Not built in a day
The Italians are famous for many things, but possibly one of their most widespread influences in the world has been their cuisine. Italian cooking has crossed oceans, and today you can hardly go anywhere without finding pasta on the menu.
The Roman love for food goes back a long way: in ancient Rome dinner time at any patrician’s house was an event full of feasting, entertainment and indulgence in all appetites. The meals would last hours and were extravagant affairs. There were courses of bizarre and exotic food, like peacock, heron, flamingo (with the plumage meticulously reattached for display) and camel’s feet. There were acrobats, fire-breathers and dancers to entertain the guests while they awaited the next course.
Today most Italian mealtimes are a bit less decadent. The traditional Italian meal as we know it was born on the table of the medieval peasant. In the Middle Ages meat was scarce and so the poor would toss pasta, which was cheap and filling, in the same sauce in which the meat was cooked, thus giving it more flavour. The history of pizza goes back as far as the ancient Greeks, who cooked flatbreads topped with herbs, onions and garlic; this too became a popular cheap and nourishing peasant dish.
Tradition reigns supreme
Modern Italians have held onto a formal meal structure of multiple courses, and you will find all of these listed on any menu in Rome. First there is Antipasti, which is the appetiser; it is also perfectly acceptable to order these for lunch. Next you have the Primi, the first course, usually a pasta dish or risotto or soup - be warned that lasagne is prebaked to order in a lot of places and may not be as fresh as other items on the menu. Then there is Secondi, the second course, which is meat or fish, with seafood that bit more expensive. It is worth noting that you will typically be served exactly what you order – no sides. If you want a side dish you can order from the Contori section of the menu.
Roman pizza is distinguished from the thick Neopolitan pizza by its thin, light and crispy base which is slightly charred at the edges. You can get pizzas in most restaurants, and also buy it by the slice in various pizzerias around the city. For dessert (Dolce), you can order favourite Italian inventions like tiramisu and, of course, gelato (ice cream). Dessert is generally accompanied by an espresso. In order to wash all this down you can order a Digestivo, a small liqueur of grappa, sambuca or limoncello. And, of course, the meal should be accompanied by a good bottle of Lazian wine
The Romans take food seriously and they do it well. Freshness, simplicity and tradition are what you’ll find on the basic trattoria menu, with dishes in common that have hundreds or even thousands of years behind them. Don't miss the chance to eat like a Roman during your stay in the Eternal City.