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On Roman Restaurants

At Ruggeri food market, on Campo de' Fiori, Rome
At Ruggeri food market, on Campo de' Fiori, Rome

We had a lively response from our readers following our misadventures at Osteria Fernanda.

• Tom from The Cotswolds wrote – "TripAdvisor really rate that restaurant..."

• Sandra from Calgary wrote – "Wait, were you talking about ? It’s been fun checking out what you praise and pan. Another title? Three Combs in a Fountain."

• Terry from Parksville wrote – "We, on the other hand spent "Mall Night" at a freshly opened Ricky's across the street from our Mobile Home Park. Freshly opened, thus ending our neighbourhood eat-out food drought. The corporate opening crew had departed that very day leaving wide-eyed trainees to fend for themselves..."

Rome is a beautiful city filled with hundred of fabulous restaurants set in fabulous palazzi, piazze, and squares surrounded by fabulous Italians dining on the foods of their childhoods – pizza, pasta, salads, fritti, and simple desserts like tiramisu and panna cotta.

If we were living in Rome we might, one day, get tired of all that simplicity and beauty and deliciousness and want to venture to an uglier part of town to have an innovative meal. We might get to that point... one day. But, we have barely scratched the surface of traditional Roman foods served up in spectacular settings.

Ruggeri food market, on Campo de' Fiori, Rome
Ruggeri food market, on Campo de' Fiori, Rome

Simple Ingredients

For instance, what parmigiano-reggiano is to northern Italy, pecorino is to Rome. Not as refined as parmigiano, pecorino, made using sheep's milk, is saltier, a bit coarse, and softer. The Roman pasta dish cacio e peppe is a simple combination of pecorino cheese and black pepper. It's found on every traditional menu in Rome. Another standard Roman pasta dish is matriciana, made with guanciale (pig cheeks), tomato sauce, and pecorino. Add eggs and subtract the tomato sauce and you have carbonara. Three fingers to count the ingredients and a few centuries to perfect the recipe.

So, sure, we can see that, if you were brought up on a Roman diet, at some point you would wonder what else is there? Although there are a handful of sushi restaurants in Rome, they are irrelevant compared to the number of osterias, wine bars, traditional restaurants, and gelateria that spill from the age-encrusted buildings onto the sidewalks.

Osteria Naumachia, near the Colosseum
Osteria Naumachia, near the Colosseum

Rome vs Paris – Food Fight

Unlike Paris, where most restaurants serve at lunch and dinner only, many Roman eateries feature non-stop service from noon to midnight. At our favourite local (to us) Roman place, Naumachia, we noticed the same staff working both lunch and dinner services.

Another key difference between Roman restaurants and Parisian restaurants is this – Paris has always been the centre of France, where citizens from all parts brought their regional specialities to the capital, like duck confit and goose-fried potatoes from the Basque country, dark truffles from Provence, fresh oysters from Brittany, quiche from Lorraine (supposedly, at least), and a thousand cheeses from every region of France.

Thin-crust pizza at Emma
Thin-crust pizza at Emma

Rome is different. It is not the gastronomic capital of Italy. Look north to Florence or to Venice or to Emilio-Romagna for elevated cuisine, for the belly of Italy. Roman cuisine consists of pasta, fresh and dried, pecorino cheese, thin-crust pizza (thick crust is Neapolitan), and of course, the humble artichoke. It is the home of simple, rustic, hearty food made for dining al fresco or by loving home-cooks like Nonna or Mama.

The lonely dining room at Osteria Fernanda
The lonely dining room at Osteria Fernanda

Web Eating

How relevant are online reviews?  We had a fun and delicious lunch at Emma Emporio, but the reviews are less than stellar. On the other hand, the reviews for Osteria Fernanda are solid. But, timing is everything. If we had been with friends, the energy of the group would have overcome the view of the parked cars, the depressing music, and the nearby garbage bins.

The view from our table at Osteria Fernanda
The view from our table at Osteria Fernanda, the garbage bins are just out of the frame to the left
The lively dining room at Emma
The lively dining room at Emma

As a couple we seek the ambiance of a crowd around us; people enjoying their food and drink – not a lonely collection of misfits. (This is all pre-Covid, of course!)

We thought Rome would be a one-trip deal, a checkmark next to places to go, things to do.  But, we missed a few highlights like the Pantheon, Hadrian's Tivoli Gardens, and a complete understanding of the menu. We will be back. 

But for now it's arriverdici Roma and bienvenue à Paris, where this was last night's light show as seen from our very nice apartment in the 7th Arrondissement.

à la prochaine,

-Diane & Mark

photographs copyright by Mark Craft

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