Every time I travel, eating what the locals eat is definitely on my to do list. My personal perspective about food is a lot more than just to satisfy hunger. In fact, I see it as a chance to know of culture and tradition – and that makes the trip a lot meaningful to me. Apart from that, it is also a rare chance for me to have a taste of food locals find so common but I rarely (or never) have access to when I go back after the trip.
“Eat like the Romans,” was my eating mantra during our trip to Rome. Thankfully, we have our Italian friends to guide us along the way so we didn’t end up eating the same entire thing over again! Here are some of the authentic Roman dishes we tried (and you should try, too!).
Carciofi alla Giudea
Carciofi is the Italian word for artichokes and I learned from the trip that the Romans take their artichokes seriously. This Jewish-style dish is done by beating the artichoke flower against a hard surface so the petals separate, resembling a flower in full bloom. Among the artichoke dishes I tried, this deep-fried starter easily went to the top spot. I even prefer this carciofi dish over the alla Romana version. Why? Because it is basically deep-fried artichoke bulbs, seasoned with salt and pepper. This simple dish resembles a lot like potato crisps. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t like crisps?!
Puntarelle alla Romana
Puntarelle is a type of bitter greens from the chicory family. This simple salad is made with olive oil, wine vinegar, sea salt, freshly ground pepper and anchovy fillets. It actually reminded me of Salad Nicoise but with the added kick of the bitterness of the puntarelle. I’d be honest to say this was not a favorite among the dishes I tried. But found the bitterness of the puntarelle and saltiness of the anchovies a nice combination. Apart from that, the long, curly strands of the puntarelle served on the plate looked really quirky!
Cacio e Pepe
A pasta dish – of course! This is a very “simple” and creamy spaghetti dish made with olive oil, salt, freshly ground black pepper, butter and high-quality grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Now, you may think why not make it at home – should be really easy to do, right? Nope. In fact, most simple and easy-to-make Italian dishes are the ones which always end up being tricky to cook at home! Trust me, I speak from experience.
Rigatoni con la Pajata
Eating offal is not something new to me. In fact, I initially had this perception it is only an Asian thing to eat these disgusting meat pieces – probably as a result of me watching too much Fear Factor. This dish originated from the olden days at the time the less fortunate citizens of Rome had to make a dish after the premium parts and cuts were taken away. This is not the only offal or fifth quarter-inspired dish in Rome but this tomato-based sauce cooked with calves’ intestines was the dish we ended up trying. To be honest, you can hardly taste anything offal-ish (if there’s such a term) with the dish. Especially if eating in a dimly lit Trattoria with a nice bottle of red – the rich and creamy tomato sauce is the perfect tandem with the intestine pieces.
Rigatoni alla Carbonara
Carbonara is something I grew up with but not the Italian variation, unfortunately. It was only until I relocated abroad that I “learned” that the authentic Italian carbonara’s sauce was made from eggs – not milk or cream! While the origin where this pasta dish came from is still very much highly-debatable, the Roman version of carbonara should not be missed. The ingredients are almost very similar to the Cacio e Pepe but with the addition of guanciale (cured pork cheek) and fresh eggs. And yes, similar to Cacio e Pepe, it is hard to make at home (unless you want scrambled eggs with pasta) if you don’t know the trick!