Every region of Italy has culinary offerings that either originate in or are unique to that area, and Rome is no exception. Part of any trip to Rome should involve trying some authentic Roman specialties. Roman cuisine leans heavily to meat, vegetables and pasta, and also includes a lot of fried foods. And while vegetarians can usually always find something on the menu, la cucina romana (Roman cooking) is not ideal for dieters! Yet a taste of authentic Roman food is part of the experience of discovering the Eternal City.
Wherever you eat in Rome (or anywhere in Italy for that matter), ask for recommendations from locals in the know – we generally get a lot better tips on where to eat by consulting a taxi driver or shopkeeper versus a hotel concierge or a guidebook. One foolproof rule of thumb is to always look for restaurants where plenty of tables are filled – with Italians!
The following are some of the most typical Roman dishes. Definitely try several of them on your next visit to Rome.
Saltimbocca alla Romana
This savory dish of veal medallions dressed in prosciutto and sage is a classic of the Italian kitchen. Translated, the name of the dish means "hop-in-the-mouth" and that's exactly what you will want the dish to do once you have tried the original in its native city.
Coda alla Vaccinara
Rome is known for its offal cuisine, that is the cooking of sweetmeats, entrails, and other discarded parts of the animal. You may see it referred to as the quinta quarta – a play on words that means the "fifth fourth," or that part of the animal that is usually discarded. Coda alla vaccinara - oxtail stew - is one of the most famous dishes of this repertoire.
Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe
This spaghetti dish calls for pecorino romano cheese and lots of black pepper. It's a simple, delightful pasta (if you like cheese and pepper, that is) that can be found on trattoria menus across the city – though it's more likely to be on the menu at casual eateries than at high-end restaurants. Some places still prepare it tableside, by mixing the steaming hot pasta on top of a wheel of pecorino so that the cheese melts and coats the pasta strands.
Carciofi - Artichokes
Carciofi, or artichokes, are a Roman specialty in the spring, when the chokes are young, tasty, and easy to manage. You'll find artichokes cooked in several different ways, but the two most popular are alla giudia (the Jewish way) – in which a giant artichoke is flattened and deep-fried – or alla romana, in which smaller artichokes are baked with garlic, mint and olive oil.
Real Roman Pizza
You wouldn't dream of leaving Italy without trying a real Italian pizza, and there's no better place to start than Rome. Traditional Roman-style pizzas are ultra-thin and crispy, and generally not loaded down with sauce, cheese, and toppings. A margherita is a standard cheese pizza, and variations come with arugula, prosciutto, vegetables or spicy salami. Pizza bianca, or "white pizza" has no tomato sauce. One important, if unofficial rule for going out to eat pizza in Italy: One pizza per person. The large discs may look like too much to eat by yourself, but they're so thin that you'll be surprised by how much you can tuck away. You'll probably see a lot of Romans eating their pizza with a knife and fork, and 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.
Suppli al Telefono
These cheap, portable snacks, which are deep-fried rice balls with a melty mozzarella center, are available in most pizzerias and bars and are favored by starving students. They 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.
Fettuccine al Burro
The over-the-top, gooey cheese concoction known as Fettucine Alfredo originated in Rome at the hand of Chef Alfredo di Lelio. But its true forebearer is Fettucine al Burro, a dish that consists only of long noodles (fettucine), grated cheese, and lots of butter.