Eat Like a Local

In Rome, tradition is the dominant feature of the cuisine, with a focus on freshness and simplicity, so when Romans continue ordering the standbys, it's easy to understand why. That said, Rome is the capital of Italy, and the influx of residents from other regions of the country has yielded many variations on the staples.


There are two well-known preparations of carciofo, or artichoke in Rome. Carciofi alla romana are stuffed with wild mint, garlic, and pecorino, then braised in olive oil, white wine, and water. Carciofi alla giudia (Jewish-style) are whole artichokes, deep-fried twice, so that they open like a flower, the outer leaves crisp and golden brown, while the heart remains tender. When artichokes are in season—late winter through the spring—they're served everywhere.


For many travelers, their first taste of gelato is revelatory. Its consistency is often said to be a cross between regular American ice cream and soft-serve. The best versions of gelato are extremely flavorful, and almost always made fresh daily. When choosing a gelateria, watch for signs that say gelato artigianale (artisan- or homemade): otherwise, keep an eye out for the real deal by avoiding gelato that looks too bright or fluffy.


There are two kinds of Roman pizza: al taglio (by the slice) and tonda (round pizza). The former has a thicker, focaccia-like crust and is cut into squares; these are sold by weight and generally available all day. The typical Roman pizza tonda has a very thin crust and is served almost charred—it's cooked in wood-burning ovens that reach extremely high temperatures. Because they're so hot, the ovens are usually fired up only in the evening, which is why Roman pizzerie tend to open for dinner only.

Cacio e pepe

The name means "cheese and pepper" and it's a simple pasta dish from the cucina povera, or rustic cooking, tradition. It's a favorite Roman primo, usually made with tonnarelli (fresh egg pasta a bit thicker than spaghetti), which is coated with a pecorino-cheese sauce and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Some restaurants serve the dish in an edible bowl of paper-thin baked cheese, for added delicious effect.


The classic Roman starter in a trattoria and especially at the pizzeria, is fritti : an assortment of fried treats, usually crumbed or in batter. Often, before ordering a pizza, locals will order their fritti—a filetti di baccala (salt cod in batter), fiori di zucca (zucchini flowers, usually stuffed with anchovy and mozzarella), supplì (rice balls stuffed with mozzarella and other ingredients), or olive ascolane (stuffed olives). Fritti can also be found at many pizza al taglio joints or at tavola caldas (caffè). They make a great quick snack.

Bucatini all’amatriciana

It might look like spaghetti with red sauce, but there's much more to bucatini all'amatriciana. It's a spicy, rich, and complex dish that owes its flavor to guanciale, or cured pork jowl, as well as tomatoes and crushed red pepper flakes. It's often served over bucatini, a hollow, spaghetti-like pasta, and topped with grated pecorino Romano.

La Gricia

This dish is often referred to as a "white amatriciana," because it's precisely that: pasta (usually spaghetti or rigatoni) served with pecorino cheese and guanciale—thus amatriciana without the tomato sauce. It's a lighter alternative to carbonara in that it doesn't contain egg, and its origins date back further than the amatriciana.

Coda alla vaccinara

Rome’s largest slaughterhouse in the 1800s was in the Testaccio neighborhood and that’s where you’ll find dishes like coda alla vaccinara, or "oxtail in the style of the cattle butcher." This dish is made from ox or veal tails stewed with tomatoes, carrots, celery, and wine, and it's usually seasoned with cinnamon. It's simmered for hours and then finished with raisins and pine nuts or bittersweet chocolate.

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