If you ever had the plan to head to Rome or even if you haven’t, I would highly recommend this foodie historic city to be thrown on the top of your travel bucket list.
After completing my time at culinary school; the Le Cordon Bleu, it only seemed fitting that culinary kiwi Danijela and myself head to the foodie capital as a way to end and celebrate our furthered knowledge and love of food.
Flying from London on a Friday afternoon with just three and a half days to explore this enchanting city, we managed to make the most of every second. Here I will give you the rundown of my highlights and recommendations.
About Italian Cuisine
I am often one to eat a healthy well-balanced diet with little to no sugar or alcohol and a great array of wholesome foods. But… as they say when in Rome! I wanted to be kind to myself and allow for a full culinary experience as these opportunities come few and far and being the foodie I am I didn’t want to miss out.
Traditionally Italian foods often originated from the poorer people working with the simple few seasonal ingredients they had available. Such as the humble carbonara sauce is made with the egg, pepper, pecorino cheese and pigs cheek. These people were often only left with/could afford the pigs head and would make the most of the whole product and spread each piece of meat out through a dish. Tomatoes would be available on mass through the summer months and stored to make many favourite tomato-based dishes for the cooler periods.
Depending on which part of Italy you head to will change with the types of meals found on the menus. For seaside areas expect fresh local seafood, for Northern areas a heavier influence of cheese is seen thanks to its neighbouring country Switzerland and the added carbs needed for the cooler climate. In general, foods are fresh, seasonal and sustainable with smaller amounts of meats being used.
Making Pasta al dente like the locals
We kicked off our foodie adventure with a pasta making workshop taken by a professional Italian local. With three main kinds of pasta to make: Amatriciana sauce, spinach and ricotta ravioli and a carbonara. The class started by making the pasta for the three dishes with each of us making up a pasta dough each. I was blown away at how simple it all was to make!
The day involved over consuming delicious fresh pasta, learning the history of the dishes all whilst sipping a brilliant glass of red which was continuously filled. The workshop was hands-on and I walked away having felt I had gained some great new knowledge and ready to make more pasta back home for friends and family.
Some tips and tricks I learnt during the workshop which I shall try to apply to my everyday cooking:
The 3 finger pinch rule with salt: when the recipe says '“take a pinch of salt” what the Italians mean is use three fingers, dig in and take a rather shockingly large scoop out
Traditional Carbonara is made with an egg which makes the sauce creamy, not cream. We where heavily warned to never mix cream into our carbonara again unless we wanted to become a disgrace to the Italians.
Carbonara also traditionally uses pig cheek not bacon and for a vegetarian version to swap the meat for a zucchini
Look, Touch, Smell & Taste: I loved this tip of using your senses more when cooking. As our Chef wisely said “if you learn to recognise the right signals from your food, a dish will never fail"
Cheese, cheese and more cheese
When rolling the pasta through the pasta machine use your forearm to fold the pasta over as support as it gets longer and lift your arm up so the sheet doesn’t break
For Authentic Italian food:
Cantina e Cucina: this little Italian gem is filled with authentic charm, from the decor, customer service to the artichoke carbonara. I recommend this restaurant as a must visit for a fabulous all-rounder. But be aware it does get busy so get in early so to avoid a line.
Tonarello: Set in the bustling area of Trastevere, This busy eatery is home to some classic well priced Italian dishes.
Pizzarium: For the best pizza of your life head to this little spot tucked away not far from the Vatican city. This pizza was a dream and they have nailed the different types of toppings and flavour combinations with fresh ingredients. I loved the artichoke and cashew cream and I’m always a big fan of the classic margarita.
Fa-Bio: For a healthier choice to break up the influx of pasta this organic deli is placed nearby the Vatican. Offering an array of great wraps, salads, sandwiches, juices and smoothies. This was the health kick we needed after a day of exploring the Vatican city.
For an after dinner treat:
Tiramisu Zum: We became regulars at this tiramisu location. Our excuse was that we just had to get through every flavour of tiramisu! My favourite is the rum and the pistachio. They also cater for lactose and gluten-free varieties. All the tiramisus are made on site to add to the Italian authenticity
Fatamorgana: If gelato is on your foodie bucket list then head to Fatamorgana. With multiple locations through the city making it easy to swing by in-between sightseeing
Caffeine fit for the Romans
If you’re a coffee fanatic, or just wanting to be as Italian as the rest of the city locals try out these two spots for a caffeine fix that is sure to hit the spot. I would also recommend grabbing a box of the chocolate coated coffee beans. These little gems would help see me through the afternoons of exploring
La Casa del Caffè Tazza d'Oro: This coffee shop comes recommended as selling the best coffee in Rome. This caffeine fix is conveniently situated near the Pantheon which comes in handy after taking in all its overwhelming beauty.
Sciascia Caffè: This Historic little spot not far from the Vatican has had its doors open since 1912. It has certainly perfected the art of coffee making in that time and serves up a delectable espresso with chocolate melted around the outside, who knew coffee could get anymore awakening and indulgent.
The Tourist Bucket List
Pantheon: Almost 2000 years after its construction the Pantheon remains as the best preserved ancient Roman monument. The most noteworthy part of the structure is its large Dome roof with the hole in the top being its only source of light which is seen as the connection between the temple and the gods above. You can easily hit two birds with one stone and go from the Pantheon to Trevi Fountain.
Trevi Fountain: Every Trip to Rome simply must hold a trip to Trevi Fountain to toss a coin to guarantee a return trip to Rome. Simply turn your back to the fountain and toss a coin over your left shoulder.
Pasta Making Workshop: For all the other foodies hitting this city for a full culinary experience then I must recommend doing a pasta-making workshop to learn all the traditional tips and tricks of the Italians. We booked ours through Airbnb experiences but there is a bountiful amount to be found online. Other great cooking workshops would be pizza making and tiramisu.
Colosseum: The Colosseum is an absolute must see. I have always wanted to see the arena where Gladiators once fought for my own eyes. This striking 1949-year-old structure is best seen with a guided tour. We did a tour viewing of the arena floor, underground and the 2nd tier which gave a great insight into the past of this fascinating structure. I found it especially interesting to learn that on average only 20% of Gladiators died and many became gladiators as a way to reach freedom from salivary.
Vatican City: I would recommend allocating a day to touring the Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. Head to St. Peters Basilica first thing in the morning and wander around marvelling at all the striking artwork from floor to ceiling and statues, this place is truly made for the gods and will make your jaw drop. Next head around to the museum section and wander through the different exhibitions where you will eventually reach the Sistine Chapel and you can marvel at Michelangelo’s masterpiece. For some fresh air, I would recommend exploring the surrounding gardens. Pizzarium is conveniently situated only a short walk from the Vatican to refuel after your day of exploring.
Piazza del Popolo: I always try to get to some higher ground when visiting a city to take in the landscape and layout of the city below. We stumbled upon this site just at sunset and were able to take in Rome and all her glory with the last rays of sun cast against the extravagant Vatican city.
Location and accommodation: We stayed in an Airbnb so we could access a kitchen to make breakfast and cups of teas. Staying in old Rome near Campo de Fiori, which we found perfectly placed between all the major sights and yet not too commercial and touristy. Another great area would be Trastevere.
Time of year: Whilst most explore Rome in the warmer months I am not one to cope well in sweltering heat and love to wander through a new city on foot. We found November an Ideal time to sightsee and explore Rome, as this was an off-peak time for tourism and a lot cooler than the summer months.