My first time I came to Rome, I had it all wrong!
I found out pretty fast that I wasn’t going to eat well on my own. When I first got to my flat in Monti, Roma which is a must see. I had to wait for it to be cleaned from the previous guests. It was a hot day and I walked all the way to the Trevi fountain on my own to find it was full of people. I retreated to a hidden restaurant and ordered myself a caprese salad, bubbles – the works in a ‘tourist trap’ and I ended up in the doctor’s office with a €100 needle to be inserted..
Fortunately, after a six hour bus ride south of Rome I had an experience that changed everything on whole other level. I felt so synchronized and became instantly loyal to a new life. Earlier in Rome, I was famished from my long trip, and eager to sit down, I played it “safe” and FAILED. That will never happen again.
Here are some suggestions to keep in mind once you find a good place to eat:
Aperitivo comes from the translation apéritif. It comes from the Latin term ‘aperire’ which means ‘to open’. It literally relates to the opening of the stomach in preparation for dinner, to stimulate the metabolism and work up hunger! In Italy, we eat and drink to eat and drink! It’s one of my favorite things about Italy, and I always aim to discover a new places to absorb the culture. There are a few go-to aperitivi in Italy, like an Aperol Spritz, prosecco always does the trick which happens to be in an Aperol. Franciacorta is my poison. Aperitivo is usually served with bites of complimentary food—anything from chips and peanuts to mini-sandwiches, pasta, meats or cheeses, a Mediterranean fusion… Every region has their own twist. Aperitivo us upon us up two twice a day, before lunch and before dinner. Cin Cin.
Pick the wine, save the bubbly for before or after dinner. Or both. Hehe. This is Italy and wines are serious business. When confused, go for the prestigious amarone or barolo red wine. A white Italian wine to try is a falanghina, or pick a vino della tavola (which is the house wine)—it’s usually about 5-12 euros for a carafe/bottle. If you’re confused, ask the waiter for recommended pairings.
Pick water: In Italy, water doesn’t come free of charge to your table. You order bottled water, and you specify acqua frizzante (sparkling) or acqua naturale (still).
The antipasto is the appetizer. Sometimes the menu will be divided by antipasti di mare (from the sea) or di terra (from the land). Since Italian food is regional, sweeping generalizations on what you’ll find don’t work, but that’s the idea.
On the menu, the “first plate” is the opening act, and carbs are center stage: pasta, risotto, gnocchi, polenta, etc.
The “second plate” is the featured performer, and proteins are where it’s at: fish, meat, or cheeses, etc.
Contorni are side plates of vegetables, the stage-hand of the meal, if you will. Think grilled vegetables, fried zucchini blossoms, braised greens, fresh tomatoes, etc.
Desserts range from simple to complex, typically regional. I usually don’t have room for that at dinner but for lunch I always appreciate something gourmet.
When you ask for a caffè in Italy, it means espresso. After dinner, you drink an espresso or a macchiato (espresso stained with milk). However, if, you order a cappuccino after dinner, or after lunch, the waiters will scorn your choice; here, cappuccino is considered a morning drink. Italians are firmly convinced that drinking milk after any meal will mess up the ability to digest food properly. Tourists, therefore, shouldn’t be shocked when the waiter refuses to grant their cappuccino requests “for your own health”. You also might order a corrected coffee—caffè corretto (spiked with your choice of spirits: grappa, sambuca, etc.).
Just when you thought, ‘mama mia! I could not possibly ingest anything else,’ you can. There’s a special cavity you grow when in Italy, it’s a third stomach, and it holds the ammazzacaffè. The word ammazzacaffè means “coffee killer.” It’s a little downer after your upper. A coffee killer is a strong spirit or liquor, like grappa (40%; made from grape skins), limoncello (the yellow stuff; made of lemons) or amaro, my favourite (bitters; aids in digestion). Don’t order a cocktail—it’s too much cold liquid after dinner. The idea here is short and strong.