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I’m guessing that part of your reason for visiting Rome is to eat delicious Italian food. Am I right? Come and explore the food scene of one of the most vibrant cities in the world with our Rome food guide.
Italian food is special for its regional variations on dishes and the simple use of fresh local produce. The food of Rome draws from the Lazio region surrounding the city where there is an abundance of artichokes, peas and sheep producing milk and cheese.
We’ll help you pick some local dishes and restaurants to dine at on your travels. We also reveal our favourite gelato stops and tell you about a wonderful Trastevere food tour.
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Local food in Rome
As in the rest of Italy, the best food in Rome is driven by the availability of local and seasonal produce. And sometimes it has grown from the necessity to preserve items that are available at only certain times of the year.
Baccala alla romana – fried cod
Baccala is one of those dishes. There are many regional recipes for the dried salted cod fish and in Rome they are proud of their rustic version that has its origins in the city’s Jewish ghetto.
To make filleti di baccalà alla romana dried cod is rinsed in water over 48 hours and then fried in batter made with sparkling mineral water.
This delicious fried fish is eaten as a snack. It is never served with chips or fries but rather puntarelle – chicory dressed with a light anchovy sauce. Yum.
Where to eat baccala – Filetti di Baccala – Largo dei Librari, 88, Rome
Carciofi alla giudia – Jewish style artichokes
Some of the best Roman dishes come from the Jewish ghetto and perhaps its most famous is Carciofi alla giudia, literally Jewish style artichokes. After being soaked in water and lemon juice, artichokes are seasoned and then deep fried in olive oil.
The other artichoke specialty of the region is Carciofi alla Romana. Artichoke hearts are stuffed with parsley, garlic, salt and pepper before being braised in water and white wine.
You can eat these dishes year round but they are best tried with local varieties. Artichoke season in the Lazio region around Rome is from February to early April.
Where to eat Jewish style artichokes – Nonna Betta – Via del Portico d’Ottavia, 16, Rome
Suppli – the king of street food in Rome
Suppli means surprise and you will find them on most menus in Rome. Originally a street food snack sold at corner-side stalls, these fried rice balls are so named because they contain a surprise inside.
These days the surprise is usually oozing cheese or ragu, but it once referred to offal. I’m glad this snack evolved to modern tastes as offal is something I’m definitely not a fan of.
Caldarroste – roasted chestnuts
In November, as winter starts closing in around the city, vendors roasting chestnuts set up stalls near Piazza Navona. Chestnuts are called castagne in Italian but roasted chestnuts are known a caldarroste meaning hot and roasted.
I hear that you can find these stalls in any season but it is in autumn that the chestnuts are at their most plump, creamy and sweet. Munching on these treats is one of my favorite local food experiences in Rome.
Pick up a paper cone of this delicious snack, still piping hot having been pulled straight from the embers of the fire and munch your way around the sights of Rome.
Roman pasta dishes you must try
I love pasta and its especially delicious as the weather starts to cool. There is nothing like a hearty pasta dish to warm you from the inside out. Like you, I’ve tried some of Rome’s famous pasta dishes many times at restaurants around the world, but it’s fair to say they somehow taste different when you’re there. These are the three pasta dishes you must eat in Rome.
You might be surprised to know that carbonara is a relatively modern dish. The recipe for this most famous of pasta sauces was not recorded until after World War II.
Made simply with fresh eggs, bacon (pancetta) or guanciale (pork jowl), pecorino romano and pepper, the sauce is usually paired with spaghetti. Note – you will never find cream in a traditional carbonara – or indeed at all in Italy.
Where to eat carbonara – Trattoria da Enzo – Via dei Vascellari, 29. Trastevere
Cacio e pepe
Another modern classic pasta originating in Rome, cacio e pepe is proof to the fact that sometimes the simplest things are the most delicious. Made with grated pecorino cheese (cacio in Roman dialect), pepper and the water that the pasta was cooked in, this tasty dish was one of my favourite meals in Rome.
Where to eat cacio e pepe – Flavio al Velavevodetto, Via di Monte Testaccio, 97, Rome
Around the corner from our AirBnB apartment we also enjoyed meals at Osteria da Fortunata – Via del Pellegrino, 11, Campo de’ Fiori, Rome.
In one of the most brilliant marketing moves ever there are a couple of older ladies rolling fresh pasta at the front of the window of the restaurant. It’s a bit cheesy but hey the pasta was good even if the service was a bit on the rough and ready side.
Holding the middle ground between the simplicity of cacio e pepe and the decadent delights of carbonara, pasta made with sauce alla gricia, has quickly become my favorite. It is made with pecorino and chunks of gianciale (cured pork cheek). And yes it is especially delicious.
Where to eat pasta alla gricia – Roscioli Salumeria Via dei Giubbonari, 21/22, Rome
Pizza in Rome
Pizza has long been associated with the southern Italian city of Naples but the varieties in Rome are well worth exploring too. Generally speaking, the pizza dough in Rome is flatter and crispier than that in the south due to a lower ratio of water to flour in the dough recipe and a longer cooking time.
Translated as “white pizza” this bread made with flour, water and yeast is somewhere between a focaccia and thin pizza. It is a chewy bread usually flavoured with sprigs of rosemary. Pizza bianca can be eaten on its own or stuffed with prosciutto, parmesan and rocket.
Where to eat pizza bianca – Forno Campo de ‘Fiori – Vicolo del Gallo, 14, 00186 Rome
Pizza a taglio
Taglio means “by the cut” or slice and this is exactly how this Roman pizza specialty is sold. Baked in a rectangular tray, pizza al taglio is found at pizzerias across Rome with a variety of toppings including tomato sauce prosciutto, rocket, and eggplant.
As you can imagine, the consistency of the dough has to be just right to be held in the hand. This pizza dough is left to prove for around 72 hours to achieve its crispy exterior and spongy middle when cooked.
Wanting to try pizza a taglio? You order by length and pay by weight.
Where to eat pizza a taglio – La Renella (since 1870!) Via del Moro, 15, Trastevere, Roma
Coffee and cake for breakfast
Italian coffee is one of life’s great pleasures. There is nothing better than sidling up to an Italian bar to order your morning cappuccino or macchiato (never order one after 11:00am!) or afternoon espresso pick me up.
In Italy, coffee is considered an art requiring skill and precision to make it properly. You won’t find huge warm milk based drinks here – phew! At the bar, you will also find an array of pastries, otherwise known as breakfast in Italian. Ok, why not. When in Rome right?
Some favourite coffee bars in Rome
Tiberino – Via di Ponte Quattro capi, 18, Rome – we stopped at this cute cafe on Isola Tiberina en route to the Bocca della Verita. The coffee was great and the brioche oozed with vanilla cream.
Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè – Piazza di San Eustachio, 82, Rome – in a little nook between Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, this historic cafe has been roasting beans and making their own blend of coffee for decades. Some say its roots can be traced to 1800 but regardless, this historic cafe makes great coffee.
Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria – Piazza Benedetto Cairoli, 16, Rome – after passing this cafe several times throughout our stay after we’d already had a coffee stop, I made a point to go there directly. I was not disappointed with this little cafe bursting with locals.
With coffee goes cake right? Even for breakfast? When in Rome you must try maritozzo– a sweet bun filled with whipped cream traditionally eaten for breakfast. Get your fix at Pasticceria Regoli or Roscioli Caffé
Trastevere food tour
One of my favourite things to do when visiting any city is take a local food tour. This activity was at the top of my to do list for Rome as I knew it was the best way to discover the city’s food culture and special local eateries.
Trastevere is an area of Rome I’d heard so many great things about so we joined Eating Europe’s Trastevere food tour for an evening of fun and feasting.
Starting near the Campo de Fiori, we made a few stops around the square to try salami, sausages and delicious baccala before heading over the Ponte Sisto to Trastevere.
Our guide Fiona has an infectious passion for Rome, its culture and food. Over two and a half hours we were introduced to the city’s flavours and stories.
Winding our way through the vibrant streets of Trastevere she stopped to tell us tales of Caravaggio, intrigues and art in between bites of bruschetta, pizza and pasta.
Can you think of a better way to spend an evening? Because I can’t!
We tried a mix of traditional dishes and some with a modern twist, all washed down with local wines.
Our final stop was an amazing gelato shop where we tried some of my favourite flavours of trip including a red wine and dark chocolate flavour that I’m still thinking about today.
It would be mean of me to disclose all these secret food tour stops and experiences, so you’ll just have to do a tour yourself. Just remember to eat lightly beforehand. The servings are generous and the food is delicious.
An old and new market in Rome
We always head to the local produce markets on our travels and on our recent visit to Rome stayed right on top of one of the world’s classics, the Campo de Fiori.
Campo de Fiori
Held every day of the week, this market has evolved to include a few more touristy stalls than you’d like. But it still has a unique Roman feel and there are some brilliant stalls and local shops if you are prepared to spend a little time exploring.
I sent my husband out to get lunch from the market one afternoon and he came back with the most decadent porchetta panini. A whole pig is deboned and then roasted stuffed with fennel, garlic and rosemary. Slices of the pork are laid inside a fresh panini with a good measure of crackling pork skin. Obviously not the light lunch I had hoped for but it was delicious.
If you are looking for local cheeses there are a few stalls to try them. Big wheels of pecorino romano at various stages of maturity are lined up to be tasted and bought.
For a more refined experience and to acquire meats, oil and fresh or dry pasta, head to Antica Pizzicheria Ruggeri. This fabulous food store also stocks local wine. It’s the perfect place to pick up a home made feast.
If you love baked goods you must not miss Forno Campo de’ Fiori famed for its pizza bianca but you can also get pizza a taglio and a wide variety of Italian breads and cookies.
The market is open daily from 8:00am to 13:00pm however most of the specialty stores are closed on Sundays.
If you love Italian food, then you must make the pilgrimage to Eataly. A huge complex dedicated to the best Italian produce and food, Eataly is as modern as the stores around the Campo de Fiori are historic.
At Eataly there are four floors of meat, cheese, pasta and more. You can browse the offerings and sample some of the many free tastings or eat at one of fourteen restaurants and cafes on site. Gelato fans take note, there is a Venchi onsite.
You might like to pick up some foodie souvenirs or even ship a selection of items back home. I would have bought a suitcase full but importing food into Australia is a real pain. Luckily it’s much easier to ship to the United States or within Europe.
Eataly – Via 12 Ottobre, 1492, Roma. Open 09:00am – midnight daily. Metro B – Piramide stop
Recommended gelato stops in Rome
My long running obsession with gelato continued at pace in Rome. Remembering that all gelato is not created equally, here are some of my favourite stops in the Eternal city
Gelateria Giolitti – Via degli Uffici del Vicario, 40, Rome – I lost count of how many people recommended this historic gelateria. They were all spot on too. We loved the pistachio flavour especially.
Make sure to place your order at the bar at the front of the store before selecting flavours at the back if you are getting your gelato to go. Otherwise enjoy the atmosphere under the chandeliers at the tables inside.
Punto Gelato – Via dei Pettinari, 43, Roma – right near the Ponte Sisto, this modern gelateria has some very unusual and creative flavour combinations like buffalo milk, lemon and mint.
Gelateria del Teatro -Lungotevere dei Vallati, 25, Roma – here they source the freshest and best ingredients from all over Italy. Lemon gelato is made with fruit from the Amalfi coast and the pistachio flavour is rich with nuts from Sicily. My favourite was an infusion of rosemary, honey and lemon. So delicious!
Adding to my Rome food guide
A week in Rome was nowhere near long enough to explore this incredible foodie city. You could spend a lifetime eating your way through its classic restaurants let alone discovering modern Italian cooking.
Before our trip, I did my usual weeks of research into recommendations by trusted friends, eaters, cooks and writers. I hope when you visit Rome you’ll enjoy these places as much as I did.
Want to learn more about Italian food?
As we travel throughout Italy, tasting the local cuisine is always a highlight. From cicchetti in Venice to the desserts of Sicily, each Italian region has unique specialties that are one delicious discovery after another.
Everyone who visits Rome has a favourite food story. What’s yours?
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