An Italian meal traditionally starts with the antipasto (literally “before the meal”), consisting of various cold cuts of meat, seafood and vegetable dishes.
The next course, il primo, consists of a soup or pasta dish, and it’s fine to eat just this and nothing else.
This is followed by il secondo – the meat or fish course, usually served alone, except for perhaps a wedge of lemon or tomato, a
garnish of salad, or a potato or two.
Side dishes – contorni – are ordered and served separately, and sometimes there won’t be much choice: potatoes will often come as chips (patatine fritte); salads are either green (verde) or mixed (mista).
Afterwards you nearly always get a choice of frutta (fresh fruit) and a selection of dolci (desserts) – sometimes just gelato – ice cream.
1. Pasta alla gricia
Pasta alla gricia is one of the most famous dishes of Lazio cuisine and is considered the ancestor of pasta alla amatriciana.
This pasta includes just a few ingredients: guanciale, black pepper, and pecorino cheese.
Guanciale is an unsmoked Italian bacon prepared with pig’s jowl or cheeks.
Its name is derived from guancia, the Italian word for cheek.
2. Bucatini all’amatriciana
Named after Amatrice, the northern Lazio town high in the Abruzzi mountains where it originated.
The sauce consists of tomatoes mixed with Italian bacon – guanciale (pork cheek) or pancetta (pork belly) – laced with chilli pepper and liberally dusted with grated Pecorino romano cheese.
The classic pasta accompaniment are bucatini.
3. Spaghetti alla carbonara
The piping hot pasta is immediately mixed with a raw egg, cheese (Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano), bacon (guanciale or pancetta), and black pepper.
The hot pasta is combined with a mixture of raw eggs, cheese, and fat away from additional direct heat to avoid coagulating the egg, either in the pasta pot or in a serving dish. The eggs should create a creamy sauce.
Guanciale is the most commonly used meat in Italy, but pancetta and local bacon are also used.
Dense and bite-sized potato and flour dumplings, gnocchi originated in Northern Italy but have infiltrated nearly every regional cuisine.
The traditional Roman recipe uses semolina flour and makes heavy gnocchi, but you can also find the typical gnocchi with potatoes, usually served with tomato sauce.
Try them also with gorgonzola cheese or simply “burro e salvia” with butter and sage.
5. Pasta Cacio e Pepe
Sometimes the simplest dishes are among the best. Perfectly al dente (“with a bite”) spaghetti is tossed hot with cracked black pepper and grated Pecorino romano (a local sharp, aged sheep’s milk cheese rather similar to Parmesan).
This savoury veal dish is so good they call it “jumps-in-the mouth”.
A veal escalope is layered with sage leaves and prosciutto then sautéed in white wine.
7. Abbacchio scottadito
Roasted Roman spring lamb, so succulent the name claims you’ll “burn your fingers” in your haste to eat it.
A codfish, you see this prepared many ways in Rome. If you see it on the fritti menu, then the fish is served up fried—as a popular antipasto or a contorno with some pizza.
More conventionally, fish also features, usually as cod or baccalà and best-eaten Jewish-style, deep-fried in batter: like British fish and chips without the chips.
9. Carciofi alla romana
Tender Italian artichokes, often laced with garlic and mint, are braised in a mixture of olive oil and water.
This dish of braised artichokes—the standard-bearer of traditional Roman vegetables—is remarkable for three things: the mystique of the carciofo romanesco (large Roman globe artichoke), the special way the artichoke is cut and the distinctive mintlike mentuccia (Roman dialect for nepitella, or calamint in English).
Unfortunately, not everyone has access to real Roman artichokes or mentuccia. Just buy the most tender artichokes available and remove anything that isn’t edible. A carciofo alla romana should have an almost buttery texture. The more olive oil you use, the better the dish will be.
10. Carciofi alla giudia
A staple in Rome’s Jewish quarter, these artichokes are quickly fried, turning the leaves crisp and nutty and the hearts tender and earthy.
A typical Roman contorno that should be served (and eaten!) only when it’s in the season: from November through February.
These crunchy green chicory shoots are served as a salad, dressed with olive oil, vinegar, anchovies and garlic.
Perhaps it was first invented in Tuscany, perhaps in Rome. Either way, bruschetta today is a staple on the menu of most Roman restaurants.
A very simple dish, it’s said that it came about when 15th-century olive oil makers would toast their bread over a fire that they used to keep warm in the winter, then would taste-test their own olive oil on it.
Today, the recipe is pretty much the same: A good bread rubbed with only a bit of garlic and topped with olive oil.
One of the most popular varieties, of course, is bruschetta al pomodoro (with tomatoes). Just make sure you pronounce it correctly: it’s “broo-SKETT-ah,” NOT “broo- shet-ah!”
Roman pizzas are delicious, but have a style of their own, with a thinner and crispier base.
Pizza in Rome has nothing to do with the kind you find in Naples.
In Rome, pizza is thin- really thin. There is no lip to the crust and if it’s done well it has a nice “char” to it.
Typically, the only time of day when Roman pizza is made is at night, so anyone that wants it has to have it for dinner.
14. Pizza Bianca
One of the most popular foods in Rome is called Pizza Bianca, which means white pizza.
Every bakery in Rome has this flatbread available to buy.
The bread itself is light, fluffy, and salty but the inside is very soft and chewy just like freshly baked bread, certainly one at the tops of our what to eat in Rome list!
A classic construction worker’s lunch is pizza bianca stuffed with mortadella.
Suppli are rice balls, shaped like large croquettes.
If they contain mozzarella, they are called supplì al telefono because when you break one open, the cheese forms a string like a telephone wire.
4 ADVICE TO EAT IN ROME
1. Don’t eat at any restaurant where the menu is translated into five languages (or, worse yet, where the menu is simply photographs of spaghetti drowning in red sauce).
2. Avoid restaurants where the waitstaff is overly solicitous of passers-by. If their restaurant is so great, why do they need to hustle you in off the street?
3. Most restaurants located right on the main piazzas are big-time tourist traps. Stick to the smaller squares and side streets.
4. Do as the Romans do. If you follow the locals (they’re the ones who go out after 8 pm), you’ll be in good shape.