Ciao ciao everyone! I just returned from a short trip to Rome that I am oh so excited to share with you all. These highlights of my second trip to Rome since 2011, are not the typical touristic activities one might normally think of when they are in the food capital of Italy. Nonetheless I hope you enjoy the coming noms.
First let me start off by advising something. Before you head off to Roma (or anywhere for that matter) try to learn a few key phrases in that language to make your life and others easier, as well as impress your friends and family. You’d be surprised as to how little can get you a long way. Trying is everything. Fake it till you make it
Some useful Italian phrases :
- Hello / goodbye : Salve / Ciao
- Yes / No: Si / No
- I want ______: Io vorrei ______
- This : questo
- That : quello
- How much is this? : quanto questo ?
- I don’t understand: Non capisco
- Excuse me : scusa
- Thank you : Grazie
- Please : per favore
- Cheers! : Salute!
*and in case you want to take meat / cheese back home with you*
- 500 grams (you’ll regret it if you take less) : cinque etti (etti = gram)
These were my holy grail. Of course there are many other useful phrases that might include a topic you’re interested in such as museums or shopping but either way take a day or two before you arrive to hammer some into your brain!
If you recall my adventures in London last year, you’ll remember that I met both my mother, aunt and uncle on my side of the pond, and this trip was derived from the same circumstances.
When I arrived in Rome in the evening last week, I took a taxi to our lovely accommodations (48 euros fixed rate) near the Spanish steps and my mother was already waiting outside for me. We dropped off my bag and immediately ventured out because I was starving, plus we were in Rome so there was no time to waste NOT eating.
I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I don’t know where we ate that night. Lured in by the smell of promising pastas we sat down street side, ordered some white some red and our food. I chose spinach ricotta raviolis with red sauce and my mom, fettuccine bolognese.
The service was fast and I paced myself because I was drinking a bottle of wine to myself, but there was a lot to catch up on and we somehow managed to finish our meals in between all the laughter and wine. Already my Italian had been taken off the shelf and somewhat improved after drinking a glass or two of liquid courage.
I went to sleep that night feeling a buzz that a “linguaphile” (or one who is a lover of words and languages) gets from using and being surrounded by a new language. Needless to say I was excited to quickly fall asleep and wake up with an empty stomach. One nom down and we were just getting started.
In the morning I woke up a bit hungover and in desperate need of coffee. Luckily my mother had packed a few instant coffee packets in her bag so it managed to hold me over in our room (along with a big bottle of water) until we finally got moving for breakfast.
Not far from us is a cafe, bar by the name of Il Baretto, which provides much needed caffeine (to stay or to go) as well as a variety of sandwiches and sweet pastries. Feeling slightly more confident about my Italian phrases, I ordered two cappuccinos, one jam filled croissant (actually referred to in Italian as “brioche”) and a Bowie looking pastry with a sweet glaze. Everything was on the plate for less than a minute as I had my coffee fix in virtually one gulp. For a breakfast in Rome, this is as basic and as nom as they come.
The next activity was something special my aunt had pre-planned and by chance since she had originally hoped for us to go on a walking food tour with Elizabeth and Sophie Minchilli, my aunt’s proclaimed gurus of all this culinary in Rome. Thus this event is something that can only be half recreated*.
The luncheon was centered around an NPR interview segment for ‘Good Food’ between Evan Kleiman and English expat Rachel Roddy. Rachel is an award winning writer, most known for her autobiographical cook book “My Kitchen in Rome” (and frequent columns in The Gaurdian) on how Italian food and life has transformed her life in the most unexpected ways.
The interview took place in the quieter side of the city near the fortress like Rome War Cemetery and unmissable Pyramid Caio Cestio, in an underground trattoria called Flavio al Velavedodetto. The interview was inspirational to say the least, being an expat obsessed with all things food and the ultimate struggle we face when it comes to an identity crisis, being consumed by our foreign surrounds and feeling as if we belong yet remaining aliens all along.
The real question that was left lingering in my brain was when will I write my own Serbian cookbook??
After the talk we moved to the dining area where we were to partake in a tasting of some of Rachel’s favorite Italian dishes. Starting out again with wines galore, our first course consisted of three drool worthy pastas: buitini am rigatoni (rigatoni with red sauce and guanciale or pork cheek), cacio e pepe (spaghetti with a creamy cheese and pepper ) and carbonara (rigatoni with a decadent egg yolk coating and again guanciale).
Luckily we were surrounded by amazing expats who I was able to ask about the ingredients, specifically guanciale. If you’ve ever had pancetta, you can appreciate a thick cut of meat with a delicious layer of fat. Well guanciale leaves pancetta in the dust. With a higher percentage of fat, when rendered in the pan the outer braised layer becomes crunchy (like American bacon) while the fat virtually melts in your mouth. Pure, utter bliss.
The second course was Polpette di lesso and steamed cicoria. This fist sized meatball is made from already cooked meat (as opposed to raw), herbs, cheese and lemon, fried to golden perfection. After all the pasta it was almost too much but in my opinion it’s all in your mind. So nom on I did, and gladly.
Last but absolutely not least, dolce or dessert. This was the part my aunt was most excited about, having done this part of a food tour segment before, the quintessential Italian no bake sweet: tiramisu. They served us each the perfect amount, just enough to cleanse your pallet (however of course leaving me begging for more).
After this fabulous lunch my mother and I parted ways with my aunt and decided to take a leisurely stroll down the Tiber river towards St. Peter’s. From the restaurant it was around a 40 minute walk but we took advantage of the perfect weather and sauntered by the river way. If you have the time (and good weather) I highly advise you do this to escape the cramped intercity sidewalks.
Later that evening, after a bit of rest, we chose to walk through the streets from Spagna to Campo de Fiori, window shopping and people watching. En route back I had told my mom that we had to try gelato at a place opposite the steps once we finally made our way back. I had seen some decadent looking macaroon topped cones from a Belgrader I follow on Instagram, Fudbloger, who had been there a few weeks before.
The Don Nino Gelateria has a wide selection of flavors that will make for a very tricky decision. When a fresh batch of stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate shavings) came out though, I was certain and paired it with a fresh mint. The large cone is then topped with two mini cones and a rich colored macaroon. It was a true work of art. My mom got the same treatment except in a cup with tiramisu.
Don Nino is on the expensive side, however for the amount and quality, it is well worth it. (Plus we had been walking the entire day and had skipped any notion of dinner after that lunch). If you’re near the Spanish steps, treat yourself to a cold refreshing dessert…except don’t do this on the steps, for it is forbidden, which I learned to hard way!
The previous night we had decided that we would plan a day trip to escape the congestion of the city and where better to do than in the quaint hill town of Orvieto. A little over an hour outside of the city (via a beautiful train ride), Orvieto is considered to be the mini Florence of Umbria but with much fewer crowds. Once you have arrived at the station, take the fernicular (vertical tram) up to the village and prepare to be amazed. There are 360 degree views surrounding Orvieto so make sure to enjoy all of them by walking the exterior as well as the interior.
The cathedral or Dom von Orvieto on the left bank of the town is a must see. The strikingly bold stripes were a characteristic I had yet to see and the dome’s outer details are remarkably impressive. Inside you can marvel at the stained glass and beautiful (yet actually horrifying) frescos in the adjoining chapels. If you buy the combined ticket you can also visit the Museum Dell’ Opera next door which houses a spectacular exhibit by the famed (modern day) Italian sculptor Emilio Greco.
After investigating the town square, we were drawn in to one of the captivating side streets where we came face to face with the furry head of a stuffed wild boar. The buzz of people coming in and out of the tiny shop with giant sandwiches in hand, hinted that this place must be something special, and truly it was. Il Negozietto is a hole in the wall deli with a mouthwatering selection of meats, cheeses and other jarred delights.
There is a small sandwich menu in both English and Italian which helped with the selection process and having seen the wild boar as we walked in, it didn’t take long to decide on our impromptu lunch. One food word that had stuck with me since Milan received his edible souvenir from Florence during the summer was: Bresaola, an aged, salted meat that turns dark red or even purple and is often served as an antipasto. Il Negozietto’s bresaola is as you can guess made from succulent wild boar. Naturally I ordered one of these and one with basic prosciutto crudo, the wild boar’s domesticated cousin.
If sandwiches were a work of art, then the panino’s at Negozietto are masterpieces. The maestro behind the counter is meticulous about the exact slices of meat, accompanied by thicker pieces of incredible pecorino (cheese from sheep’s milk) and olive, truffle oil spread to further enhance the savory flavors of the meat. After collecting our subs, we sat on a bench opposite the shop, split both in half and started our nomventure. Both were delicious but the wild boar bresaola was hands down one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. The spices from the curing create an explosion on both your taste buds and your brain. Truly the epitome of Italian noms.
As you can see from the pictures above, Orivieto is the charming town straight out of an Disney fairy tale. The people are friendly (perhaps because the amount of tourists had reduced) and there is something beautiful to discover around every corner. Give yourself enough time to take the tram back down the hill in order to catch your train back to the hustle and bustle of Rome. I can assure you that you won’t regret planning a day trip to this central Italian gem.
The following day was my last full day in Rome therefore my aunt had planned to make the most of it. That day she had planned on taking us to the Borghese Gallery, where I had not been on my previous trip so I was quite excited. In addition it couldn’t hurt to see a bit more artwork, despite my aversion this time around to being caught up in museums or touristic attractions.
Our first stop that morning was a local grocery store so that I could buy 00 type flour to bring home with me. The week before I left, I made my first attempt at making pasta since we had a pasta machine hidden away in our kitchen at home. It came out nice, however there is a special fine milled flour that you cannot find in Serbia thus I had added it to my list of nomcessories.
With that checked off, we walked south towards the Campo de Fiori and stopped in at a Danish shop which is always on my list: Tiger (or Flying Tiger). As a side note, if you haven’t been to one of these store, do! It is filled with quirky items that you won’t see anywhere else, and you’ll most likely end up leaving with things you didn’t even know you needed. There are Tigers all over Rome but this one is rather large and near the roman ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina, so you can’t miss it (just watch out for the cats).
With my bag full of things I apparently needed, we headed off for an early lunch at a small cafe on the backstreet of Via del Pellegrino called Cafe Barnum. If you aren’t familiar with the name, you might be reminded by the pictures around the room of clowns and circus memorabilia. Sound familiar? (hint: Barnum & Bailey Circus!)
They serve breakfast in the morning and then take a pause in between lunch, so we ordered a few coffees and juice to kill some time before our meal. They have a board of daily specials and for some reason unbeknownst to my brain, their stir fry dish seemed to speak to my stomach. When we got around the ordering lunch, my mom and aunt both ordered chicken avocado sandwiches which were recommended by a customer near by.
I’m sure you are thinking I was crazy for ordering an Asian inspired dish in the heart Rome but you would be wrong. The “Wok Pollo” had the perfect amount of sweet and sour sauce and a hearty amount of chicken, peppers and zucchini, topped with bean sprouts and served with a bed of white rice. It was kind of great to change your pallet to a different food genre after eating pizza, pasta, meats and cheeses for consecutive days. Some of my favorite restaurants in Belgrade as you know are not in fact Serbian food. Delicious stir fry in the capital’s center can be found, so look no further and change the pace at Cafe Barnum.
Since the tickets for the Borghese had been previously booked, we were on a tight schedule and hoofed it back to our place to drop off our goods. Along the way however I detached myself from the group so that I could purchase my promised gift to Milan, Italian meat and cheese. Not far off from the grocery store I had visited before, there is a bustling delicatessen frequented by real Romans (since the 1930’s) who buy their meat and cheese by the kilos as well as stopping in for a bite to eat around lunch time.
Remember as I said before, it is important to learn a bit of the native language if you expect to gain at least a bit of respect for the locals. So I mustered my confidence and queued in line at Salsamenteria Fratelli Fabbi with everyone else. A lovely older gentleman finally took my order, corrected my poor yet understandable speech and produced exactly what I wanted. Since Milan’s main intention was to make carbonara, I chose a triangle of pecorino and a huge chunk of lucious guanciale. He even asked me (half mimed) if I was intending to fly with the goods which I confirmed and he happily vacuum sealed both items and sent me off with a warm smile and my receipt to pay. I have to admit, it was the best interaction with a Roman yet.
I booked it back to stuff the noms in the community mini fridge and immediately we were on our way to the Borghese gardens. That day there was a fun run , therefore it took a little while to navigate around the park to the gallery. But once we were there (sweating from the October heat wave) it didn’t take us long to cool down by the surrounding granite statues.
The gallery consists of twenty two rooms filled with a collection of paintings, mosaics and statues, and perhaps most note-worthy for the jaw dropping sculptures by Bernini. Each room has it’s own theme, many of them following the myths of ancient Greece. With that being said, if you do visit the gallery, either follow a guided tour, download the museum’s app for your phone or read the placards placed in the corner of each room, because the stories really are too interesting to pass up.
For example my favorite is the story behind Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne. Apollo who once mocked the god of love, Eros (aka Cupid) was then shot by an arrow of passion and fell madly in love with the nymph Daphne, who unfortunately for the god of war, was also shot with an arrow of hatred towards Apollo. He chased down the evasive nymph and once he eventually caught up to her, Daphne begged her father Peneus (the river god) to help her escape and his fine solution was by turning his daughter into a tree. In Bernini’s sculpture you can see Apollo wrapping his arms around Daphne’s waist which is already turning into bark, her finger tips sprouting branches and her feet transforming into the a tree trunk. Despite her new earthly form, Apollo vowed to love Daphne eternally. How twistedly romantic.
Once my trip down medieval political theory lane was completed we strolled this time leisurely back through the park and back to our room to rest before dinner and pack my ever growing carry-on suitcase. Because my uncle was in Rome for work, he was finally able to join us for dinner that night. My aunt had chosen Trattoria da Giggi which is not far away from the Spanish steps and a place her and my uncle had frequented multiple times before.
We arrived on the earlier side (we aren’t Roman are we?) but with an early flight in the morning, I was more than happy to eat and digest on my on time. The interior of Giggi’s is the Italian restaurant you have in your mind, cozy and casual. We ordered a vessel of red wine, water and bruscetta to start. Since my uncle had been in Rome for the better part of a month and taking Italian lessons, I was quite impressed by his handle on ordering.
To start off the bruscetta was fabulous. Ripe tomatoes and basil slathered over a perfectly crusty piece of bread which was absorbing the olive oil from the plate, allowing it to remain crispy yet moist at the same time. Rule of thumb, one order includes two slices, and one piece is enough for one person (unless you are starving). It was a perfect way to open my appetite for what was to come.
When it came to the pasta (in this case our main), my uncle ordered fettuccine bolognese, my mother adventurously chose a salmon fettuccine, while both my aunt and I went with bucatini all’amatriciana, in order to fully relive the episode we had during the luncheon a few days before.
My mother adored her fettuccine with creamy salmon sauce. With small bits of fish, the pasta as a whole wasn’t overpowered by the salmon and created an overall creamy delicious texture to the dish. I assumed that all the red sauce she had eaten, drove her to make this choice but this was truly a case of you never know what you might like until you nom it.
Over on my end of the table, I was as passionate about my pasta as Apollo was about Daphne. This might have been my first time trying bucatini (a thick spaghetti with a signature hole in the center) as it’s not commonly seen on a menu unless you’re at an authentic Italian restaurant. Said pasta was covered in a rich tomato sauce and full of generous pieces of my new favorite part of the pig, gianciale. With a little bit of parmesan, it was for lack of a better word, bellisimo.
At the end of our meal, I was in such a food daze that I couldn’t even contemplate dessert. Instead when we left the restaurant we took a walk around the neighborhood one more time before heading back to catch some zzzs. As I curled up in bed that night the thoughts of my last dinner at Gigi’s was still swimming around in my head and stomach. The trip in its nomtirity was complete and I felt confident leaving on the best of notes and a feeling deep in my belly that I would return to this wonderful place once again in the future.
Arrivaderci Roma. Until next time.
Back in Belgrade, I have to admit things seem a little bit less romantic but it is a relief to not be surrounded by people everywhere you look. Where I live on the outskirts of the city is for the most part quiet, something I don’t appreciate enough. I came home with gifts for Milan as well as Mooshoo (more for her actually) and to my surprise there was a freshly made gibanica on the stove, waiting to be nommed. It was good to be home.
As I mentioned before I managed to make pasta with our pasta machine and am excited to try it out again with the proper flour I bought in Rome. The results from my pre trip pasta were actually quite tasty if I do say so myself, topped with a homemade tomato sauce, roasted vegetables and Parmesan.
See not too shabby!
I’ll keep you all posted on how the new and improved version comes out. Maybe I’ll even use some guanciale!