When in Rome, do as the Romans do - that old cliché finally became applicable when we visited Bella Italia: home of spaghetti and pizza, calzone and fettuccine, focaccia and farfalle. The greatest thing about eating in Italy is that there is no need for translation, so familiar are we all with this now-universal cuisine.
Things started well in Italy. Having woken up at 3:30am to catch our 6am flight to Rome (the things we do for cheap flights) Mr von S and I were starving by the time we were ready to explore the capital. Second breakfast anyone? Ignoring that it was 10:30am, we settled for two focaccias with mozzarella and prosciutto crudo, plus a coffee for me, thanks. Despite not having left the tourist area, so far, Rome tasted pretty good. The focaccia itself was more like Turkish bread: fluffy and full of air, (but in a good way) with a salty crust. Inside, the mozzarella had just begun to melt and the prosciutto crudo (not to be confused with prosciutto cotto – the cooked brother of the dry-cured crudo) was chewy and satisfyingly salty. Appetites satiated, we headed off to pound the streets of warm and slightly humid Rome.
A similar lunch followed the next day in the beautiful Campo de' Fiori, where amidst a weekly market, Mr von S and I munched our focaccias at the foot of a statue. On one corner of the square is a little bakery, which if you walked past quickly, you would miss. Forno Campo de' Fiori (literally 'bakery of the field of flowers') was bursting with people – mostly local – lining up for focaccias, various biscottis and other baked goods. We took our place in line to receive our focaccias, all of which are sold by weight. I took ownership of a spinaci e formaggio combo, while Mr von S stayed loyal with mozzarella and prosciutto crudo. While the spinach was a bit wet, overall I was very satisfied with my focaccia, which was both filling and better priced than the previous day.
That evening, we sought out a Lonely Planet-recommended restaurant just off the Campo de' Fiori. While the Campo was easy enough to find, the roads surrounding the square are a maze, changing names every 20 meters, and dispersed with mini 'piazzas' that barely qualify for the title. In time, we found Baffetto 2 at Piazza del Teatro di Pompeo 18. Large, thin-crust pizzas served quickly and with little on top, these are apparently a very good specimen of a Roman pizza. Served with a half litre of house vino rosso, it was a satisfactory and affordable meal. Would I go back? Probably not, if only for the fact it felt far too touristic, although what did I expect from a LP rec?
To top off dinner that evening, we treated ourselves to some gelato at San Crispino, once again recommended by the Lonely Planet. Well, this time, they got it right. Conveniently located on our route back to hostel, at Via della Panetteria 42, right near the Trevi Fountain. Quietly lining up and silently gasping at the prices (at least a euro or two higher than most places in Italy) I ordered a cup with honey and caramel meringue gelato. Please ignore my facial expression below, or rather, look at it, and understand what it tells you. AMAZING. The honey was subtle, the meringue a textural dream – ice cream dispersed with bits of meringue and ribbons of caramel. Definitely worth the price.
Our final night in Rome took us out of the city a bit, to the trendy suburb of Testaccio. Boasted as one of the suburb's institutions and rumoured to at times have lines stretching the length of the piazza it sits on, Pizzeria Remo is a dining experience. Located at Piazza Santa Maria Liberatice 44, Mr von S and I appeared to be the only non-Italians in the place, and lucky to snare a spot – the place was busy! Tables were lined up so close that any ideas of personal space were left at the door. I bumped elbows with my Italian neighbour at least twice, and leaving the restaurant was a group effort, as everyone moved their tables left or right to allow enough room for the departer to shuffle past.
Armed with a menu and an order sheet, we played bingo as we crossed off what we wished to eat: bruschetta, two pizzas, two beers and ½ litre of house red. Our order came quickly, although slightly behind our neighbours – both couples – who chowed down with amazing speed. By the time I was done nibbling my bruschetta, both couples were on to their pizzas, with the ladies going bite for bite with the men. No polite 'oh honey, I couldn't possibly eat another bite' – nope, these ladies finished every last crumb of their pizzas. Impressive. Our pizzas also arrived, and like the night before, were of the thin-crust Roman variety – but better. While the team in the kitchen obviously work quickly, there seemed to be more authenticity in the pizza, and slightly more toppings. There were parts of the crust that bore evidence of the wood-fired oven, producing a smoky, home-made flavour. I understood what all the boasting was about and why those ladies managed to finish their pizzas. With that, I add my commendation.
Next...a rustic meal in L'Aquila