Must-Eat Italy: Three Things to Eat in Rome

It’s impossible to sum up all the culinary delights of an Italian city in just three dishes. But when travelers have only a limited amount of time to visit, it’s important to make sure the absolutely-can-not-miss dishes are at the tippy-top of your dining priority list.

This is my attempt at guiding you to the best Rome dishes.

There are a million incredible things you can eat in Rome. Roman pizza? It is a distinct thing from the Neapolitan version and it is delicious. Porchetta? It is one of the most popular sandwich fillings in the world. There are many delicious things to be said, but it’s impossible to eat in Italy in one day.

This list of three must-try things in Rome will help you to have three unforgettable culinary experiences during your time in Rome.

While you’re there, learn more about and things to do in Rome.


Carciofo alla giudea || creative commons photo by Simone Lippi

Italian cuisine is very seasonal. It’s best to eat fresh, local food. Although you can find artichokes at any supermarket, it is rare to see them in an Italian market every year.

Two artichoke preparations are available in Rome. They both sell out each spring on the market. Both dishes are very different so you should try both.

Carciofi alla Romana is a Roman-style name for artichokes. They are braised in a mixture water and wine. They are soft enough to be eaten with a knife or fork when they are served, usually after they have been drizzled with good olive oil.

Carciofi alla Giudiea, which translates to “Jewish-style Artichokes”, is first pounded so that the leaves are flattened in all directions. Then, the whole thing gets deep fried in olive oils. The final product is similar to potato chips but they are artichoke leaves.

Although I’ve never been a big fan of artichokes before, my last trip to Rome was in spring when they were everywhere. It was the right time to try them. It was pleasant to discover that Roman artichokes, both in their prepared form, are not the same as the artichokes that I used to refuse to eat as a child. Both were delicious, but I preferred the carciofi allea giudea.

My point is to suggest that Roman carciofi might be a good choice for you even if artichokes are not your favorite. You just never know what you might like, right?

An added bonus: Watch vendors clean artichokes at an outdoor Italian produce market. They use dangerously sharp knives at a dangerous pace and leave artichoke bits all over the ground. Eventually, they have a pile of artichokes that are ready to be cooked.

Cacio e Pepe

Simple preparation is a hallmark of Italian cooking. A simple recipe can sometimes be very complex. Cacio e pepe, for example, is one of those dishes that looks easy on paper but can be extremely difficult to make.

Cacio e Pepe is the name of this pasta dish. It also means “cheese & pepper”. It is made by combining freshly grated pecorino romano with pasta water and lots of cracked black pepper to make a creamy sauce that would be difficult to find on a stack books.

It doesn’t contain any of these things. It is just cheese and pepper mixed with pasta (usually long thin noodles such as tonnarelli or spaghetti). It’s worth it to avoid the touristy places that serve cacio e pape, as they will undoubtedly cheat you by adding butter or cream. You’ll be happier if you find a Rome restaurant that serves authentic cacio e pede.

Caciolo e pepe, unlike artichokes is a year-round meal. Although you may be more at ease with this comfort food dish in cold weather, it is available on all menus year round.

Carbonara is another similar Roman pasta dish you should try. It is made with freshly grated cheese, bits and bacon that have been pan-fried in olive oil and raw egg yolks, along with some pasta water.

Although carbonara can be delicious, my heart is still in cacio epepe. It’s so simple, but I cannot resist it when I’m visiting Rome.

“Quinto Quarto”

Rigatoni, with suckling Veal intestines

Photo by Katie Parla (@katieparla), Sep 20, 2015, 07:44 PDT

Cucina povera, or peasant cooking, has been in fashion in recent years. High-end restaurants are charging a lot for fancified versions of what used to be “this is all that we can afford to have” types of dishes. Cucina povera was a popular dish in Rome. This is evident by the city’s love for offal.

Quinto quarto is an umbrella term that covers all non-muscle parts of an animal. It means “the fifth quarter”. Organs and entrails are what we’re referring to here. Hearts, kidneys, intestines brains, lungs and so on. Yes, some of this stuff is used to make sausages. However, there are also popular Rome preparations for some of these pieces.

Tripe (stomach liner) is one the most common bits of offal that you will see on Roman menus. Trippa alla Romana is tripe cooked in tomato sauce. You will usually serve it with fresh-grated cheese. Pajata is another popular dish. It’s made of the intestines from a not yet weaned lamb/calf. This means that the intestines contain milk and nothing else. Pajata is often served with pasta. The milky residue found in the intestines gives it an intense creaminess.

You’re not just following cucina povera by eating every part of an animal. It’s also being responsible for the environment – there’s no waste. Although the descriptions might sound strange, you may be surprised by how delicious quinto quarto can be. It’s not hard to believe that the quinto quarto has been used by many generations of Italians.

It’s your turn now!

Tell me: What three must-eats would you recommend for Rome? Which three things do you look forward to most when you visit Rome?

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