Confessions of a Foodie in Rome

If you read our desultory food interview, Chewing the Fat, Italy is by far the most popular answer when we ask people to name their favorite food country from their travels. It’s a carb-lovers paradise—the home of pizza and pasta!—and we intended to eat very well during our two weeks in the country; I probably...

If you read our desultory food interview, Chewing the Fat, Italy is by far the most popular answer when we ask people to name their favorite food country from their travels. It’s a carb-lovers paradise—the home of pizza and pasta!—and we intended to eat very well during our two weeks in the country; I probably gained five pounds just planning our eating itinerary, and it’s safe to say that from a culinary perspective, there was no country during our jaunt through Europe that we were more eagerly anticipating. Our expectations were sky high.

Well. You know what they say about expectations…

At the risk of losing all of my foodie cred, I must admit that when I think back on the food we actually ate in Italy, I feel a deep sense of dissatisfaction and frustration. It was a country ripe with promise, where we were certain every dish would be a grand slam. I’ve always known the cuisine was one that prized bold but simple flavors, where recipes were handed down through the generations and each dish was meant to celebrate the purity and beauty of the component ingredients. I couldn’t wait to tantalize my taste buds with pure, unadulterated Italian cuisine.

And yet. Meal after meal in Rome, we’d slump from the restaurant, shoulders stooped in a posture of disheartened defeat as we left another lackluster dining experience in our wake. Back home, we always had a hard & fast rule that we would never go out to Italian restaurants because I reasoned that I could make the same food (or better) at home for a fraction of the price. You can imagine how much it hurt when time and again we came to the same conclusion in the motherland.

Our angsty relationship with Italian cooking reached its apex (or, depending on how you look at it, nadir) in Rome. It’s long been accepted that Italy’s capital city is choked with tourist trap restaurants dishing up insulting slop to uneducated masses who will unquestioningly proclaim a meal fantastic using the infallible logic that because they are eating Italian food in Italy, it must be good. I did my research, poring over renowned local food blogs and the food posts of other Romaphiles so that we could make the most of our five days in the city and seek out the best food that we could for our budget. I didn’t just research where to eat, I also made a list of what we should order where, because apparently even the best Roman restaurants are notorious for doing just a few things well and all sympathies to the sucker who orders blindly when in Rome.

Hardly the glowing intro to a food post, I know, but at least some of these dishes photographed well? And if nothing else, maybe this post will serve to temper others’ expectations when visiting Rome…

Our first meal in Rome was at Pastificio, a pasta shop that masquerades as a bare bones eatery at lunch time. Located on a quiet side street near the Spanish Steps, it floods with hungry locals at 1pm who come for the magnificent lunch special: as the sign out front amusingly proclaims, €4 gets you a heaping portion of either of the two pastas of the day (one vegetarian, one meaty), a fork, a plate, a napkin, and unlimited tap water. It’s the opposite of fancy—you eat standing up at a counters around the shop—but it is cheap… I daresay that gelato aside, it’s one of the cheapest meals you can get in Rome. And, despite my preliminary grousing, it’s actually pretty tasty (if not mind-blowingly so). On the day we visited, we got a plate of carbonara (pasta slathered in a cheesy egg-based sauce, punctuated with crispy nuggets of guanciale ham) and a plate of the pomodoro (basic tomato sauce). As would befit a pasta shop, the pasta was top notch, particularly impressive on the pomodoro (though the sauce itself was nothing special). Overall, the carbonara was the clear champion of the two, though Tony loyally declared that he prefers my version. If you’re lunching in Rome, eat here; the food is solid and for €4, you can’t really complain.

Because we are North Americans through and through, we could never get used to having dinner at 8pm or later like most Italians seem to prefer, so we quickly discovered the ideal solution for hungry budget travelers: aperitivos!

In something of a carb coma, that evening we were in the market for a lighter repast. Because we are North Americans through and through, we could never get used to having dinner at 8pm or later like most Italians seem to prefer, so we quickly discovered the ideal solution for hungry budget travelers: aperitivos! Like the equivalent of American Happy Hours (only better), many bars and restaurants in Italy offer aperitivos, where a boozey drink is often accompanied by nibblies. If you do your research, however, you’ll learn that some places go all out and offer full buffet spreads with any drink purchase. Our wanderings brought us to the trendy district of Trastavere where we found the hipster paradise known as Freni e Frizione, an old mechanic shop that has been converted into a trendy cocktail bar and famed for its vegetarian aperitivo buffet. Tony ordered a bourbon and I went with the irresistable Scottish Fold, a delightful concoction of Apple Juice, Green Tea Infused Sugar, Lemon Juice, Gin and St. Germain. For less than €20, we filled our bellies and got pleasantly sloshed. The drinks are clearly the big pull here as the buffet dishes were rather hit or miss, but view the food as merely something to soak up the booze at a place Romans go to see & be seen and you’ve got the right idea. (Additional resources: Rome’s best aperitivo spots.)

No trip to Italy would be complete without copious quantities of pizza, and Rome seemed as good a place to indulge as any. The city is somewhat famous for this cheap and portable snack, as you can barely walk a block without passing a shop that sells it by the slice (known as pizza al taglio). What constitutes a slice varies—some places sell them pre-cut, but in others you’ll specify the weight—but all of these shops will have a wide variety of toppings on offer, from minimalist Margheritas to more elaborate offerings. There are countless lists offering up the city’s best al taglio joints and unlike gelato in Florence we didn’t make it our mission to thoroughly investigate those claims. All I can say is that our favorite pizza in Rome was found at Pinsere, not strictly an al taglio joint, but of a similar enough style. Pinsere is a little shop beloved by backpackers that is tucked in the back alleys around Termini train station. The guys behind the counter were friendly and enthusiastic, and we dug their innovative flavor combinations: We split an order of fig & blue cheese, and spicy pepper & olive. It should be noted that the spicy pizza was not in the least bit fiery, but then again, nothing we had anywhere in Italy that claimed to be spicy ever was, so that probably shouldn’t be held against them.

Corner Store al taglio Pizza

We popped into another random shop on our last day in Rome where we got some slices of Margherita pizza (mozarella, tomato & basil), eggplant (good, but would have been even better if it had been hot), and potato pizza (meh… a Roman standard, but quite starchy and tasted akin to cardboard) and ate them al fresco in a rather dodgy neighborhood. Nothing fancy or exciting, but a hell of a lot better than the scuzzy pizzas we picked up at a shop just around the corner from the apartment we were staying in…

More Corner Store Pizza

I had always believed that there wasn’t really such a thing as bad pizza, but… this was bad pizza. Come on. Just looking at it you can tell that’s not good pizza!

panino con l’allesso from mordi e vai

At this point, you are probably wondering why I was so crotchety in my intro since nothing I’ve shared up to this point has been abysmal. Well folks, those were really the highlights (save for two more, I’m saving for the end!). Now things get a bit grim. One afternoon Tony and I ventured over to the Testaccio neighborhood, an old-school Roman neighborhood known for its cheap eats and air of hardscrabble raucousness. We headed to the market to try the much-touted Mordi e Vai, a stall that serves up classic Roman secondis in sandwich form. We ordered the panino con l’allesso, essentially slow-cooked pulled beef, which looked absolutely lush… and tasted like mush. Pap. Pablum. Whatever you want to call it, this sandwich tasted like sadness.

Polpette Trapizzino from 00100

Still hungry and not to be deterred, we prowled a couple of streets over to Trapizzino (also called 00100, it would seem) for their namesake dish: the trapizzino. It’s essentially a pita pocket made up of focaccia bread and stuffed with various carnivorous fillings. Tony got the polpetta al sugo (essentially meatballs in marinara sauce), which tasted like a delicious meatball sub (as you might expect). I ordered the lingua in salsa verde (essentially, tongue in green sauce) because when have I ever seen tongue on a menu and not ordered it? Sadly, the tongue was reminiscent of the lampredotto (tripe sandwich) we had in Florence, which is to say, utterly flavorless. I ate my trapizzino in something of a daze, musing after each bite that I didn’t know it was possible to make tongue taste so utterly unlike anything.

Asaparagus Suppli

We also ordered a suppli, essentially a oozing ball of leftover risotto and cheese that has been breaded and fried. At this point a tour group came into the shop and I sort of eavesdropped on the guide as she explained the origins of suppli and what makes the ones at Trapizzino so special; if memory serves, the ones at Trapizzino are a bit scandalous because they are not filled with a tomatoey meat sauce, but are instead just cheese, rice and other little tidbits like asparagus. I don’t know what to tell you—you deep fry anything and it’s going to be better than if you hadn’t, and that rule seems to hold true here too. This suppli was good, but not the best iteration of “deep-fried thing” I have ever had.

Feeling a bit bereft by the utter lack of exceptional food we had been sampling in Rome, we decided to go big and splash out on a guaranteed good meal. Based on several “best restaurants in Rome” articles, I actually went to the lengths of making a reservation in Italian (thanks, Google translate!) so that we could dine at Osteria Bonelli. Apparently this is a locals-only place that serves remarkable food at surprisingly low prices, so we decided to give it a shot.

Alas, the best part about our meal was the hilarity that ensued when I tried to make a reservation in horribly butchered Italian. Many years of French lessons and three years of high school Latin allowed me to muddle through the basics on the phone of saying I would like to make a dinner reservation for two people for the following evening. But when they asked me when I would like to eat, and I said 7:30 pm, this cause such a kerfuffle that I got flustered and eventually had to ask if someone spoke English and could help me out. Turns out the problem is that Osteria Bonelli doesn’t open until 8pm! Ahimè!

Anyway, we made the reservation and then managed to get lost on the way to the restaurant but did find it in the end. Perhaps it would have been better if we hadn’t. I ordered the burrata-stuffed ravioli with local mushrooms, Tony ordered the coda alla vaccinara (oxtail in tomato sauce), and a carafe of the house white wine. My dish was good, though once again, seemed under-seasoned, lacking even basic salt or pepper. Tony’s dish, on the other hand, was a complete disaster. The oxtail was chewy and stringy and a complete chore to saw/gnaw through. We should have stopped there, but we were both still hungry and thought maybe dessert could help and we could end on a sweet note. On the suggestion of our waitress, claiming it was the house specialty, we ordered the tiramisu. You guys, it was so bad. Dry and flavorless, I have had grocery store tiramisu that was miles better than this sad little dessert.

As seems to be the way of these things, our meal at Osteria Bonelli was our most expensive dinner in Rome, and is also the meal that stands out as being the most disappointing. At €30, you could certainly spend much more on a meal in Rome, but it was enough of an outlay that we couldn’t help but feel we got nowhere near our money’s worth.

To end with something sweet, although we didn’t go to the same lengths as we did in Florence, we did still eat a fair amount of gelato while in Rome. Having read accounts that the best scoops were served up at FataMorgana, that’s where we hit up first.

I was charmed by their unusual and creative flavors, things like creamed corn & caramel popcorn and wasabi chocolate, but ultimately we decided to go with one standard scoop (my go to: pistachio!) and one a little more creative (ricotta & fig). We didn’t go full-blown scientific on this tasting, but we both concluded that the ice cream was good, but nothing especially memorable or worthy of rhapsodic praise. It seemed to be another case of the hype overshadowing the reality of the Roman food scene.

To make sure that there wasn’t something supremely wrong with our taste buds, we sought out a branch of our favorite gelateria from Florence, Grom, and ordered up two scoops of cantaloupe and strawberry gelato. They were just as good as we remembered, their bright clear flavors outshone the comparatively meek flavors from FataMorgana.

But by far, our very favorite gelateria in Rome was the sleek and modern artisanal shop, Come il Latte. The gelato here was sinfully creamy and each bite was bursting with the pure, clean flavors of the primary ingredients. We went back two or three times, and tried scoops of peach, cheesecake, raspberry, and some devilishly delicious combination of pear and nuts and all were fabulous. And, as an added bonus, you can get your gelato topped with a crispy wafer, whipped cream, and a drizzle of dark chocolate sauce completely free of charge!

Come il Latte Gelato, Rome


So, what’s the takeaway from our tasting tour of Rome? I can’t tell whether my copious amounts of research were for naught, since I wouldn’t go so far as to say we ate badly in Rome… but I can’t in good conscience say we ate excessively well either. It is true that the places we researched in advance generally tended to serve up slightly better food than the ones we just wandered into when our spirits were low and we couldn’t be bothered to trek across the city to what would likely be another underwhelming meal.

I guiltily confessed our less-than-enthusiastic to the food we had had thus far in Italy to an Italian friend while in Rome, hoping she could tell us where we were going wrong and could set us back on the path of Italian culinary nirvana. I speculated that perhaps all of our time in Asia has well and truly done our palates in and irrevocably rewired our taste preferences… how else to explain why meals in Italy were largely an exercise in bland? It’s true that we didn’t really eat anything that tasted bad during our time in the country, but that’s likely because most of what we ate didn’t really taste like much of anything at all. You can imagine my surprise when she simply nodded her head in sympathy, saying that after traveling extensively outside of Italy as well, she too felt the same. The dishes are never spicy and after nearly two years of treating our tastebuds to the wide spectrum of punchy flavors found in Vietnamese, Thai and other Asian cuisines, Italian food seemed one-note in comparison and fell flat on our tongues.

As with Paris, maybe we didn’t go to the very best places or order the exact right dishes at the places we did go. Maybe we should have just stuck to gelato. (Yes!) But I tend to think that finding delicious food shouldn’t be so hard and require hours of research. And we tried REALLY hard to eat well in Rome. There were lots of dishes we meant to try (like cacio e pepe) and didn’t because we ran out of time and enthusiasm for the local food scene, instead choosing to eat at home.

It feels sacrilege to admit how unimpressed we were with the food in Italy, and to say that for all its charms, Rome was by far the worst offender on this front. But I can’t escape the fact that through all the pizza and pasta and bread, the taste that lingered after most of our meals in Rome, and continues to do so months later, was one of disappointment.

Tell Us: What are we missing when it comes to Italian food? If you had just one dish to convince us to recant, what would it be? Or do you agree that Italy is overhyped as a food destination (or, at least, Rome is)?

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37 comments Leave a comment

  1. Rome definitely isn’t the easiest place to find good food which, like you said, almost seems ridiculous! I’m really sad that your suppli wasn’t the best fried thing you’ve ever had (because they can be) and that your potato pizza was dry (because that is my favorite). Also, Trapizzino is on my list for when I’m back but I guess I’ll be staying away from the tongue…

    I will say that it was also a little weird for me to eat European food after spending so much time in Asia. The flavor profiles are so completely different and I found myself yearning for the spice I had gotten so used to. But Italian flavors are what I grew up with so I find comfort in them and eventually was able to once again appreciate that simple flavors have their place as well. For me anyway 🙂

    Also, thanks for the link!

    Jan. 14 2015 @ 7:04 pm
    1. Amanda author

      You know, I did wonder how much of our lack of enthusiasm was due to a distorted palate after twenty-odd months in Asia, but… now that we have our own kitchen, I cook Italian food once or twice a week because the ingredients are easy to get in this part of the world and I really enjoy the dishes I cook up! I still think there is something wonderfully comforting about a good spaghetti bolognese, and I love me some pizza. I just didn’t think anything we tried in Rome was truly exceptional. I know it’s a tough food city which is why I did so much research and yet I can’t tell whether I chose from the “best of” lists poorly or Roman-style cooking just isn’t to our taste. I suspect that we probably needed to up our food budget a little bit more in order to eat better in Rome, but after so many “meh” meals, we didn’t feel particularly motivated to break the budget in that capacity.

      But thank you for your wonderful food posts—we found them really helpful in terms of generating ideas of things to eat and places to try. In a city like Rome, it’s important to have resources like that. I hate to think what might have happened if we had just wandered about blindly…

      Jan. 15 2015 @ 11:57 am
  2. I feel exactly the same, I was especially disappointed with the pizza in Italy. Although I had some fantastic Roman style pizza in Rome, I didn’t enjoy any of the Napoli style pizza I had anywhere in Italy – bland and doughy. I had a couple of beautiful pasta dishes but overall I was equally disappointed 🙁

    Jan. 14 2015 @ 7:23 pm
    1. Katie @ The World on my Necklace author

      It was just surprising to me that Italy wouldn’t have more culinary pride and that places serving up junky pizza and the like are able to thrive. I guess if they are cheap then perhaps that is more important with the people than actual quality (just look at the proliferation of McDonald’s worldwide!). I was shocked to say that we’ve had pizza in Nashville and Toronto that we have enjoyed far more than a lot of the pizza we had in Rome… Most of the pizza we had was completely acceptable and solid, but I just expected more (perhaps too much?) from Italy!

      Jan. 15 2015 @ 12:00 pm
  3. We felt the same, and we also approached it by first reading all the internets. We did have some sensational meals but many of them were an exquisite study in f*ck-the-tourist. On the other hand, my parents (who have been to Italy multiple times) recently went with Italian friends who run Italian import/food/wine businesses here in Australia, on a research/buying trip. Their stories. I die. It’s the food stuff of dreamy, delicious, one hundred year old balsamic vinegar legends.

    Jan. 14 2015 @ 9:35 pm
    1. Alli Campbell author

      Ugh! I want to travel with your parents too! I’ve read a lot of travel blogs where people are having these exceptional food experiences in Italy and then I realize they have been hosted by tourism boards and I wonder exactly how feasible experiences like these are for the average independent traveler. I suppose when price is no object, anything is possible, but I thought that even on a budget Italy would deliver satisfying meals. Apparently, that is not so much the case…

      Jan. 15 2015 @ 12:05 pm
  4. Oh no, it’s disappointing to hear that the food was so unimpressive in Rome! I think living in Jakarta is making my standards for Italian food incredibly low because, at this point, I would kill for even the crappiest of pizzas shown in this post! Fig and blue cheese? I’m would die for that right about now. Seriously. Oh well, at least Rome had your beloved Grom!

    Jan. 14 2015 @ 9:40 pm
    1. Justine author

      I love pizza! Like I said, I really didn’t think there was such a thing as bad pizza before visiting Rome, and that’s after nearly 2 years of eating occasionally at weird Asian Pizza Huts! But despite eating weird not-really-pizza pizza, I still was unimpressed by the pizza in Italy. I mean, it wasn’t bad (except for that one pizza, which really wasn’t good), but I expected more than “just ok” from Italian pizza. Fig & blue cheese is a beautiful combination, but I can do that at home (and have!) and it tastes just as good… maybe even better, because I’ll also throw some fresh mint or basil on it too, maybe some walnuts too…

      Jan. 15 2015 @ 12:10 pm
  5. I’m sorry guys to hear that the Italian food disappointed you, I’m not sure if it was because you didn’t have the chance to try some home cooked dishes by some typical Italian moms which it really makes a difference. Next time you should stop at my parents house, even though the food from the South (where I’m from) is quite different from the one from the North.

    I did have some very disappointing food experience myself in various part of Italy, most of them though were because I stopped in places more commercial and definitely less authentic and poor in quality, I have high standards too and it’s not easy to satisfy me, especially when it comes to Italian food, I know exactly what i’d love and how it should be. In Rome like in any other big tourists cities, you really need to know where to go for some good food, as you said it’s not the easiest task not even for me.

    Jan. 15 2015 @ 3:15 am
    1. Franca author

      Thankfully we did have the chance to try some Italian home cooking when we reached Bologna, which I will write about in our next post… Suffice to say, we enjoyed that MUCH more! I think you are absolutely right that home cooked meals in Italy are really where the country’s culinary scene shines. And perhaps southern Italian food would be more to our tastes than northern cuisine… we certainly wouldn’t say no to dining with your parents whenever we make it to Alberobello! 😀

      Jan. 15 2015 @ 12:12 pm
  6. There’s nothing more disappointing than a bad meal, IMO, especially in a city/country that is so well-known for its cuisine. I tend to think that majorly touristy cities are always going to be like that (I’ve certainly found this to be the case), partly because they are so over-hyped and partly because they just genuinely can’t keep up with demand. Funny that you tried the potato pizza – all over Venice we kept noticing pizzas with fries on top and eventually tried one on our last day and it was one of the worst pizzas I’ve ever had in my life! The British get ripped for eating chips on bread – why do the Italians get away with this?! 😉

    Jan. 15 2015 @ 4:19 am
    1. Julia author

      Ha ha! Chip butties are inexcusable, but fries on pizza is no better in my opinion either. The kind of potato pizza we had in Rome was thinly shaved rounds of potato, rather than fry format, but we did see a few pizzas speckled with fries too (and I’m pretty sure we took a “WTF?!?” photo for our records!). Didn’t try one, but I think that was probably for the best…

      Jan. 15 2015 @ 12:15 pm
  7. I’ve always thought the best Italian food in restaurants is outside the big cities (of course the actual best is in homes). Too bad you didn’t have a car to explore and get off the beaten path a bit. Rome, Florence, Pisa, Milano, Venice seem to have fewer good and real options.
    As for spicy, you’ll definitely find that in the south! If you didn’t make it south of Rome, you missed out. Calabria has amazing peppers and spices.
    I wouldn’t have thought that secondi as sandwiches would be any good, sounds kind of awful to me. Sandwiches, on pitas or bread, don’t come to mind as good Italian options. I’m surprised it would be recommended on the web.
    I’ve had the best luck ordering a typical meal, primo pasta, secondo meat or veg dish, insalata to finish, and perhaps some fruit for dessert, though most Italians don’t really eat dessert on a regular basis, but in the bigger cities, it’s hard to find that inexpensively so I can imagine you weren’t ever satisfied with a meal eating just one portion of a traditional full meal. Such a bummer. Italy will always be my favorite food country (though I actually really liked China and Thailand), but it’s not because of restaurants in the big cities.

    Jan. 15 2015 @ 10:19 am
    1. Carina author

      I think you are probably right that the best Italian food is outside of the big cities and, even better, in the kitchens of the locals!

      We were so excited to be in a country with decent and affordable train service that we didn’t even consider how limited we would be without our own transport, but I think your idea of getting our own wheels and getting off the beaten path (not exactly our goal on Tony’s first trip to Italy this time) would be the way we’d want to approach a second trip to Tuscany.

      I also suspect that Tuscany (and Rome) may not be the right part of Italy for us. It’s clearly the most popular with foreign visitors, and maybe the food (especially if its spicier in the south!) would be more appealing in other regions. We did end our time in Italy in Bologna and ate really very well there, but then again, we stayed with a local who cooked for us so perhaps that made the difference!

      I wish we could have afforded to eat the way real Italians do, ordering all of the courses, but we weren’t entirely used to European portion sizes after Asia and, as you pointed out, it would have been a lot more expensive for us to do so in the cities we visited. The mindset of needing to eat so many different dishes to have a complete meal is so far removed from so many Asian countries that we never really considered that we needed to order pasta and meat and veg and appetizers, etc., Certainly something to keep in mind for next time!

      Jan. 15 2015 @ 12:22 pm
  8. How very disappointing 🙁 I only remember good food in Italy, but it’s been 20 years since we’ve been there and, as with your own experience, that was before I had traveled to Asia and India and so I now wonder what I would think of it with my current palate. Perhaps the saddest part of it all is that you spent SO much effort in trying to find the best options, still to have them fall flat. Well, live and learn.. although 🙂 I may have to go back for myself and see what I think!

    Jan. 15 2015 @ 10:48 am
    1. Rhonda author

      I remember enjoying the food well enough the last time I visited Italy too, but… that was 10 years ago, and I knew far less about food then than I do now. I didn’t even really cook at that point in my life, but I think I’m a lot more discerning about what I consider really good. These days, I hate eating food at restaurants that I know I can easily make myself, so maybe Italy will never be a good fit for me these days! Or maybe I needed to take some cooking classes so that I could have a better appreciation for the logic behind certain dishes and the time and effort required to pull them off…

      I certainly think there must be good food to be had in Italy, I just don’t think it’s that easy to find in Rome. Go to Rome for the history, the ruins, the vibe, but go elsewhere for food, I think!

      Jan. 15 2015 @ 12:26 pm
  9. I know this might be sacrilege considering all the beautiful food porn above here, but can I ask a question about Fanta?! Did it taste different in Rome compared with your country? I find Fanta in Europe is sort of cloudy and ‘juicier’ tasting than in Australia, where it is quite soda-and-sugar tasting…

    Jan. 16 2015 @ 1:03 am
    1. Tim | UrbanDuniya author

      We weren’t really big Fanta drinkers prior to our trip, and we had spent so long in Asia beforehand (not really drinking Fanta either), that I can’t rightly address your question! My orange-fizzy drink of choice is generally Orangina (which I think tastes more like real juice than Fanta) or any of the San Pellegrinos (aranciata is really great).

      If any Fanta experts out there want to weigh in, feel free!

      Jan. 17 2015 @ 11:50 am
  10. I was interested to read about your food experience in Rome. Rome was the first city I visited in Italy five years ago. I wasn’t an experienced traveler at all, and I just assumed that it was near impossible to have bad food in Italy. We got off the plane and were jet-lagged and starving, and went to one of the first restaurants we found near our hotel. I was so excited to order pizza and have my first taste of “real” Italian pizza…and was served a frozen pizza. It was awful! I’ve always wondered what it would be like to “re-do” my food experiences in Rome now that I know to research restaurants and all. Though I will say that on that trip, we did find a restaurant that was really good (I remember the ricotta cheesecake clearly) and once we discovered that, we went there like 3 nights straight! The risk of finding bad food was too high to mess with a good thing!

    Jan. 16 2015 @ 4:13 am
    1. Sara @ Simply Sara Travel author

      I think with research (and talking to plenty of locals) you could certainly improve upon your original Rome eating experiences (what’s with all the frozen food overtaking European capital cities?!?), but I think the general consensus is that the best food in Italy is found elsewhere. I think you were definitely smart to keep returning to that gem you found—the odds of finding another equally enjoyable restaurant were not in your favor!

      Jan. 17 2015 @ 11:52 am
  11. I absolutely loved Italian food and if I could, I would move to Rome just for the food!!

    Jan. 16 2015 @ 6:10 am
    1. Agness author

      I think there are a lot of great things about Rome but, unfortunately, for us the food wasn’t one of them! If I were going to return to Italy solely for the purpose of eating, I would probably head somewhere else… 🙁

      Jan. 17 2015 @ 11:53 am
  12. We’ve had a friend who recently relocated to Rome, and we are gearing up for a visit. Thank you for the research, and taste tests, ill be bookmarking this for reference on the places you did like. And as far as expectations, I think its true – the higher the expectations, the more difficult it is to meet them )

    Jan. 16 2015 @ 8:48 am
    1. Jenia from HTL author

      I think having a local who has had the time to thoroughly vet places would be a huge boon in a city like Rome. I’m sure our lofty expectations didn’t help (nor did our preceding 20 months in Asia), but I do hope that you find this post helpful when you head to Rome. Certainly let us know what you think if you do visit any of the places we enjoyed (or if you discover any places that you think we should try on our next visit).

      Jan. 17 2015 @ 11:56 am
  13. Sigh. If you guys did all that research and STILL couldn’t come up with a decent meal in Rome, what hope is there for the rest of us?

    The last time I was in Rome was after a month of traveling and I was seriously craving Asian food. I walked into a “Chinese” restaurant near Termini and had a horrible wonton soup and an uninspired plate of fried rice. Never had bad food tasted so good! haha.

    I was surprised at how much regular Italians ate pizza, and while it wasn’t life-changing, I did enjoy the funky flavor combinations that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. I did manage to stumble on a few good dishes, but more because they were too laborious to make myself, like ravioli… (The last time I made ravioli, I cheated and used wonton wrappers from a Chinese grocer store. Sigh. Still want to interview me for “Chewing the Fat”? LOLzzz)

    Jan. 18 2015 @ 2:19 am
    1. James author

      Ha! I understand succumbing to bad Chinese food—when we were in Madrid, after just a little over one month traveling in Europe we were missing Asian food SO MUCH. Madrid has many perks, but a vibrant ethnic food scene is not one of them… apparently they had just opened up their first Vietnamese restaurant earlier that year and although we were really tempted to give it a try, we decided to resist, which… I think was probably the wisest course of action.

      I think back when I visited Italy 10 years ago, many of the “funky flavor combinations” blew my mind then too, but with with the proliferation of shows like Top Chef, etc., over in North America many of those are sort of main stream now (at least for us). But, yes to using dining out as an opportunity to eat things that would be too labor intensive to make at home! I will never forget the time Tony and I tried to make bun thit nuong cha gio at home… it took us, like, 3 hours to prepare and cost us about double what it would have if we had just gone to our favorite Vietnamese restaurant at the time. Never again!

      Jan. 20 2015 @ 12:42 pm
  14. I wish I could help you here, but I can’t. I was in Rome almost 13 years ago, but I can still remember being completely underwhelmed by the food there. The best food I had was a random pizza stand we went to and I liked my friend’s pizza (the potato pizza, actually) better than what I ordered. It seems to me that in Europe, it’s a gamble eating pretty much everywhere. We were in San Sebastian, Spain – arguably THE food hotspot of Spain – and had some really memorable meals and some really terrible meals. I was kind of tired of eating out at that point and paying SO much for food that I felt meh about food at that point. I just wanted to be able to make my own meals with the great ingredients Europe has to offer. So I feel your pain. If you do find out the places to eat in Rome, let me know. I’d be happy to know. 🙂

    Jan. 18 2015 @ 7:31 pm
    1. Carmel author

      Oof. That’s so disappointing to hear about San Sebastian, as I have only ever heard raves about it. But yeah, I think you are right about the food in Europe being a lot more of a gamble. I know we also found it a LOT heavier—we ate out pretty much the entire time we were in Asia and never felt sick or greasy, but by the time we hit Lisbon, about 6 weeks into our time in Europe I just couldn’t handle eating out any more.

      Jan. 20 2015 @ 12:44 pm
  15. Oh what a shame Steph! It happens that sometimes things just don’t click no matter how much you do your best to change things around, and with a sophisticated Asia taste-bud, it makes it even harder. I love Thailand, but I remember going to Vietnam, spending a month there, eating all the lovely pho soups, and then returning to Thailand again. Thai food tasted horrible in comparison. Although it isn’t!

    I left 9 years and then went back to Thailand last year, and phew, “real” Thai food was once again delicious. Give it some time. 🙂

    Jan. 20 2015 @ 12:04 am
    1. Victoria@ The British Berliner author

      Well, you know that we LOVE Vietnamese food, but I have to admit, I have never been disappointed to return to Thailand and eat the food there! 😉 And I really think we just had a bad run in Florence and Rome because since we’ve been home, I’ve made a LOT of Italian-inspired meals and we’ve enjoyed them all just as much as we did before our trip. I think the key is being able to season things according to our own palates (so we can add extra spice if we want, even if that’s not strictly legit!). Also, I really think that the best Italian food is not found in restaurants but in the homes of passionate home cooks. As you’ll see in our next post, not all of our meals in Italy were disappointing!

      Jan. 20 2015 @ 12:46 pm
  16. Oh no, it’s such a shame that you didn’t love the food in Rome, especially when you put so much effort into seeking out the best dishes. We visited Rome back in 2012 and I remember having some nice meals there but I couldn’t tell you where. Looking back on it, I don’t remember any outstanding dishes but I vividly remember some mint choc-chip gelato that was to die for!

    Jan. 20 2015 @ 6:31 am
    1. Amy author

      Well, if there’s a lesson to be learned from all of this, it must surely be that you can never go wrong when you choose gelato, right? 😛

      Jan. 20 2015 @ 12:47 pm
  17. I’m sorry you were so disappointed, but I’m glad it’s not just me. I was incredibly disappointed with the food in Italy – especially the pizza – but chalked it up to being a picky 17 year old. I’ll be making my way back there later this year so it will be interesting to see what happens. We can actually get excellent Italian food at restaurants in Riga of all places, so the bar is high.

    Jan. 23 2015 @ 6:49 am
    1. Heather author

      Phew! I’m glad we weren’t the only ones disappointed by Italian food (though not totally, since the food in Bologna really was fab!). I sort of doubt that the reason you were underwhelmed was because you were picky since Italian food seems to be the most non-threatening of all cuisines (even picky eaters seem to love it!), but perhaps returning with a bigger budget will help? Also, I still maintain that even if there is excellent food to be found in Italy, you are more likely to find it somewhere that is NOT Rome (or any of the other major tourist cities like Florence or Venice).

      Jan. 26 2015 @ 10:35 am
  18. You gained 5 pounds planning and I guess that I have gained that much by reading your post!!
    So many different types of Pizzas and all that food!!
    I need to eat Indian street food now to quell my hunger 😛

    Feb. 14 2015 @ 7:19 am
    1. Arti author

      Mmmm… Indian street food! Didn’t see any of that in Rome, but it would have been welcome, I can assure you! 😀

      Feb. 18 2015 @ 12:13 pm
  19. Brian

    I agree with the general drift. Italian food has a high reputation, but in fact in Italy it is often disappointing. I cannot eat things containing wheat gluten, so regular pasta and pizza are out for me. Sometimes I am lucky and find delicious fish or seafood, but all too often I can only find a rather bland meat dish. The risottos are also often good, but the standard varies greatly. There are also very few desserts that don’t contain wheat flour. So for me Italy is no food paradise. As some other commentators have said, Home cooking is often better than in restaurants. Certainly you can find usually wonderful ingredients in the markets and in many food shops, so there is no excuse for any competent cook in Italy not to produce really good food.

    Sep. 27 2017 @ 2:55 pm

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