Classic Roman dishes
All the best there is to eat (and drink) in Rome, Italy
Walks & Seminars
• Rome Market Walk
• Savoring Rome, A Culinary Stroll
• Food Culture of Rome
• Eat like the Romans, with Maureen Fant
• Taste of Italy Food Tour to Chianti and Umbria from Rome
• Taste of Rome: A Holiday Stroll
• Italian Cooking
• Small-Group Cooking Lesson in Rome
• Rome Walking Tour and Cooking Class
• Small-Group Cooking Lesson in Roman Countryside
• Annotated Dinner: Cucina Povera
• Annotated Lunch
• La Cena, An Italian Dinner
• Panoramic Rome by Night Tour and Dinner in Trastevere
• Wines of Italy: A Comparative Tasting
• Wines of taly: An Introduction
• Italian Wine and Cheese Tasting in Rome
• Frascati Wine Tasting Tour from Rome
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Great dining experiences
• Bucatini all'amatriciana at Hostaria Romanesca
• Pizza at Da Baffetto
• An old-school trattoria lunch at Fiaschetteria Beltramme
• Gelato from San Crispino or Giolitti
• A classic French feast served by nuns under frescoed ceilings at L'Eau Vive
• Buffet lunch at Birreria Peroni
• The lasagne at Il Duca
• Rigatoni con pajata at Checchino dal 1887 The typical Roman evening meal is often huge and lasts for hours. Some suspect that this conga line of courses is just a scam to get tourists to order more, but Italians often do actually eat such gargantuan meals (though of late, less frequently in today's fast-paced world).
When dining out, you're expected to order at least two courses, and it helps when you stretch out dinner with good wine and lively conversation. If you're not up to a monster meal, however, just ask for a mezza portion (half portion).
You start off with an antipasto (appetizer):
- bruschetta (simple, and among the best; peasant bread grilled, rubbed with garlic, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with salt; ordering it al pomodoro adds a pile of cubed tomatoes on top)
- carciofi alla giudia (artichokes lightly fried in olive oil, a dish especially popular in Jewish Ghetto restaurants)
Primi (first courses)
After the appetizer, your primo (first course) could be a soup—try stracciatella, egg-drop and parmesan in broth—or a pasta.
Among the classic Roman pasta dishes are:
- bucatini all'Amatriciana (thick, hollow spaghetti in a slightly spicy tomato sauce studded with pancetta [belly bacon] or guanciale [jowl bacon])
- spaghetti alla carbonara (with eggs, pancetta, and cracked pepper)
- pasta al pomodoro (in a plain tomato sauce)
- penne all'arrabbiata ("hopping mad" pasta quills in a spicy tomato sauce)
- gnocchi (potato-based pasta dumplings; traditionally served on Thursdays)
Secondi (main courses)
The daily special
In addition to their regular offerings, the menus of many smaller Roman eateries still follow the traditional weekly rotation of dishes: Tuesday zuppa di farro (barley-like emmer soup), Wednesday trippa (tripe), Thursday gnocchi (potato dumpling pasta), and Friday baccalà (salt cod) and/or pasta e ceci (pasta with chick peas).
When you get to the secondo (main course) you may encounter "traditional local cuisine:"
- coda alla vaccinara (braised oxtail with tomatoes)
- pajata (made of calves' intestines still clotted with mother's milk; sounds disgusting—and, frankly, it is—but also utterly delicious).
If you shy away from such culinary adventure, other main courses could include:
- saltimbocca (one of the best Roman secondi; the name means "jumps-in-the-mouth," and it's a tender veal cutlet cooked in white wine with sage leaves and a slice of prosciutto ham draped over it)
- abbacchio à scottaditto (spring lamb so delicious the name avers you'll "burn your fingers" in your haste to gobble it up)
- involtini (veal rolled with veggies—carrots, celery, or artichoke hearts—and stewed in its own juices)
- bocconcini di vitello (veal nuggets, usually stewed with potatoes and sage)
- pollo (chicken)
- scallopine (veal cutlets, cooked in a variety of ways)
Finish off dinner with gelato (ice cream » more), a tartufo (which means "truffle" but on the dessert menu means a fudge center surrounded by vanilla ice-cream and chocolate ice-cream and dusted with cocoa) or tiramisù (espresso-soaked ladyfingers layered with sweetened, creamy marscapone cheese and dusted with cocoa).
Bread & Cover
Italian restaurants have an unavoidable "bread and cover" charge (pane e coperto) of anything from €1 to €15 (though most often €2—€5) added on to your bill.
If you order a table wine in Rome, you will most likely get a light, fruity white from the hills south of the city, either a Frascati or a Castelli Romani. Another excellent white wine from an Umbrian town north of Rome is Orvieto Classico. The capital's restaurants are also usually equipped with a cellar that draws on the best wines from throughout Italy.
Top your meal off with an espresso (it really does help the digestion and, contrary to popular belief, while far more flavorful than a cup of American coffee is actually far weaker, at least so far as caffeine is concerned) and a digestivo, a shot of liqueur to "aid the digestion," usually an amaro (bitter) or a grappa (clear as water, crafted from the leftovers of the wine-making process, and it makes a good rocket fuel to boot. If you want the stuff that'll burn a hole in the table should you spill some, order a grappa duro; if you want it merely to put werewolf-quality hair on your chest, ask for grappa morbido).
- Rome dining homepage
- Best restaurants in Rome
- Pizzerie in Rome
- Wine bars in Rome
- Free nosh at aperitivi bars
- Rome homepage
- Italian dining phrases
This article was written by Reid Bramblett and was last updated in January 2011. All information was accurate at the time.
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