Hello everyone! No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you – TummyTroll is actually up and alive again! Our sincere apologies for the inactivity – Updating this blog took a backseat when all of us started to prepare for our Final Examinations sometime in May (just for your information, we’re actually full time students). And then this blog got shoved to the side again when we all embarked on our various travels and summer activities. Despite this, we are actually pretty surprised to realize that we’d maintained a steady readership these few months even during our hiatus. So a big thank you to everyone who’d been following this blog religiously – We promise that we’re back for good, now that we’re back in school again (the irony)! :D
To kickstart our blog again, we would have loved to do full travelogues like what we did for Iceland last Summer, but it is to our regret that we are unable to do so this year because we didn’t manage to travel anywhere together as the TummyTroll gang. Hence this post would actually be a reflection of my personal gastronomic journey in Italy, which would focus Rome in particular even though I went to Tuscany too. And if the photos in this post are looking a little lacklustre compared to our usual ones, this is because they were mostly taken from my iPhone, digital camera or film camera, so they lack the professional touch of #chubkaichun. In any case, presenting to you the wonders of… Rome!
A quintessential photo of Rome’s favourite pasta Cacio e Pepe just to get things going. And yes, even though the common Pasta alla Carbonara did originate from Rome, it’s only second to the above “holy” pasta in terms of popularity in the capital city!
Ciao, Roma! This July, I took a trip to Italy with one of my favourite travel companions, my mother. It’s not my first time to Italy, but my first time to Rome. How many times have you heard of people travelling to Italy and disclaiming how bad the food is in Rome (compared to the gastronomic utopia of Tuscany or the “fat” capital of Bologna)? Well, I beg to differ, as I actually had a really wonderful time eating through my way in Rome! While I admit that Rome, being one of the most visited cities in the world, has too many tourist traps that offer terrible “tourist lunches”, perhaps all it takes is a little more effort and a more adventurous spirit to fully enjoy Rome’s gastronomic riches at its best.
First, a little background about the purpose of my trip to Italy this time. While sightseeing is a main feature of the trip, I very specifically wanted to learn more about the food culture of Italy. Hence I tried to do all my research prior – Months before, I browsed through countless websites detailing the best eats, printed out maps and directions to get to specific restaurants, and even made my own food guide which I printed out before I left for Italy. Sounds a little obsessive? To be honest, I think I went a little overboard with the relentless pursuit of good food (and you should have seen me clutching on to that little paper guide while I traversed the narrow alleys I think I looked a little mad hahaha). I don’t think most people with a normal, decent sense of propriety would do this. (Yes, I’m abnormal.) It’s really because I love food too much!
While I was doing my research, I discovered that many of us non-Italians tended to have a very poor understanding of Italian food. We know our pizzas, pastas, gelato, cappucino, mozarella, tiramisu etc. but do we really know about the dining culture of Italy? Do we know that different regions in Italy have drastically different styles of cooking the same dishes? In a way I was really glad that I embarked on the whole “researching about food” thing because I felt that it really allowed me to understand deeply and internalize what I saw in Italy much better. At least I didn’t scratch my head away when I saw the Florentine steak I ordered weighing at a hefty 1.2kg and being all red and bloody – I knew that and I was raring myself to go for it!
I digressed. So anyway, Rome.
Restaurant Reviews & Recommendations
Question: What do I have in common with Anthony Bourdain?
a. We both love food
b. We both love pork
c. We both love wine
d. We both love the restaurant I Porchettoni
All of the above! I actually went out of the “tourist zone” to find I Porchettoni with the intention of trying Italian slow-roasted fatty pork or porchetta, and it was a pleasant surprise to find out that this place was visited by Anthony Bourdain as well! (Cheap thrill but still) Porchetta (pronounced por-kee-eh-ta) is the Italian take on roast suckling pig, and this becomes extremely obvious when you walk towards the restaurant as the entire body of the pig sits at the restaurant window waiting to be carved into thin slices in bread rolls. Traditionally, Romans would enjoy this pork in the taverns at hills southeast of Rome while downing down copious amount of great Italian wine. Aaah, la dolce vita (‘the sweet life’)!
The decor of this restaurant was very homely as well – They actually made the place look like a traditional tavern complete with humorous pictures and paintings on their walls! And I couldn’t not mention how welcoming they were – They were blasting some Italian songs when we stepped into the restaurant, but when they realized we spoke English they immediately changed their music playlist to play a couple of English pop songs. How sweet! I think they played Robbie Williams or Backstreet Boys I can’t remember, but such great service isn’t it? :)
The restaurant’s Porchetta di Ariccia went by weight – It was only 2 Euros for 100g! That’s actually even cheaper than Sio Bak or Char Siew. To my surprise it was served cold, but knowing that it was an antipasto starter, that was understandable. A little cold, but fatty and moist, this pork that was carved from a young herbed pig was deeply flavourful and a really great start to our meal! Most Romans have them with crusty hard bread rolls, and wine of course (more on that later).
For some reason, the Romans liked their bread very hard. Very crusty, but very tiring on my weak teeth! Haha!
They had an English menu, but the menu didn’t explain what the items were, although the owners of this restaurant very kindly took time to explain to me what certain items were and what they recommended us (how sweet)! I have this tendency to order whatever seems unusual. I understand that most normal people order what is more familiar or recognisable – I told you I was abnormal. So anyway, I ordered this Coppiette di Filetto di Maiale which turned out to be a seasoned pork sausage made from a very lean loin cut, spiked with a generous dosage of chilli and spices. This was great! Very very tough but once you get past the gnawing and chewing, the well balanced flavours of the intensely flavoured meat and spices would impress. They also have the horse version of this but I skipped that!
This glob of white mess is not yoghurt – It’s actually a kind of cheese called Stracciatella! Made from Italian buffao milk, this cheese is extra soft because of a certain stretching and shredding technique. Flavour wise, it was mild and light on the palate. For those who cannot get past the somewhat clumpy texture of the cheese, it might seem repugnant to have your cheese in this form, but I thought it was a refreshing change from the usual hard yellow cheese we are used to. I would love to have this with bread every morning, like a chewy cheese spread!
I also ordered one of their pastas as my First Course – Cacio e Pepe! I previously mentioned that this was Rome’s most popular pasta, and after trying this rendition at I Porchettoni, I can see why! This is a pasta served with grated pecorino cheese, black pepper, then mixed with some of its own boiling starchy water. So simple but addictive! Pecorino is a salty hard cheese made from sheep’s milk, similar to the more common parmigiano, and I thought this was divine with its full bodied flavour and depth. Interestingly, I realized that Romans loved their pasta very al dente – To the point that it’s almost a little tough on the jaws, which took a bit of getting used to especially if you’re a mee sua kind of person (my mum was complaining that her teeth would drop out soon, but don’t worry they stayed on her jaws hehe).
Portions in Italy are huge. Humongous. Gargantuan! Which was why I had to stop at the First Course and not get any main or my stomach would readily explode. But dinner is not complete without dessert, and I got their Donuts, which was served with 1/4 litre of their house red wine. So if you thought soft fluffy donuts could soothe my aching jaws from all that chewing on the coppiette and pasta, you’re so wrong – These donuts are rock hard, the equivalent of very hard cookies. But that’s what the wine is for isn’t it?
So, you’re not just supposed to drink the wine alongside the donuts but to dip them inside so they get soft(er) and soaked with the goodness of their homemade wine. This house wine was rather young and acidic but packed a real alcoholic punch! These donuts were delectable on their own but quite out of the world when eaten like this soaked in red wine. We were told that this is another authentic Roman dessert that doesn’t usually appear on the dinner tables of Italian restaurants out of Rome, so we found ourselves in luck that we managed to try something quite “local”. In fact, these donuts were so popular that they were even sold by the pack near the door! The Romans, I think, must have evolutionarily developed quite tough jaws from all the hard foods, but hey they’re not Romans without a reason!
In case you think this is a sponsored post by I Porchettoni because I wrote so favourably about them, rest assured it is not! I don’t usually do such specific write-ups on the restaurants I frequent because there are just way too many unremarkable dining establishments but this is by far one of my most memorable and enjoyable meals in Italy, or anywhere in the world in fact because the food is delicious, the service impeccable and the prices so cheap! We paid less than 10 Euros per pax for all that yummy goodness. Very much thanks to Emiliano for the great food and service – Sorry for the delay in getting this post up, I was busy growing fat(ter) in Italy and back in Singapore! ;)
Via del Pigneto 68
*Getting there: Take the bus to Ponte Casilino or 5, 14 or 19 tram to Piazzale Prenestino. It’s a short 5 minutes walk away!
Another restaurant that left a great impression on us was Ditirambo, located in a more central location than I Porchettoni in Campo de Fiori, where the famous Campo de Fiori market is located at. It is also a rather quaint and relaxed quarter of Rome with lots of interesting boutiques and vintage stores. Definitely a good area to visit if you’re in need of a break from all that sightseeing! Ditirambo was more of a casual fine dining establishment that offered great value for their innovative and good-quality food! Just looking at how many dining awards are plastered all over their door, you’d realize that it is really quite a popular restaurant!
Another great service experience: We went at 12.00pm but we were told lunch would only start at 1.00pm (Italians eat their lunches later), but after seeing how resigned we look because we were so hungry but no restaurants would serve food until it was strictly 1.00pm, the kind restaurant manager told us to come back at 12.30pm so they could start making lunch for us earlier…! *touched*
As I did not keep a copy of their restaurant menu or take specific notes, I do not know exactly their names. But I do know that this is a cold starter platter consisting of Smoked Duck Breast with Hazelnuts, Balsamic Vinegar and Tuscan Melon, Steak Tartare with Pecorino and Black Truffle Slivers, and Fiori di Zucca, deep fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella cheese. The duck breast was exploding with flavour! And it was interesting to pair the rather chewy duck breast with the soft melon, crunchy hazelnuts and runny vinegar. Flavours wise, it was also a beautiful sweet-savoury combination that worked very well. The chef is indeed very creative. Thumbs up!
I recall a friend CH asking me the other day: “So, have you tried Steak Tartare?” We were on the subject of trying interesting European fare, and I think I didn’t mention to him how good this Steak Tartare was! To the uninformed, this is finely chopped fresh beef, seasoned lightly, then served with minimal condiments. Think a raw beef sashimi. Even though it sounds horrific, it’s actually very delicious and not bloody at all contrary to popular belief. I thought the cheese was a bit too overpowering but the natural sweetness of the beef shone through, and it would be supreme if it was paired alone with the black truffle slivers, which were very aromatic but not as gasoline-punget as the truffle oils we are more familiar with!
For my mains, I ordered a Spaghetti with Prawns, Lime and Basil. This was delicious but guess what… This turned out to be like our Singaporean Hokkien Mee. Perhaps the chef had also used the prawn stock to simmer the pasta! Nevertheless, this was a very unusual take on Italian pasta, which tended to be olive oil, cream or tomato based, in Rome especially where they love their cream-based pastas.
My mother’s Crackling Pork Belly. Delicious would be an understatement because this was absolutely mindblowing – Dare I say it was even better than Spanish Suckling Pig (this is my personal opinion of course)! Served with crisped potato chunks crisped edges with melt in the mouth insides, it was drizzled with a thick salty gravy, reminiscent of the English Sunday Roast (we’re just lacking the Yorkshire puddings!)
Free glass of Limoncello on the house for both of us. This is a sweet lemon liquor usually taken after meals to refresh the palate and wash down the grease. What a sweet end to our meal! It is worthy to note though, that this contained a rather high content of alcohol, 32% we were told. We were a bit woozy when we walked out of this place, but thankfully we were quite sober when we reached the Vatican City right after. Imagine us looking red-faced with alcohol-laced breaths in such a holy place!
Piazza della Cancelleria 74-75
Pizza with Artichokes, which you might think is unusual to put on a pizza, but it’s a favourite in Rome!
When you’re in Rome, you’d realize that Romans are really proud of their large thin-crust scrocchiarella pizzas. But hmmmn doesn’t pizza originate from Naples, south of Rome? I’d been told that Naples and Rome both claim to have the best pizza in Italy – I’d not been to Naples but I do know that this particular Pizzeria Dal Bersagliere I tried in Rome is the best I’d ever tried in my life. Plus, at 4-5 Euros per pizza… Are you kidding me?! That’s too cheap to be true for a pizza that was big enough wrap around my head twice! Apparently, the pizzas here are so good even Sean Connery loves them – That’s some mega celebrity endorsement!
We started with the Supplis, crumbed risotto balls filled with melted gooey cheese and Baccala, a fried codfish antipasto.
This Parma Ham with Melon was 4 Euros. Look at that quantity! Look at those delicious ribbons of savoury ham! Look at those honey-sweet wedges of melon! Look at you now – You are salivating already aren’t you? I miss this. Sob.
More pizza I just want to stuff my face with. I’m never going back to Dominoes! Ever!
Calzone, a folded up pizza ala our Singaporean curry puff. This Calzone Marinara oozed out gooey cheese and thick tomato sauce like there was no tomorrow. It left me deeply enthralled.
I wish I never tried pizza this good. This makes it impossible for me to eat any pizza lesser than this now, le sigh!
Pizzeria Dal Bersagliere
Via Gino Capponi 16
This is Gelato, the Italian ice cream made with a slow churning method and with less fat. They come in a myriad of seasonal flavours. They are great treats especially in Summer, but it’s eaten all year round in Italy. I think you know all these already.
But what you don’t know is that this is probably the best gelato I’d eaten in Rome! Granted, I only tried 4-5 gelaterias in Rome in the few days I was there, but Il Gelato di San Crispino‘s signature honey ice cream really amazed me. What transpired was actually less than inspiring – Having walked around Rome the entire day on their infamously difficult-to-walk cobbled roads for an entire day, my mother and I needed a break after visiting the Pantheon nearby. This gelateria was actually empty (which is usually not a very good sign hmmmn) but we walked in anyway and I got my favourite Melon and Peach flavours. The texture was too airy, not impressive. Neh.
I was ready to dismiss it as just another average gelateria. But later gluttony got the better of me and I decided to try their signature honey ice cream paired with another Stem Ginger ice cream, and can I just say I should have just tried that from the start – I never knew honey could taste this good in ice cream! It was smooth, light but contained subtle fragrant honey undertones that was not cloyingly sweet.
This is a photo to show how empty it was on a weekday evening. After going back home to read up this place, it seems that Il Gelato di San Crispino was considered to be one of the best gelaterias in Rome but it had seen some decline in quality control the past few years so the customers stopped going. Wow, Romans are quite a practical and picky bunch of eaters! Then again, I’d had a pretty positive experience here, so why not give it a try the next time you’re in Rome? Just remember to order their signature honey ice cream and hopefully you’d enjoy it as much as I did!
Il Gelato di San Crispino
Via della Panetteria 42
If you are seeking a more classic gelateria with a long history of excellence, try Ciampini. My mother and I were seated at the outdoor alfresco area, and we found ourselves rubbing our shoulders with the rich and beautiful Romans (perhaps really rubbing our shoulders as our tables were in such close proximity). We even spotted a filming crew with a very handsome Italian actor/host/TV personality, whom I didn’t recognize of course. I digress – The gelato at Ciampini was great! Smooth and creamy but rich in flavour, I found it amazing how Ciampini could make their fruit flavours so creamy as opposed to the grainy fruit flavours found in standard gelaterias. We also got the coffee flavour, which was very strong and intense, and peach and pine nut, a light and fragrant ice cream! Loved chewing on the pine nuts.
Conveniently located in the Centro Storico in central Rome, Ciampini is also a restaurant. Don’t be surprised if you see Asians serving you – Many of their serving staff are Vietnamese or Indonesian! And they thought my mum and I were Indonesians thanks to our typical South-East Asian faces haha! We didn’t get free ice cream because of that though. ;)
Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina 29
Generic Introductions of Roman Food
More Fiori di Zucca – Fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella cheese! I would like to think they are healthier because I can easily eat 10 of these at one seating, but no, unfortunately I think they’re just as greasy as fries, just yummier and more exotic.
Stewed Artichokes – Did we mention how much the Romans loved artichokes?
Pizza Bianca – Or White Pizza! This was a plain and crusty pizza generously drizzled with sea salt. Most bakeries in Rome should have this as it’s a staple bread in Rome! I initially got only 100g but because it was too good so I bought another 200g for breakfast the next day. Hah!
Pasta alla Carbonara – One of the most commonly known (and misunderstood) dishes of Italy. The authentic Roman version has no cream but is creamy because of the egg yolks, and has diced guanciale instead of bacon, and parmesan or pecorino cheese.
Ravioli with creamy Black Truffle Sauce – Truffle is a Tuscan specialty but the Romans dig it too!
Melanzane Alla Parmigiana – The incredible Eggplant Lasagne, which beats lasagne with pasta sheets hands down anytime, because the eggplant is so soft and creamy!
Beetroot Risotto – The beetroot dyed the risotto a lovely hue of purple, and it actually made the risotto a lot more fibrous, which was an interesting contrast to the creamy rice!
Trippa alla Romana – Beef tripe, or stomach lining, the Roman way. Slow-cooked to a soft chewy texture then simmered and finished with a rich creamy tomato sauce, topped with lots of parmigiana cheese. So good, it was a hit with both my mother and I. The Romans, or Italians in general, love their tripe (especially in Tuscany where it is somewhat of a regional star dish)!
Roast Pork with Oven-baked Potatoes and a very thick brown sauce – A very common and popular main dish in Rome.
Glazed Cherry Tart, which was unfortunately a little too sweet and sticky.
It did make a good photo though… Especially with my mum looking over sneakily in the background! Hahaha!
Tiramisu – Which actually means “pick me up” in Italian! Trust the Italians to come up with a vile combination of coffee, cheese and liquor and actually make it a dessert to hard to resist.
Hope you all enjoyed reading this deliberately lengthy post (I applaud you if you made it here) as much I enjoyed writing it, and hopefully you would also have learnt something new about Italian and Roman food! I spent almost 2 hours writing this post and uploading the photos, and even if it’s not a comprehensive enough food guide to all the treasures of Rome, food wise, I hope all of us would now be better acquainted with the lesser known gems of Roman food! I would consider doing up another post on Tuscan food, but that would take another 2 hours of intense verbal diarrhoea so… Perhaps, perhaps!
Last but not least, thanks for the great time Momma! You’re the cutest woman ever in my life, although you tend to be very naggy (haha and I am only being so truthful because I think you won’t be reading this anytime soon hehe)! I can’t thank her enough, because she’s actually not a fan of Italian food at all (she’s a rendang and bak chor mee kind of girl) but she graciously and willingly tried everything I ordered. Love you Momma! :)
Please watch this space for upcoming updates – Till then, Ciao Ciao!
Posted by #phangchewfat