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If you truly want to understand Rome, you must try its typical food: pasta, quinto quarto (offal of animals), Jewish cuisine, and more. Take a gastronomic tour of the traditional Roman dishes, both old and new.
Oxtail stew, fettuccine with chicken giblets, cacio cheese and pepper, veal trotters: Roman cuisine is neither delicate nor noble. Its origins are poor, peasant-like, and in some ways the result cultural, religious or geographical influences. The essence of Roman cuisine is represented by the tradition of the “quinto quarto”, meaning the entrails of animals. Where does this name (that sounds like a tongue-twister) come from? Normally, animals, after slaughter, are divided into four quarters – two anterior and two posterior ones – which contain the musculature. All that’s left is the fifth quarter: the part which used to be hard to sell or even thrown away but nowadays is highly sought after by the most refined palates as a real delicacy.
The Testaccio neighbourhood is the place to get a taste of the entire repertoire because up until 1978, there was a slaughterhouse on location (now the seat of the MACRO museum). The workers would receive a portion of their salary in offal, who then often delivered it to taverns in the neighbourhood or brought back home, thereby contributing to develop this tradition. The best place able to guarantee you an authentic and very flavourful experience is Checchino dal 1887, the historical Mariani family restaurant just opposite the former slaughterhouse, with a spectacular cellar underneath Monte dei Cocci. The menu includes rigatoni with pajata (the sauce prepared with the small intestines of a suckling veal), padellotto macellara (a mixture of entrails sautéed with garlic, rosemary and vinegar) and especially the coda alla vaccinara (stewed oxtail in tomato sauce with celery, pine nuts, raisins and a sprinkling of dark chocolate).
On the same street, Flavio al Velavevodetto is another ideal eatery, especially for first courses – those recipes which made Roman cuisine famous worldwide. The Carbonara is surely worth the trip: choose the pasta type you prefer – either spaghetti or short tube-shaped noodles – and then enjoy the egg, pecorino romano cheese, guanciale (pork cheek) and pepper sauce. It’s said that the dish was probably invented during World War II, thanks to the US troops that carried bacon and dried eggs, or perhaps as an evolution of the Abruzzo region’s dish called “cacio e ova”.
Carbohydrate lovers can continue the gastronomic tour at a number of places, starting with Enzo al 29, in the heart of Trastevere. They serve up tonnarelli pasta with cacio cheese and pepper – a dish that came about during the shepherds’ transhumance in the Ager Romanus (the hilly fields around Rome) when they used to fill their haversacks with caloric and long-term preservation food.
Another stop could be at Armando al Pantheon, a non-touristy exception where you can sample an outstanding Amatriciana (the name comes from the town of Amatrice, in the province of Rieti, unfortunately destroyed by a recent earthquake).
And finally, Roscioli – the temple of gastronomy which boasts the Capital’s best Gricia (an ancestor of the Amatriciana in a “white” version without tomato sauce). Among the latest openings is SantoPalato, a modern trattoria in the Appio Latino neighbourhood. The young chef Sarah Cicolini creates many recipes with excellent ingredients that are now difficult to have elsewhere – from the regaje omelette (chicken entrails), trippa alla romana (delicate and balanced tripe, the best in Rome), spaghetti with coratella (lamb offal) to the bovine heart.
When talking about the many facets of local cuisine, the Roman Jewish one cannot be left out. Perhaps the richest and most creative, it’s the fruit of the ancient Jewish presence in the city – another keeper of the offal tradition, done just a bit differently in this case. Before being cooked, the sweetbreads, tripe, spleen and liver are roasted on a grill to remove all traces of blood, according to the kosher dietary laws. The most famous and much loved dish of the Roman Ghetto – the area between the Tiber, via Arenula, via delle Botteghe Oscure and via del Teatro di Marcello – is surely the carciofo alla giudia (deep-fried artichoke), to be tried at Ba’Ghetto which also offers a delicious anchovies and endive tarte. To end on a sweet note, go to Boccione, an ancient micro shop, famous for the ricotta and sour cherry pie and Berid pizza, a simple and delicious mixture of flour, almonds, candied fruits and raisins.