In the United States, when we walk into an Italian restaurant we are used to seeing a variety of Northern and Southern Italian specialties on the menu. But when you go to Italy, you get to experience different foods in the different regions, where everything is fresh and authentic, based on ingredients and recipes that are native to that area.
Rome is a big city like any other, where you can get sushi, burgers, French cuisine, Thai, etc.; but when you go you’ll want to be sure to sample some of the area’s specialties. So I asked around to find out the must try foods in Rome and this is what I found. Another great way to explore Rome’s food options is through a food tour.
Must Try Foods in Rome
1. Carbonara – carbonara is made with eggs, pecorino-romano cheese, guanciale (or bacon/pancetta), and black pepper, usually served over spaghetti but can be served with rigatoni (my favorite) or any other pasta. Al Moro near the Trevi Fountain is famous for its carbonara.
2. Fried artichoke – most famously found in the Jewish quarter, artichokes are deep fried so that each leaf is crispy.
3. Suppli – unlike the arancini from Sicily, suppli is made with rice cooked in a tomato sauce, stuffed with cheese and then deep fried to create a ball of savory goodness.
4. Tripe – the Testaccio neighborhood is famous for its dishes using offal (or the quint quarto — the fifth quarter). Trippa all a Romana is tripe cooked in tomato sauce with pecorino. You will also find oxtail stew and la pajata (baby calf intestines).
5. Pizza bianca – different than the white pizza you might have in the U.S., this is a focaccia style pizza bread served in bakeries throughout Rome.
6. Thin crust pizza – unlike pizza from Naples (what we are used to in the Northeast U.S.), Roman pizza has a thin crust cooked crispy with no wide crust lip around the edges.
7. Pecorino-romano cheese – in Rome, parmesan reggiano is not the king of cheeses, rather pecorino-romano or sheep’s milk ricotta reigns supreme.
8. Amatriciana – another pasta sauce that uses pig’s cheek (guanciale), amatriciana also uses tomato, pecorino, and olive oil and is served over a variety of pastas.
9. Porchetta – is a boneless pork roast cooked over wood with garlic, rosemary, and sometimes other herbs.
10. Brutti ma Buoni – with so many hazelnuts around Lazio and Rome, you will find these “ugly but good” hazelnut cookies in many bakeries.
11. Cacio e pepe – this pasta sauce is literally “cheese and pepper,” made with black pepper and pecorino romano cheese typically served over long, thin spaghetti.
12. Saltimbocca alla Romano – veal and sage wrapped in prosciutto and cooked in white wine and butter.
13. Tartufo or gelato – I’m sure you’ll find plenty of excuses to have gelato but try to find the “real” stuff, not fluffed up and disguised with artificial color and chemicals. You might also want to try some Tartufo. Made famous by Tre Scalini in Piazza Navona, tartufo is made up of one or two flavors with frozen fruit in the center, covered with a shell of chocolate or cocoa.
So we skipped the tripe but we did try most of these (plus fried zucchini flowers, pasta, pasta and more pasta, and so much more.) We had a lot of great food in Rome but these were our favorites.
Where to Eat in Rome
1. Artichokes – I could have eaten the Carciofi alla Romano, artichoke sautéed in lemon and wine, from Taverna dei Fori Imperiali all day long. I’ve never tasted anything like it — delicate, tender, lemony but sweet. We also enjoyed our first taste of carciofi fritti (fried artichoke) at Piperno in the Jewish Quarter.
2. Carbonara – the carbonara at Taverna die Fori Imperiali near Piazza Venezia was the best I’ve ever tasted, and this is one of my favorite pasta dishes! I didn’t even order it but I kept stealing the ultra-crispy, succulent pieces of guanciale off of my daughter’s plate. And I used to think pork belly was good.
3. Suppli – we’ve had and made arancini at home but we are now completely sold on suppli and need to try to cook it at home because we can’t wait to go back to Rome to have it again! Our favorite was from I Suppli in Trastevere on our food tour with Eating Italy.
4. Porchetta – another favorite from our Eating Italy food tour, the porchetta cut fresh at Antica Norcineria in Trastevere. (See ideas for where to eat in Trastevere.)
5. Gnocchi – it may not be a Roman specialty but the gnocchi at Taverna degli Amici near Piazza Venezia was so, so tasty — the best we had in Rome.
6. Eggplant Croquettes – these delicious little bites with eggplant, buffalo mozzarella, and little tomatoes at Caffe Propaganda near the Colosseum were the epitome of Modern Roman. I also loved their salad misticanza di campo.
7. Deconstructed tiramisu – another favorite from Caffe Propaganda was their modern take on tiramisu.
8. Creme brûlée – the last stop on our food tour, Spirito di Vino, gave us one of our favorite bites of Rome, and it couldn’t have seemed less “Italian.” This creme brûlée does not have the fired sugar top like we are accustomed to and instead of being custardy, it was light, delicate, fluffy and creamy.
I could go on and on about the delicious food we ate but when I surveyed the family, these all rose to the top of the list as the very best things we ate in Rome. What about you, do you have any favorites to recommend to families traveling to Rome? Be sure to leave a comment below to add your favorites to the list. Eating Italy also put together an excellent Foodie Guide to Rome.