In my last post, I mentioned that our silence earlier this summer was the result of our trip to Italy. I also promised some posts detailing some of the culinary delights Jenny and I experienced in our travels. While it’s been a while coming, this is the first in what will be a series of posts focusing on what we ate in the different places we visited.
First up, Rome. For most people, Rome is the natural starting point to a trip to Italy. And why not? It’s full of amazing things to see, and equally amazing things to eat. And while few things ruin an appetite like jet lag, we still managed to pack quite a bit of eating into three days. Okay, we ate a lot in three days. So rather than bore you with every detail, I’m only going to talk about the highlights.
Rome is the only place in Italy where we ate pizza. Those who’ve spent time in Italy will know that pizza isn’t that common in most cities outside of Naples – the birthplace of pizza. And so it was appropriate that our first Italian pizza experience came at PizzaRè, purveyors of great Neapolitan-style pizza. We split two pizzas: the Napoletana ai fiori di zucca (bufala mozzarella, fresh anchovies, and zucchini flowers) pictured above, as well as the Rucola (mozzarella, prosciutto, arugula and shaved parmigiano).
While the crust, char and cornicione (that’s pizza snob-speak for crust) were outstanding on both pizzas, the flavour combination of the anchovies and zucchini blossoms on the Napoletana was something I’m still craving as I write this. Along with our pizza, we shared a stewed octopus dish that was also fresh and delicious.
Like most regions and cities in Italy, Rome is home to several unique culinary delights. The Jewish quarter is a perfect example of this. Home to Rome’s Jewish population for centuries, today the quarter is full of restaurants serving interesting Jewish Roman specialties. We ended up at one of the oldest and best-known restaurants in the area, Giggetto al Portico d’Ottavia, for lunch one day, and it definitely ended up being one of the most memorable meals we had during our entire two weeks in Italy.
On the plate of fried goodness in the above photo is carciofo alla guidia (Jewish-style fried artichoke), filetto di baccala (deep-fried salted cod), and fiore di zucchina ripieno (deep-fried zucchini blossom). The blossom was stuffed with mozzarella and anchovy, and the taste was – not surprisingly – reminiscent of the pizza we’d had at PizzaRè. The anchovies we had in Italy were so different from the ones we find here in Canada – far less fishy tasting; just fresh, salty and delicious.
We followed our sampling of fried goodies by sharing an order of Roman-style tripe, which is stewed in a tomato sauce flavoured with mint. Growing up Italian, I remember having tripe served to me a few times. And while it’s definitely an acquired taste that I haven’t entirely acquired yet, it was something I was determined to try while in Italy. Verdict: surprisingly good, though I’m probably okay with not eating it again until my next trip to Italy.
Next up, Caffe Sant’Eustachio for some espresso. This place, located near the ancient Roman Pantheon and in business since the 1930s, is a legend in Italy. Many regard Sant’Eustachio as the best espresso in Rome. Some say it’s because of the water, from a 19th century aqueduct. Others claim it’s the method used in brewing the coffee, which is kept secret from customers’ eyes by screens around the espresso machine. Honestly, considering the fact prices at Sant’Eustachio are considerably higher than at most other caffes in Rome, and the fact that just about every espresso in Italy is a good espresso, the experience left me a bit underwhelmed.
The final stop on this quick taste of Rome is a mozzarella bar called Obika. Since the first location opened in central Rome in 2004, its popularity and the concept of featuring fresh mozzarellas and meats from Italy have taken off. Today, there are more than a dozen Obika locations across Italy, Tokyo, London, Kuwait and New York. I was initially skeptical of this place when we decided to stop in to Obika’s Campo de Fiori location for aperitivo (a relatively new Italian tradition of having a snack and drink in late afternoon or early evening). I mean, I like good mozzarella, but it’s not the most exciting cheese in the world. But the combination of fresh bufala mozzarella with a tasting of prosciutto di Parma, mortadella and a Tuscan finocchiona (a handmade fennel salami) made for the perfect snack. It was especially good paired with an Aperol spritz, a popular Italian drink made with prosecco, Aperol bitters, and soda water. And as Campo di Fiori was drenched in a torrential downpour while we ate, I couldn’t think of a better place to be.
So, that’s a taste of Rome. If you’re hungry for more, watch for future posts on the foods of Florence, Tuscany, and Bologna.