Today we are eating our way through Rome! The Eating Italy series goes to Rome with Tavole Romane. The couple who make up Tavole Romane write the blog of the same name (with versions in both Italian and English), where they give anonymous reviews of the culinary scene and their eating suggestions in Rome. Whenever I'm in Rome, I always have at least one of their pocket guides (i tascabili) with me, for gelato, streetfood, Best Roman Pasta, etc. Even better than their pocket guides, are their food tours. I was fortunate to enjoy their expertise, enthusiasm and company on one of the food tours they offer. After spending some time with them, it is clear the passion they both have for their city, and its food. Their tour was delicious, fun and educational, and I would highly recommend joining one while you're in Rome. Recently, they've expanded their services to include custom-tailored food tours in and around Rome and both Italian and International corporate team-building events and gala dinners. They know the Roman culinary scene well.
I was thrilled when they agreed to take part in this Eating Italy series. Like their tours, in this interview they've gone over the top with their efforts and enthusiasm and blown away all my expectations. This is not just an interview, but also a most-comprehensive guide to eating in Rome. Whether it's fine dining, streetfood, gelato or food festivals and on any budget and time constraint, they've covered it....
1) What made you start Tavole Romane, first the blog and then the food tours?
It all started while we were sipping a cup of tea at a café in Rome. We said to ourselves, “Why don’t we find a way to nurture and share our passion for Rome and its cuisine?” And so, in the spring of 2010 Tavole Romane (Roman Tables) was born, initially as a hobby and an amateur blog, where we describe our culinary forays in restaurants, pizzerie, and also in Roman “street food” eateries. As bloggers we have chosen to remain anonymous because the fundamental principal that inspires Tavole Romane is that we give advice, just as a trusted friend would, on how to best enjoy the culinary soul of Rome. Therefore, our visits to these localities are anonymous and this ensures that we remain independent from the restaurateurs: We receive no special treatment and live our experiences as regular clients would and we pay our bill!
At a certain point, given the interest created by the blog, the entrepreneurial spirit that we have as experienced professionals in other sectors, and the energy that we have for this project, we arrived at a new question, “Why don’t we accompany anyone ‘by hand,’ who would like to join us and discover the true flavors and culture of Rome?” And so, we started the company Tavole Romane Food Tours. Our aim is to offer original paths of exploration of our city, always with a strong component tied to quality food and wine, and we also offer services and events for Italian and international companies.
2) What is distinctive and/or special about Roman cooking, especially in relation to the other regions in Italy?
The use of the “poor man’s” (povere) ingredients in the creation of pasta and main dishes, in particular the so-called fifth-quarter (quinto-quarto). These are the remains/unused parts of the butchered animal; tripe, offal, tongue, just to name a few. And of course, the use of the seasons in the kitchen, especially in the use of fruits and vegetables.
We also adore the classic Roman pasta dishes prepared with guanciale; la carbonara, l’amatriciana and la gricia (basically an amatriciana without tomato sauce)! And also Cacio e Pepe, but only few restaurants know how to prepare it properly.
Vegetarians should not be afraid because today Rome also has a wide range of dishes for them. There is no need to go to a restaurant only for vegetarians, either. You can easily find good dishes without meat nor fish in many, if not all, good retaurants in Rome.
3) What tips do you have for those visiting Rome so that they can fully experience and enjoy the food in Rome?
- Don’t sit at the first place you find, even if it is full and, therefore, seems popular. Rome is a city full of tourists and there are many “tourist traps,” especially close to the most popular sights. We advise you to read up and do you research before coming to Rome, using reliable websites, blogs, and guidebooks.
- At least for one night (or afternoon) if you can, get away from the very center of Rome to the spots most loved by the Romans where you can have a truly local experience. It really isn’t difficult, with the use of public transportation or a short taxi ride, to get to these spots.
- Don’t miss tasting the Roman street food for a quick, savory snack. Rome has a variety, practically unique in Italy. Eating street food is an excellent way to savor the many “faces” of Roman food without spending too much in the way of money and time.
- Immerge yourself among the local people. For example, at a bar during breakfast time, enjoy your cappuccino and cornetto standing like they do.
4) What 5 dishes, desserts, and/or wines should every visitor to Rome be sure not to miss?
- Maritozzo – (Shown in the first photo above) Made with a semi-sweet yeast dough and filled with fresh whipped cream, have it at the first of the morning to give you energy for the entire day.
- Pasta Cacio e Pepe – Choose carefully where you eat it because the dish seems very simple to make.Instead it is easier to mess it up and be left with either a sticky or too liquid mess.
- Artichokes (Carciofi) – In particular, carciofi all giudia, fried and open like a flower, or carciofi alla Romana, stewed with wild mint (mentuccia). The best period for savoring tasty artichokes from the Lazio region is between February and May. Out of season, the artichokes are imported from elsewhere.
- Suppli – Cylinder-shaped, fried savory snacks. The classic suppli are made with rice dressed with tomato ragu and stringy mozzarella in the center. The mixture is shaped into a cylinder, breaded and fried.
- Gnocchi di Patate – Typically found on Thursdays according to ancient tradition. The ancient Roman trattorie (known as buiaccari) prepared a specific dish for each day, and Thursdays were for potato gnocchi.
- The wines of Fiorano (We’re adding a 6th especially for this wine producer) - An organic farm, just outside of Rome in a lush and superb Roman countryside. They produce, among other things, great wine bringing back a famous name from the past and a winery that had been abandoned.
5) What are the lastest food trends in Rome that you're really enjoying?
Quality Food Trucks - Designed especially for office areas, but we hope that with time these quality food trucks will replace the many anonymous vans that invade the center of Rome. The food trucks (Ape Piaggo, in Italian) we like the best are: Mozao , L’Ape Romeo, and Pizza e Mortazza.
The pizza of Gabriele Bonci and trapizzino of Stefano Callegari (00100 and Pizzeria Sforno) – Their food is becoming easier to find in the city thanks to the chefs’ opening of new stores and their collaborations with other eateries and food shops.
Aperigelato - Savory gelato flavors before dinner, paired, for example, with salami, and smoked cheeses.
Cucina Innovativa featuring Roman cooking – More and more rising young chefs are experimenting and mixing traditional Roman cuisine with the new. Our pioneering spirit cannot help but appreciate this.
Craft Beer and the variety available - Now there are so many different and really appreciated craft beers that craft beer festivals are springing up, with an increasing number of fans participating.
6) What 7 eateries in Rome are you loving right now?
Metamorfosi - Chef Roy Caceres, joined by sous chef John Regefalk, leads this restaurant with his genius. His Colombian and Middle Eastern roots meet Italy with skill and flair. Recently, in our opinion, they stand out for the preparation of bread, really extraordinary for fragrance and cooking level. Do not miss: “Uovo 65 ° carbonara” (deconstructed carbonara with an egg cooked to 65°C) or the risotto prepared with foie gras. Restaurant has a Michelin star. (In the Parioli district on Via Antonelli, 30 - Tel . 06 807 6839)
Restaurant Pipero al Rex (Inside the Hotel Rex) - Here, too, this restaurant has a Michelin star, but the culinary scene is completely different. The dishes here are mostly about territory and Italian tradition, with the chef's originality. In the kitchen is the young chef Luciano Monosilio. In the front is " lui," Alexander Pipero, himself - the maitre d ' , sommelier and showman. Do not miss: the carbonara and their dishes with duck. (Near via Nazionale on via Torino 149 - Tel. 06 481 5702)
Marzapane – A relatively recent opening, giving to Rome the gift of superlative cuisine from a young - but already acclaimed and experienced – Spanish chef, Alba Esteve Ruiz. There are very few tables (20) and it is almost always sold out. You must book early. Excellent value for money with a tasting menu below 40 euros. Do not miss the antipasti plates (all of them!) and Spaghettone with raisins (Spaghettone con uvetta), the swordfish, or the lardo and spiced bread. (Near Piazza Fiume/Salario on via Velletri 39 - Tel. 06 6478 1692 )
Armando al Pantheon - Just a stone's throw from the magnificent Pantheon. The restaurant has years and years of history of Roman cuisine, tradition and attachment to its roots. In the kitchen is the family Gargioli creating recipes that follow the ancinet Roman calendar and the seasons. Do not miss: the artichokes or la minestra di broccoli & arzilla when in season. They also offer a menu for vegetarians. (Salita dei Crescenzi , 31 - Tel . 06 6880 3034)
Flavio al Velavevodetto - One of our favorite Roman trattorias, under the Monte dei Cocci, whose fragments can be glimpsed from the window panes inside the room. Do not miss the antipasti of fried seasonal vegetables, any of the Roman pasta dishes, the meatballs both boiled or with sauce (le polpette di bollito o al sugo), and the tiramisu. (In Testaccio on via di Monte Testaccio 97 - Tel. 06 574 4194)
Romeo Chef & Baker - 400 square meters of space in an old Alfa Romeo factory was completely renovated and designed for the creations of Michelin-starred Chef Cristina Bowerman (of Glass Hostaria restaurant in Trastevere) and her partners, the historical family Roscioli (the family behind Forno Roscioli). Open from morning to late night, for food shopping ( pizza and freshly baked bread, salami, cheeses, etc.), delicious panini, for a seated lunch or dinner, or an aperitif. (In the Prati district on via Silla 26a. - Tel . 06 32 110 120)
Open Colonna - Behind the scenes is starred Chef Antonello Colonna, who manages the space and its cuisine. We recommend this address in particular for the Mediterranean-style brunch with its buffet, both rich in quality and variety, on Saturday and Sunday (30 euros, drinks not included) and even the gourmet dining, à la carte, in the evening. (The roof of the Palace of Expositions.)
7) You might agree with me, but in my opinion, Rome is one of the best cities for really good and good quality gelato, as long as you know where to go. What are your favorite spots for gelato in Rome?
Yes, absolutely! And luckily, there are more and more quality gelato shops continuing to open in Rome.
Our favorites in the city center are:
Gelateria del Teatro (They have 2 locations, but above all, the location at Coronari) Via dei Coronari 65/66 (no website)
Fior di Luna in Trastevere
Fatamorgana (they have various locations in the city from Monti to Trastevere)
Carapina – Newly opened near Campo de’ Fiori on via dei Chiavari 37/37A, this renowned gelateria from Florence is known for its quality and originality of flavors
And for those more adventurous “foodies” who will go out of their way (and a little away from the city center) for gelato, we absolutely recommend you not miss:
Otaleg! (gelato spelled backwards) in the Monteverde district
Gelato Bistro for a savory aperigelato (easily reachable after your stop at the Vatican Museums)
Gori Gelato in the Montesacro district
8) Which food and wine festivals in and around Rome would you recommend?
Taste of Roma - In September at the Auditorium Parco della Musica di Roma. It is a unique opportunity to try the cuisine of many “haute cuisine” and Michelin-starred chefs that, for this occasion, offer affordable tasting portions of their best dishes.
Artichoke Festival (Sagra del Carciofo) - In April in the town of Sezze. This is a historical event whre you’ll find the artichoke everywhere in the village. You’ll be able to sample and purchase artichokes in a variety of ways.
Sagra degli Spaghetti all’Amatriciana - The last weekend in August in the town of Amatrice, the kingdom of this excellent Roman pasta dish. During the festival it is prepared and offered from many stands to visitors. Why in August? This is the month in which the cured guanciale reaches its peak, so that when it’s added to the sauce, you have the tastiest amatriciana.
Chestnut Festival in the Tuscia Viterbese (Sagre delle Castagne) – Villages of Canepina and Soriano del Cimino, for example, hold true and proper sagre. For the occasion, the old cantine of these little villages open their kitchens and become places where, with 20 euros a person, you can feast on antipasti, hand-made pasta (the famous la paglia e fieno!), carne alla brace (rotisserie meats), biscotti and roasted chestnuts.
Fermentazioni – For those who love craft beers this is a huge event recently created where many prominent brands meet and create a beautiful event. There are many, many stands, one for each producer. In the first edition, chefs Callegari and Bonci provided their bread and pizza products to accompany the beer tasting.
May B. Rome - The first edition of this beer-themed festival was May 8-10, 2014.
8) What would your ideal "best ever" food lover's day in Rome look like?
Start your day extra early in the morning with a buon cappuccino and cornetto right in the center at Tazza d’Oro, near the Pantheon. Then appreciate the atmosphere that breathes through Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps at this time. They are crowded places during the day, but almost empty at the beginning of the morning as they come to life.
From Piazza di Spagna take the metro line A in the direction of the Vatican Museums. Book your visit to the museums online. The visit will end with access to Saint Peter's Basilica, and you will avoid the always long, and getting longer, lines. For those who prefer the art of food in the area, you can instead head to the Trionfale Market, one of the largest and most authentic markets of Rome. Admire the pews filled with seasonal produce and ask to taste whatever catches your eye. They will gladly give you a sample before you purchase. Do not miss the porchetta calda at Alina! Take a “little” lunch at Gabriele Bonci’s Pizzarium or Panificio nearby.
After a short period to relax, spend the afternoon strolling near the Colosseum and Roman Forum (If time is short, you do not need to enter to be enchanted by them.) On foot you can easily reach the stunning Monti district, full of designer boutiques but also pearls of food shops: Aromaticus for organic food shopping and a snack, the wine bar & restaurant La Barrique for wine lovers, Tricolore and Gaudeo for gourmet sandwiches (panini) or 2Periodico Cafe for a drink, just to name a few.
Then, with a short metro ride on Line B (exiting at Piramide) or a short taxi ride, for a “foodie” dinner in Testaccio at Flavio al Velavevodetto or Felice a Testaccio.
If you have the strength to continue, take a short walk to Trastevere for gelato at Fior di Luna.
We have accepted the challenge to suggest what to do in Rome in one day, but definitely you need a few more to fully appreciate the city. Indeed, as we are told by the saying, “Roma, non basta una vita.” (Rome, a lifetime isn’t enough.)
A huge grazie di cuore to Tavole Romane, for all this fabulous information. I now need to get myself back to Rome soon, and especially at the end of August, to sample all this great food and the festivals you've recommended. One thing I'm certain of, a food tour with Tavole Romane would be as exceptional as this interview.
Eating Italy is a new interview series focussed on finding out how locals eat throughout Italy. Once every few weeks we'll take a virtual food-lover's trip to a specific spot around the boot. I'll ask my food-loving friends to share their insights and tips on where, what & how to eat in their home city or region.
***All photos in this post, unless they have the Food Lover's Odyssey" watermark, are owned by Tavole Romane and are used with their permission.***
Other Eating Italy interviews you might like:
Rome (Where you can find all my posts on the Eternal City and its food)