Blog written by Jake DeCarli
Jake studied at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and has a Bachelor of Arts in Italian studies and international studies. He has a passion for the Italian language, traveling, and European politics. He is currently living in Matera, Italy as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in two technical schools.
The capital city of Italy has some of the best dishes in the country. In fact, Rome is ranked as the fourth most popular food destination in the world according to Tripadvisor’s Travel Choice 2023 (mentioned by Il Corriere della Sera on January 20th). From street food to pasta to desserts, Rome is a true paradise for those foodies who love traditional and non traditional dishes.
Part of Rome’s unique ancient and contemporary blend is its street food culture. Street food is said to have originated by the Romans over 2,000 years ago. The delicious array of finger foods is a perfect pre-dinner snack for those tourists who are not used to eating late in the evening. Most of the popular street food places are located in Trastevere–a lively neighborhood in Rome with an active nightlife scene (about an 18-minute metro ride from the Colosseum). However, you can find Roman street food everywhere in the city! Check out some of these popular dishes:
Fried cod fish (il filetto di baccalà): Missing the fried food culture of the U.S.? Well, try something even better–nice piece of fried cod fish! This popular Roman street food is simple yet delicious. A perfect combination of salty and crunchy, il filetto di baccalà will satisfy your post-lunch and pre-dinner appetite.
Supplì: A fried croquette with gooey mozzarella cheese and savory ragu, supplì is a well-known street food around Italy. Supplì originated in Rome, so almost every food shop you go to will have supplì on display. For a great variety of supplì in a quirky little shop, check out I Supplì dei Coronari on Via dei Coronari 25.
Trapizzino: Think of a fancier and fresh Hot Pocket. Trapizzino is a triangular pizza pocket that is stuffed with various ingredients. Order a trapizzino alla parmigiano di melanzane (eggplant parmesan), trapizzino ai polpette e sugo (red sauce and meatballs), or trapizzino al pollo con i peperoni (chicken with red peppers). Trapizzino are filling and great for those who are looking to expand their palates with different Italian foods.
Carciofo alla giudia (Jewish-style artichokes): Within Rome lies one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe. Take a trip through the old Jewish ghetto and stop for a classic dish: Carciofo alla giudia. These artichokes are deep fried in oil to crispy perfection. The best time to try this dish is in the Spring when artichokes are harvested from local farms in the region. Head to the Jewish ghetto and check out Giggetto on Via del Portico d'Ottavia. Also a favorite spot of Rome-based food blogger, Elizabeth Minchilli.
Carciofo alla Giudia, via Wikimedia Commons
The first thing everyone thinks of in terms of Italian food is pasta. Usually, Italians eat pasta for lunch, but it’s perfectly acceptable to have pasta at dinner too. Remember that pasta is a first course (primo piatto) in Italian culture, so your serving may be smaller than expected at a non-touristy* restaurant. It’s typical to have at least a three-course meal for Italian dinner, so you would be expected to have a (secondo piatto), usually a meat or fish dish, after your pasta course.
In Rome, you can find lots of delicious pasta dishes, but these classic Roman pastas are a must-try during your visit:
Cacio e pepe pasta, via Wikimedia Commons
Cacio e Pepe: A simple pasta dish made from just three ingredients: ground black pepper, pecorino romano cheese, and tonnarello–similar to a spaghetti noodle but thicker. As a traditional shepherd's dish, cacio e pepe is an iconic symbol of Roman cuisine. Like all foods on this list, you can order cacio e pepe in many restaurants across the city. For an authentic experience and the ability to order any of the classic Roman pasta dishes, check out Armando al Pantheon located at Salita de' Crescenzi, 31, a stones throw from the Pantheon. A reservation is important! Book your reservation here! *Note: They only accept parties up to 6 people!
Carbonara: As a classic staple of Roman cuisine, carbonara is yet another simple and flavorful pasta dish that is a must-try in the city. Carbonara is so famous that it has its own national holiday on April 6th! This dish has few ingredients: egg yolk, guanciale, and pecorino cheese served on a bed of rigatoni or spaghetti (depending on the restaurant).
Amatriciana: In the mood for a tomatoey pasta? Try Amatriciana–a dish made with peeled tomatoes, guanciale (pig’s cheek), and pecorino served with bucatini, another spaghetti-like noodle.
Amatriciana, via Wikimedia Commons
Coda alla vaccinara, via Wikimedia Commons
Coda alla vaccinara (Oxtail): This hearty dish of oxtail prepared with carrots, onions, celery, and red wine is packed full of flavor and has a soft, buttery texture at the bite. Try the Roman dish at Margot - Ristorante Prati, located on Via Crescenzio, 39, near Castel Sant'Angelo. They also do aperitivo and sometimes even karaoke!
Trippa (Tripe): For all meat lovers looking for a juicy panino or a savory stew, check out the various versions of tripe in Roman cuisine. Tripe consists of different parts of an animal’s stomach (cattle and or sheep). Head to a Roman deli for a panino trippa–thick shavings of tender tripe served between two pieces of ciabatta bread. For a quaint trip, check out the Testaccio market in Rome, and you’ll find a well-reviewed deli named Mordi & Vai. For a bigger dinner course, you’ll want to try Trippa alla Romana–ground tripe slow-cooked in a tomato sauce. Find this dish as well as other traditional dishes with a twist at SantoPalato, located in Piazza Tarquinia.
Rome is a very tourist-centered city, and there are plenty of restaurants that cater to tourists (otherwise known as “tourist traps”). We advise you to avoid these restaurants as they can often be expensive and of lower-quality. Look out for these clear indicators of a tourist-trap in Rome: a person (usually a man) standing outside the restaurant luring you to eat at the restaurant, a sign outside of the restaurant with pictures of the menu items, and advertisements for pizza during lunch (Italians don’t typically eat pizza for lunch, and tourist traps know that Americans are looking to eat pizza when they arrive). Be aware of these restaurants that cater towards tourists and save your money for delicious meals from more authentic restaurants.