Foods in Rome: A Guide to the City’s Most Iconic Dishes
Mon Jan 22 2024|Rileigh Tower
I lived in Rome for 5 months and absolutely loved immersing myself in the food culture. From epic carb creations to melt-in-your-mouth pastas, Rome offers some of the best eats in Italy
I lived in Rome for 5 months and absolutely loved immersing myself in the food culture. From epic carb creations to melt-in-your-mouth pastas, Rome offers some of the best eats in Italy. Here’s a deep dive into the eternal city’s most iconic and must-try dishes.
What Foods Is Rome Famous For?
Rome is renowned for its carb-centric cuisine. Pasta, pizza and bread play starring roles. Cacio e pepe (pasta with cheese and black pepper), carbonara (pasta with egg, guanciale and pecorino) and supplì (fried rice croquettes) grace menus across town. Beyond primi, Rome does pork exceedingly well. Think tender, slow-cooked pork shoulder (coda alla vaccinara) and bacon-wrapped veal (saltimbocca). Offal also shines, especially lamb offal (abbacchio). Lastly, Rome’s Jewish quarter dazzles with deep-fried delights like carciofi alla giudia (fried artichokes).
Foods Not To Miss in Rome, Italy
When in Rome, make eating your top priority. For breakfast, chase cafe culture with cappuccino and cornetti (Italian croissants). Come lunch, carbo load with pizza bianca (white pizza) or grab a slice of porchetta (crackling-encrusted pork) from a street food stall. Dinner demands a pasta course. Slurp cacio e pepe at a trattoria or try gricia (cured pork jowl, pecorino and black pepper). End your Roman feast with a maritozzo, a sweet yeasted bun injected with whipped cream.
Popular Foods in Italy
Beyond Rome, Italy brims with iconic regional specialities. Head south to Naples for melt-in-your-mouth mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella) and piping hot pizza margherita. Trek north to Emilia-Romagna for prized Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, aged prosciutto di Parma and fresh pasta paired with ragù (meat sauce). Or taste true Tuscan flavors in ribollita vegetable soup, pappa al pomodoro (tomato and bread soup) and bistecca Fiorentina (Florentine T-bone steak).
Meats Rome is Known For
From nose-to-tail pork to lamb offal, Romans make meat the main event. One of the most iconic Roman meat dishes is abbacchio allo scottadito. This translates to “lamb cooked so tender it burns your fingers.” The phrase captures how meltingly tender slow-cooked baby lamb becomes. Another quintessential meat dish is saltimbocca alla Romana (Roman-style saltimbocca). Here veal gets blanketed in prosciutto and sage then lightly fried. Equally iconic is coda alla vaccinara or oxtail braised until fall-off-the-bone tender in a sweet and sour sauce.
Must-Try Foods to Eat in Rome
Beyond pastas and offal, Rome offers ample edible gems. Here are the top tastes to track down:
A sweet yeasted bun sliced horizontally and stuffed with freshly whipped cream. Grab one from historic bakery Regoli in the morning. The contrast of light, cloud-like cream and warm, lightly sweet dough makes for the ultimate Roman breakfast.
Rome’s iconic white pizza gets topped with olive oil, salt and rosemary for a simple yet sublime bite. For the best, join the queue at Roscioli or grab a slice of pizza bianca at Bonci Pizzarium. The blistered, chewy crust steals the show.
A beloved Roman street food, these fried rice croquettes conceal a molten mozzarella heart. Try the supplì al telefono, where stretching the cheese creates a “telephone wire.” For perfect supplì, head to Supplizio near the Pantheon. Their supplì classici shine with a crisp fried crust and oozing mozzarella center.
Fiori di Zucca
These squash blossoms filled with mozzarella and anchovies then lightly fried epitomize Roman cuisine’s flair for fritti (fried foods). When in season (spring/summer), order them anywhere from pizza joints to high-end trattorias. The salty anchovies contrast beautifully with the delicate squash petals.
Carciofi alla Romana / Carciofi alla Giudia
Rome shows its artichoke appreciation in two beloved dishes. Carciofi alla Romana features whole artichokes simmered in oil, garlic and mint. Carciofi alla Giudia is Rome’s Jewish-influenced masterpiece of twice-fried artichoke with crisp golden leaves and tender heart. Seek out carciofi when visiting Rome in early spring during peak artichoke season.
Typical Pasta Dishes to Try in Rome
From silky carbonara to the iconic cacio e pepe, Rome’s pasta game eclipses all others. Here are the top pastas to try on your visit.
Cacio e Pepe
This elemental Roman pasta combines just three ingredients: pasta, Pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper. Though simple, properly emulsifying the pecorino into the starchy pasta water takes technique. At a good trattoria, the silky sauce should coat each strand without glopping or separating. For stellar cacio e pepe head to Felice in Testaccio.
Perhaps Rome’s most famous pasta export, spaghetti alla carbonara stars cured pork jowl (guanciale) sautéed in pepper and egg. When tossed with al dente spaghetti, the egg creates an addictively creamy sauce. An authentic carbonara should be glossy, not dry, with crispy guanciale bits throughout. For perfect carbonara, Gusto dishes it up using organic eggs and artisanal guanciale.
Hailing from Amatrice just outside Rome, amatriciana sauce features tomato infused with guanciale. At trattoria Da Cesare al Casaletto try their bucatini all’amatriciana. Housemade bucatini get blanketed in a rich, sweet-savory sauce with guanciale front and center rather than just sprinkled on top as garnish.
Pasta alla Gricia
Before carbonara, Romans made pasta alla gricia with guanciale and Pecorino Romano–no egg. This black pepper-kissed dish represents an evolution of cacio e pepe. At Armando al Pantheon, their gricia with handrolled tonnarelli pasta encapsulates the dish’s simplicity and savoriness. The quality guanciale and Pecorino shine.
Traditional Meat Dishes to Try in Rome
From slow-cooked lamb to veal blanketed in prosciutto, Roman meat dishes delight. Seek out these savory specialities on your visit.
Abbacchio allo Scottadito
A quintessential Roman dish, abbacchio allo scottadito features baby lamb chunks braised in white wine until fork tender. The phrase “scottadito” translates to “burns your fingers” referring to the melting tenderness achieved. For the best abbacchio, book a table at Agustarello in the lively Testaccio neighborhood.
Saltimbocca alla Romana
This dish stars thin veal cutlets topped with prosciutto and sage then cooked in white wine and butter. The resulting fork-tender veal proves so flavorful it “jumps in your mouth.” For authentic saltimbocca, Osteria da Fortunata in Trastevere serves it classically with just a few ingredients letting the veal shine.
Coda alla Vaccinara
Rome’s beloved oxtail stew named “in the cattle driver’s style” slow cooks oxtail in tomato sauce with pine nuts, raisins and chocolate. The sweet and savory sauce lacquers the fall-off-the-bone tender meat. For stellar vaccinara, grab a table at classic Cesare al Casaletto where oxtail stews in the sauce for hours achieving ultimate tenderness.
Popular Street Foods in Rome
Beyond sit-down restaurants, Rome’s vibrant street food culture serves up quick bites like pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) and porchetta (pork roasted in herbs and spices). Here are top street foods to try on the go:
This iconic Roman street food features fatty, boneless pork roasted then sliced to order. The fall-apart tender meat gets infused with herbs, fennel and ample cracked black pepper. For the best, head to family shop Porchetteria Metropolitana in Monteverde Vecchio. Their porchetta sandwich with crispy crackling is a work of art.
A winter delight, this chicory gets sliced paper-thin then soaked in cold water to curl. It makes for a quintessential Roman salad paired with anchovies, olive oil and lemon. Seek out puntarelle at Volpetti Più in Testaccio, where it joins catalogna chicory and fennel in a tangy house dressing. Crunchy, refreshing and biting all at once, it’s addictively good.
Comments, Questions and Tips
After five months in Rome savoring all the food this glorious city has to offer, I have tips to share. First, embrace the Italian way and make meals leisurely affairs. Sit, and linger for hours if possible. Don’t rush your food, as Romans believe good digestion requires time. Secondly, accept that you won’t sample all Rome has to offer in one trip. Keep a running list of spots to return to so you always have an excuse to come back. Lastly, walk as much as possible between feasts to attempt burning calories and soaking up scenic streets. The city unveils herself on leisurely strolls between bites. After all, as the Romans say, “A tavola non s’invecchia” or “At the table with good friends and family you do not become old.”
Top Foods and Dishes to Try in Rome
To sum up, must-try Roman foods span sweet yeasted maritozzi buns for breakfast to veal saltimbocca starring prosciutto for dinner. Iconic pastas like silky cacio e pepe or rich amatriciana sauce with guanciale demand a spot on the itinerary. And no visit would be complete without pizza bianca with cloud-like crust from Bonci or crispy-crusted supplì fried rice croquettes filled with oozy mozzarella.
Beyond restaurants, don’t miss Rome’s vibrant street food scene starring porchetta sandwiches and carciofi alla giudia (fried artichokes). By embracing Rome’s culinary soul, you honor what locals live and breathe for: buying fresh ingredients at the market each day, gathering friends and family around the table, and lingering late into the evening over lively conversation.
Local Food Tour in Rome
One fantastic way to dive deep into Roman culinary culture is via food tour. The Eating Italy tour led by sommelier Maria Pasquale proves ideal for newbies and seasoned foodies alike. Over four hours, the small group explores Testaccio’s food shops and restaurants. Maria narrates Roman cuisine’s evolution from ancient wine bars to today’s nose-to-tail meat temples. You’ll sample local specialities like marinated olives at Volpetti Salumeria then watch pasta masters craft carbonara from scratch across the street at Flavio al Velavevodetto. The tour concludes with gelato while Maria shares ingenious ways to continue eating your way through Rome.
Best Places to Stay in Italy’s Most Popular Destinations
Lodging in Rome ranges from no-frills Airbnbs to opulent five-star hotels. For your first visit, I recommend staying in the Centro Storico (historic center) to be walkable to major sites like the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Colosseum. Here you can snag reasonably priced hotels near Campo de’ Fiori and the Piazza Navona. Or opt for Trastevere just across the Tiber to embrace Rome’s quintessential side streets lined with trattorias, wine bars and artisan gelato shops.
Beyond Rome, plan getaways to Florence where charming bed and breakfasts dot the San Frediano neighborhood steps from the Ponte Vecchio. And don’t miss Italy’s culinary capital Bologna, where you can dine at Michelin-starred restaurants one night then snack on mortadella and parmesan the next morning at the Mercato di Mezzo food market.
Experiences of Real Locals in Rome
Beyond major monuments, eating and drinking as the Romans do offers the ultimate immersion into daily life. Here are two quintessential local experiences to embrace.
Supplì Classici at Supplizio
By day unassuming street corner bakery, after dark Supplizio transforms into a wine bar for sipping and snacking. Join the after-work crowd by ordering Supplizio’s namesake supplì: crispy fried rice balls concealing oozy mozzarella in their molten centers. Pair the supplì classici with a crisp white like Frascati Superiore while rubbing elbows with regulars at the bar.
Pizza Rossa at Panificio Bonci
The pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) at Gabriele Bonci’s Pizzarium/Panificio pleases even the pickiest pizza snobs. His slow-leavened sourdough crust achieves perfect chew with just the right char. The pizza rossa showcases San Marzano tomatoes and fior di latte mozzarella for a sublime study in contrasting textures and sweet-savory flavors. Enjoy your slice standing streetside or grab a table next door with a glass of Cesanese red wine.
From just-baked maritozzi to melt-in-your mouth saltimbocca, Rome offers some of Italy’s most craveable and iconic dishes. By embracing local specialities like silky cacio e pepe and carciofi alla giudia, you honor what Romans live and breathe for: buying the freshest ingredients from the market each day, gathering friends and family around the table each evening, and lingering late into the night over lively conversation and excellent wine. After five months eating my way through the Eternal City, I’ve only scratched the surface of her vibrant food culture. But I depart with endless Roman memories of long, lazy meals filled with laughter, and even better eats to last a lifetime.