Rome restaurant guide

by Mauro Abate

Via Margutta
(Margutta street) by Luca Barbarossa, 1985


Perhaps to your great surprise, what is known as "Italian cuisine" is actually a galaxy of regional cuisines. Every region in fact has its cuisine, contributing to the broader one with its own dishes. In a nutshell, probably the most important ones (of course the Italians hardly agree on this) are the cuisines of the regions of:



Mauro Abate and a friend


- Naples (pizza, sfogliatelle, pastiera, babà etc.);
- Bologna (lasagne, tortellini, ravioli, parmesan cheese, prosciutto-ham, Modena balsamic vinegar);
- Sicily (pasta alla Norma, pasta con sarde e pinoli, caponata, melanzane alla parmigiana, scacciate, cassata etc.);
- Liguria (the region of Genoa, with its very delicate natural Mediterranean ingredients and recipes, for ex. pasta al pesto);
- Puglie (or Apulia, for its "orecchiette" pasta, its whole wheat Altamura bread, its very imaginative Mediterranean first courses and fish dishes).

The region of Tuscany is famous for its steaks (bistecca alla Fiorentina) and sweets (Saporelli and Panforte of Siena, for ex.), the cuisine of Abruzzi for its meat dishes, the region of Milan for its "risotto" (rice) and the Christmas cake "Panettone", finally Calabria is renowned for its very natural products, particularly tomatoes. The region of Piedmont is renowned for its wines, its truffles, and for its sophisticated chocolates.

Only the very best and famous Italian restaurants have a large selection of many dishes from various regions, including the wines, which are also different in every region. Normal good restaurants will have regional dishes and the most important dishes of other regions. Very simple restaurants or "trattorie" have just a few regional dishes and very few national ones. The solution to have an in-depth experience of the Italian cuisine, and hence of the regional cuisines, without facing the huge bill of the very best and famous restaurants, is trying another type of restaurant, the specific regional ones, having all the specialties of that region. Usually they clearly indicate their nature, i.e. the regional cuisine they prepare.
On the other hand, a particular feature of the Italian cuisine is that the Italians, even the wealthy ones, like to use simpler restaurants, and whenever possible also home-made food. Italians have a lot of good taste, and are very sensible people. Above all, although the Italian cuisine uses a complex array of criteria, ingredients and millenary considerations, it privileges simplicity in presentation and approach, unlike the French. This is why you will always find cheap, honest "trattorie" packed with locals, who would possibly still prefer home cooking (mum's is traditionally considered the best!).

The philosophy

The Italian cuisine follows a combination of the following criteria:

(a) First of all food should be prepared with genuine and natural products.
(b) It should involve important cultural factors as attachment to the family, to tradition, and to the very important underlying cultural, ethical and moral aspects.
(c) It is a convivial cuisine: people should ideally enjoy meals together, strengthening family or friendly relations. Moreover, like in all Mediterranean cuisines, eating means sitting around the table, and exchanging ideas, values and emotions with other people, possibly having a different outlook.
(d) Food must have good taste, and it should be healthy too. Like all Mediterranean cuisines, there should be predominance of vegetables, and low content of meat, fish, and animal products. There should be hence a correct low quantity of saturated fats and cholesterol, and an adequate intake of complex carbohydrates (as it occures in pasta).

These are the distinctive features making the Italian cuisine rightfully famous. This is also why the peasant tradition survives.
A good sign is also that vegetarianism is becoming increasingly popular. By respecting the animals' rights to live, people find out that they eat and live better, and that they are healthier. In the Mediterranean countries vegetarians find also an ideal variety of food.

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