Every region of Italy has culinary offerings that originate in, or are unique to, a given area. And Rome is no exception. Any trip to this city should include sampling authentic Roman specialties in order to fully experience the culture. Roman cuisine leans heavily toward meat, vegetables, and pasta, while also incorporating a plethora of fried foods, too. And while vegetarians can usually always find something on the menu, la cucina romana (Roman cooking) is not ideal for dieters. So, don't expect to stick to your eating guidelines when venturing to the Eternal City.
Wherever you eat in Rome (or anywhere in Italy for that matter), ask for recommendations from locals in the know. Consult a taxi driver or shopkeeper—versus a hotel concierge or a guidebook—for the real line on the goods. And always look for restaurants where the tables are filled ... with Italians, that is. When traveling to any foreign spot, seeking out restaurants frequented by locals assures you're in the right spot.
This savory dish of veal medallions dressed in prosciutto and sage is a staple dish of any Italian kitchen. Translated, the name of the dish means "hop in the mouth" and that's exactly the expression you'll use when sampling this recipe in its native city. This dish was derived as a use for the pantry staples of veal and prosciutto (although, it's hard to believe these items are actually "staples" in Italian cuisine) and it's flavor combines the balance between acids, animal fats, and aromatic herbs.
Roman cuisine aims to utilize all parts of the animal and the dish Coda alla Vaccinara provides the perfect example of this vision. This oxtail and vegetable stew incorporates the otherwise discarded parts of the animal and slow cooks, or braises, them together with vegetables and herbs in a tomato base. Once the stew is done cooking, the meat falls from the bone and the incorporated flavors can be enjoyed over pasta. You may see this dish on the menu as "quinta quarta" which literally means "the fifth-fourth" in Italian or, loosely, "leftovers." Coda alla vaccinara is one of the most famous dishes of Rome.
It's a simple and delightful pasta dish can be found on trattoria menus throughout Rome—though it's more likely to be on the menu at casual eateries than at high-end restaurants. And some places prepare it tableside by mixing the steaming hot pasta on top of a wheel of pecorino so that the cheese melts into the spaghetti and coats the strands. While this spaghetti dish calls little else other than pecorino romano cheese and lots of black pepper, the presentation is elegant and no two chefs will agree on the same preparation technique.
Carciofi, or artichokes, are grown throughout Italy (and never eaten out of season), making them a true Roman specialty in the spring. These young and tender chokes are prepared in several different ways in Rome. There's the Jewish way, alla giudia, where a giant artichoke is flattened and then deep-fried. And alla romana, where small artichokes are steamed with garlic, chopped herbs, including mint, and olive oil. In this style, the outer leaves and stem a trimmed away and the vegetable is soaked in acidic water (usually lemon water) before cooking. The tender end result is traditionally served room temperature accompanied with rustic bread to sop up the juices below.
You wouldn't dream of leaving Italy without trying a real Italian pizza and there's no better place to do so than in Rome. Traditional Roman-style pies are ultra-thin and crispy with light toppings and minimal cheese. Ask for pizza margherita for a standard cheese and tomato pizza. Variations may come topped with arugula, prosciutto, vegetables, or spicy salami. Pizza bianca, or "white pizza" has no tomato sauce at all. And one important, yet unofficial, rule for eating pizza in Italy is each person enjoys their own pie. And while the large discs may look like too much food for one person, the thin crust will easily allow you to tuck it all away. Also, Romans eat their pizza with a knife and fork—you can choose to follow suit, or not.
Deep-fried, salt cod (filetti di baccalà) is a delicacy derived from the Ghetto, Rome's ancient Jewish quarter near the Campo dei Fiori. You can find it in simple fish-and-chips form, or in more elaborate preparations, which include simmering the cod filets in a sauce of tomatoes, pine nuts, and raisins. Actually, legend has it that there are 265 different ways to prepare and consume baccalà, including Baccalà alla Vicentina where the fish is slowly braised with onions, anchovies, and milk.
These cheap, portable cheese croquettes consist of deep-fried rice balls with a melted mozzarella center. They are available in most pizzerias and bars throughout Roman (and Italy, for that matter) and are favored by starving college students. These cheese snacks are best enjoyed alone—as in, without any other culinary accompaniment—as they are meant to be filling. Variations include suppli stuffed with meat sauce, or with green peas and mozzarella.
Most Americans wouldn't recognize this dish when called by its traditional Italian name, fettuccine al burro. However, fettuccine alfredo is a dish known by most. And this over-the-top, gooey cheese concoction that is coveted by American palate originated in Rome and is actually much lighter when prepared and eaten in its Italian homeland. Fettucine al burro consists of long, flat noodles (fettuccine), grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and lots of butter. The young cheese helps the sauce come together for a creaminess that is created by reserving and adding the starchy cooking water to the pasta, instead of milk or cream.