Let’s face it, one of the main reasons why people visit Italy is for the food. Yes, there is also bucket loads of history to gaze at in awe and the sunshine is a nice change from the UK, but really, the food is the main event. When I say “Italian food,” what comes into your mind? Pizza and pasta? Maybe gelato? While visiting a friend on her Erasmus year abroad in Rome, I endeavoured to scratch beneath the surface of the average pizza crust and find out a bit more about the local cuisine and how the locals treat their food. Read on to find out what I learnt. Spoilers: it’s not just about the carbs; although, they are mentioned a lot.
Whipped cream on ice cream works
This is not unheard of in Britain, where elaborate sundaes and banana splits are often garnished with whipped cream. But, to my surprise, it was standard for ice cream parlours to offer a dollop of whipped cream on top of scoops of gelato in Rome. Cream on cream - too much? British people mix custard with ice cream after all, which is a much quirkier combination. Why don’t we add whipped cream here? The next London Instagram craze, anyone?
Fondant chocolate in ice cream is magic
While we are on the topic of gelato, I tried some that was unlike any version of ice-cream I have ever had before. The gelateria Blue Ice, located adjacent to the Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain), offers a rather indulgent white chocolate and raspberry flavour. However, the white chocolate component was less like traditional gelato and more like the fondant white chocolate you get in puddings. The rich fondant white chocolate could’ve been too sickly sweet, but was balanced off by plenty of sharp raspberry sauce running through the gelato. There was far more raspberry than the often pathetic amount found in the average raspberry ripple you find in tubs in UK freezer sections.
Truffle is multi-functional
Imagine this: a beautiful platter laden with a selection of cheeses, hams, olives and bread covered in poppy seeds in a little red basket on the side. One mystery cheese sticks out. Originally, I think the mystery ingredient looks like a cross between olives and mushrooms. After tasting it I decided it was neither and looked quizzically at the friend sitting across me. She saw my confused face and explained that it was probably truffle. Apparently, truffle is a common ingredient in Rome, often added to pizza with ham, pasta, and oil.
Cornetti look like croissants (but don’t be fooled)
At first glance a cornetto (not the ice cream) looks to all intents and purposes like an ordinary croissant. But delve deeper into the pastry and you will find an unexpected texture. Instead of the flaky buttery soft consistency typical of a croissant, the inside of a cornetto resembles bread, but is sweet. Soft, yes, but structured. Perfect for spreading your favourite breakfast topping onto, be that Nutella, jam or marmalade.
Aperitivo is the perfect budget dinner
Does an all-you-can-eat buffet and a cocktail for 10 euros sound good to you? In London, just the cocktail alone can cost £10. The Italian aperitivo is a pre-dinner drink often accompanied by finger-food brought to the table or access to an extensive buffet. Although not designed to replace your dinner, aperitivo certainly can for those travelling on a budget. Give it a go next time you are in Rome.
Iced espresso is a summer energy boost
Served in a small glass similar to a shot glass, iced espresso is a great alternative to the conventional warm espresso. Served with a dash of sugar to take the edge off the bitterness, iced espresso can be sipped and enjoyed in the sun when a much needed mid-afternoon pick-me-up is required.
Food is stationary
A commuter shoving a pre-made sandwich into their mouth while running down the steps into the tube station may be a normal sight in London, but no such thing is seen in Rome. In fact, it is rare to see boxed sandwiches and other on-the-move lunch items in general. Instead, food is eaten at the table and enjoyed at a leisurely pace. An espresso is enjoyed at the counter. Steps are littered with people eating pizza slices and gelato under the water sprays from ornate fountains. Food is savoured, not scoffed. After all, why would you rush through a masterpiece?