’t expect to find a huge continental breakfast at your hotel either, unless you stay at a big chain hotel. At a typical Italian hotel-breakfast, you’ll find coffee, fresh fruits, yoghurt, pastries and toast with cheese, ham or jam. If you find more than this at the breakfast buffet, you can bet that the hotel has received complaints from American or British tourists.
Whether you’re the kind that just has some pizza al taglio to go, or prefer to sit down at a ristorante and have a full meal, lunch in Italy is a big part of the day. Just remember to not eat your food on one of the major sights (such as the Fontana di Trevi or the Spanish steps), this is actually illegal, and you could end up with a hefty fine.
Before dinner, nothing is better than aperitivo time! Usually between 6pm to 9pm, bars up the prices on their drinks, and in return, you get to sample delicious pre-dinner snacks, sometimes from a buffet, and sometimes served as small nibbles. Whether you prefer to sit in a small, romantic alley or at a large piazza, you don’t need to look long or walk far until you find a suitable place.
At Baccano, just around the corner from the Trevi fountain, they have really yummy aperitivo snacks, and the interior itself is worth a visit alone, if you like classical, old style bars. For another place with old glamour, check out Harry’s Bar in Via Vittorio Veneto. Although it’s not own by Cipriani like the original Harry’s Bar in Venice, it sure lives up to its name. Get lost in their Bellinis and pretend to be in La Dolce Vita.
Although it’s a bit touristy, I also recommend to at least have a glass or two at one of the beautiful piazzas, like Piazza Navona or in front of the Pantheon. At night, the atmosphere there changes completely from the daily stress, and if you can ignore the street vendors and the other tourists, there’s nothing like sipping some Prosecco in front of pure history.
Now, the most important meal of the day in Italy is the dinner! Antipasto, primo, secondo and dolce, the four dishes that make up the perfect dinner, although you might not have room for all of them. Antipasto is naturally the appetizer, the starter of the meal, and can consist of anything from delicious tomato bruschetta, cheeses, hams, olives, or just a big plate of all the above together.
Primo piatto, the first course is usually where you find your pasta, risotto and soups. Secondo piatto is the bigger meat and fish dishes, and dolce is of course dessert. Just let me say that there is no shame in ordering for instance only antipasti and dessert, or going straight to the second course without a starter. There’s no law that says that you have to order all four dishes, and we have never encountered any waiter who has frowned upon this. They might frown if you ask for ketchup though.
Aw, my stomach is rumbling just from writing about the Italian cuisine, it’s just that good. It’s not a bad idea to do some research in advance of your dinners, as most good restaurants are packed during the peak hours from around 6pm to 11pm, and making a reservation is always a good thing, but the satisfaction from finding an amazing place just by chance is priceless.
And hey, when in Rome, don’t forget to have some gelato too 🙂