Food and Drink in Rome

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Loaf of bread in Rome

Loaf of casereccio (homemade) bread.

Italy is famous for the quality and variety of its food: each region has its own specialities, inspired by the diverse climate and history. Rome's contribution to the national cuisine is among the richest, including such classic pasta dishes as the oft-abused carbonara (which shouldn't contain cream!) and amatriciana, as well as fried foods like supplí (balls of risotto with a tomato sauce and piece of mozzarella, coated in breadcrumbs) and fiori di zucca (courgette flowers bundled with anchovies and mozzarella, and battered).

In terms of meat, Rome is most famous for its offal: the quinto quarto, or fifth quarter of the animal. If you're not squeamish, bones, cheeks, tripe, and even intestines are used to create some unforgettable dishes.

Roman pizza is distinctive for its thin, crispy base, as opposed to the thicker Neapolitan style; although Neapolitan style pizzas are becoming more popular in Rome, it's worth tracking down the real thing.

As with most areas of tourism, it's worth researching food and drink before you go: the tourist areas are full of low-quality restaurants that serve up frozen, out-of-season junk that has no more connection to real Roman food than McDonalds; and they'll charge you through the nose for it. But if you take some time to research the best of Rome's cuisine, and where to find it, what you eat could turn out to be one of the most memorable parts of your visit to the city.

Courses in an Italian meal

The Roman meal is traditionally divided into four courses. In practice, meals rarely involve all the courses listed below: people will often go out for just a bowl of pasta or a secondo, and restaurants won't require you to order every course.

  • The meal starts with antipasti, which could be bruschetta (toasted bread, often with tomatoes) or a selection of cold meats and cheeses.
  • Next comes the primo, which involves many of the dishes people often think of as Italian food. It could be a pasta, risotto, or soup.
  • The next course, usually meat, fish, or a vegetarian equivalent, is the secondo.This is served with side dishes or contorni, which might be potatoes, spinach, or other prepared vegetables, along with a salad. (If you're eating out, keep in mind that meat is usually served on its own, so be sure to check what it comes with, and order contorni if required.)
  • The meal finishes with a sweet course, dolci, which could be cake, fruit, or gelato.
  • After the meal there's coffee (always espresso after meals: cappuccino is considered too heavy) and maybe a shot of grappa, an amaro, or a glass of Fernet Branca.