My very first encounter with spaghetti alla carbonara was love at first bite, as with pretty much all Italian dishes. Pasta and percorino cheese, what’s not to love? Since the country has been high on the bucket list, and with my three-month stint at culinary school in London coming to an end, a quick gastronomy trip to Italy felt like a fitting celebration/excuse to finally visit (albeit a little indulgent).
Not only is Rome a food lovers dream, but a total mecca for history and art buffs. There’s endless things to see and do, with some sights truly gob-smacking.
I planned a visit to Rome, or Roma, the countries vibrant capital, with my good friend Tiggy from culinary school. We squeezed in as much as we could over four days, which meant our time consisted of eating and sight-seeing on repeat, until we collapsed into bed each night with buzzing minds and the happiest of tastebuds.
Italian cuisine and notable eating
The Italy cuisine is largely regional specific, meaning depending on where your situated will determine the kinds of dishes you can expect to order. For example, while pasta is considered an Italian cuisine fundamental, favoured pasta sauce toppings will vary region to region.
When zoning in on Roman cuisine, you’ll encounter plenty of fresh seasonal ingredients, prepared simply in ways that really maximise flavour. Many notable dishes are celebrations of long-standing culinary traditions, some centering around once deemed ‘poor mans’ ingredients that were learned to be used creativity, like cheaper cuts of fattier meat fried off to make the most incredibly flavourful pasta sauce bases.
During our trip we enjoyed plenty of Carciofi alla giudìa - an ancient recipe of artichoke cooked ‘jewish-style” aka deep-fried, Pecorino Romano (a type of hard salty cheese), olive oil and balsamic to dress eeerrrr thing, and of course pasta - bliss out on classic Roman varieties like carbonara (egg and cheese), amatriciana (cured pork cheek and tomato), and cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper).
In regards to notable eating, we wholeheartedly LOVED:
Fatamorgana: epic Italian gelato featuring fine artisan flavours - think basil gelato speckled with REAL basil leaves. Their multiple locations are ideal when monument hoping.
Pizzarium: touted the best pizza in Rome, Pizzarium offers scissor-cut pizza squares, paid by the slice. The line out the door was worth it - perfection in pizza form.
Cantina e Cucina: alongside excellent service, the artichoke cabonara was so good I could have cried.
Tonarello: it took us three nightly attempts to get a table at this Trastevere hot spot! Lovely ambience, alongside tasty, well-priced Italian food.
Tiramisu Zum: somedays you want salad, somedays you just want to sink our face into a delicious square of tiramisu. This fab dessert bar specialises in superb quality tiramisu in a variety of flavours - one bite and you’ll be in blissful tastebud heaven.
Pompi: Rome’s most famous tiramisu vendor. They sell cute little takeaway boxes of tiramisu - the strawberry flavoured is dreamy.
Fa-Bio: a lovely, rather virtuous, organic deli nearby the Vatican. On offer are delicious wraps, sandwiches, salads, and a colourul array of juices and smoothies.
Italian sweet treats
Italians know their sweet treats. The hedonism continues below with Italian desserts we found and enjoyed widely:
Cannoli: an Italian pastry originating on the island of Sicily, consisting of a tube-shaped shell of fried pastry dough, filled with a creamy sweet filing, typically containing ricotta. Texturally, they’re very pleasing to eat - once you crack the shell with your teeth, feel the effortless sink into a soft creamy interior.
Gelato: ice cream, Italian style. Gelato and ice cream have similarities, but ultimately differ - consider them lookalike cousins. Gelato has more milk, less cream and eggs (or no eggs), and contains less air, compared to ice cream. Given these compositional differences, gelato is served at a slighter warmer temperature, producing a denser, richer, softer, silkier mouthful. Drool.
Semifreddo: a ‘semi’-frozen dessert with a texture comparable of a frozen mousse or light sliceable ice cream. We tried a coffee semifreddo, and it was delizioso!
Tiramisu: a classic and beloved Italian dessert consisting of a short list of ingredients - coffee-soaked lady fingers layered with cloud-like whipped mascarpone cheese, egg yolks, sugar and cocoa. While the original is pretty much flawless, adaptations and variations work well, like the addition of sweet amaretto, an Italian liqueur. Tiramisu fun fact: the name means “cheer me up”!
With a slight time difference to London, I was gagging for a morning espresso. There’s a plethora of great caffetterie (or coffee shops) in Rome, but if you’re after a really really good cuppa visit these two:
Sciascia Caffè: situated near the Vatican, this historic spot has been running since 1912, making it quite the Roman institution. They serve the most velvety espresso in a cup lined with a faint touch of melted chocolate: together, it is nothing short of extraordinary.
La Casa del Caffè Tazza d'Oro: a stones-throw from the Pantheon, this bustling shop came well-recommend as one of Rome’s best coffee houses. On arrival the line to order was beginning to trail out the door (but moved super fast!). There’s a few benches, but coffee is typically drunk standing-up at the counter.
A foodie adventure: do as the Romans do…and make pasta
With pasta pretty much synonymous with Italy, we decided to sign up for a pasta-making class run by a local - because who’d be better to teach us the tricks of the trade?
We attempted three traditional dishes - an amatriciana sauce, a spinach and ricotta ravioli filler and a carbonara made traditionally with a cheese and egg sauce - the chef said if we ever add cream again he’ll have us banned from Italy. Noted.
We learnt the history of the dishes, and were left us with some truly valuable culinary words to live by: if you to learn to recognise the right signals from your food, a dish will never fail. Basically, use your senses to guide you when cooking - look, taste, smell and touch your food!
We also learnt that when it comes to seasoning an Italian pinch of salt isn’t really a pinch, rather a rather shockingly large three finger scoop. Both parties were equally confused at the others perceived quantity of what constitutes a ‘pinch’, followed by a hot debate, in which, of course, the Italian won.
Sampling our creations had to be one of my favourite foodie moments - eating bottomless bowls of homemade pasta, whilst drinking bio-dynamic red wine, in some random locals apartment next door to the Pantheon. Dreamy! If you’re heading to Rome, book a pasta making class. A++, five star, would trade again.
Touristy top spots
Rome has far more to offer than just food. It is a city of extraordinary beauty, being so historically and culturally rich. There’s much to see and do - here were some favourite spots:
Rome’s best preserved ancient momentum comes in the form of an awe-inspiring 2000 year old temple, now turned church. Look to the ceiling for the worlds largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built.
Well, well, well worth a visit. The Vatican is the worlds smallest (and one seriosuly intriguing) sovereign state. It also houses many of Italys most famed artwork.
Saint Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world, is unforgettable - the sheer size, adorning and timeless artwork (including the only signed piece of work by Michelangelo - the breathtakingly beautiful sculpture Pietà), will render you silent.
Of course, no visit to the Vatican is complete without time in the Sistine Chapel. Gaze up at the ceiling to see the greatest challenge to Michelangelo’s career - the 800 sq vaulted ceiling painted with Biblical scenes.
Historically gory, this 2000 year old attraction is one of the most popular sights in Italy. I highly recommend a behind-the-scenes tour!
Crazy busy, but you have to visit. Throw a coin into the fountain to ensure your trip back to Rome.
A majestic hilly area containing amazing ruins and views. This is the spot where Rome was supposedly founded, back in 753 BC.
Piazza del Popolo
When travelling somewhere new it’s always cool to climb up somewhere high and get a good view of the city. We climbed the hill overlooking the Piazza del Popolo, and saw sights all the way to Saint Peters Basilica! So dreamy at sunset.
…aaannnnd, when it doubt just wander the streets! Soak up the ambience, you’ll feel far from home.
What a lengthy blog post - thanks for reading! To close: Italy I love you and your pasta.