My first memory of Rome lives on thanks to a photograph. An old one, printed on glossy Kodak paper; one of the few childhood pictures I can still look at without feeling unbearably ridiculous. I’m standing near the fountain in Piazza di Spagna, sporting the outfit I most loved at the age of three: a maroon skirt and a white jumper, curly blond hair held back with animal-shaped clips. It’s May, and flowers are blooming alongside the Spanish Steps. Ever since, I always associated Piazza di Spagna with the image of crimson flowers on a warm spring day.
At the time, Rome was a place where everyone talked with the same funny accent as my dad; a city so big it had a tram, and buses with three-digit numbers. As my curious mind grew hand in hand with my traveller’s soul, that small child’s fleeting impressions turned into a sentiment of unconditional awe: Rome is strikingly beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful city I’ve ever visited. Little compares to the pleasure of feeling history winking at me from every corner – be it the most majestic monument, or the tiniest detail on a cobblestone-covered side street.
Rome makes me dizzy with excitement. I just have to be there, from time to time – although it’s far too chaotic a city to live in. The joy of walking familiar streets adds to the curiosity of discovering new places and sights: very much like London, Rome takes it upon itself to never bore you, and gives you the opportunity of trying something new at every visit. This year, I spent an enjoyable couple of hours at an Impressionist exhibition at the Ara Pacis, and visited the beautiful, richly decorated Palazzo Colonna, still home to an eminent aristocratic family.
On the other hand, there are places I can’t help returning to, again and again. I love walking the alleys around the colourful Campo de’ Fiori market, or paying a visit to Largo di Torre Argentina, with its historical site turned shelter for more than three hundred stray cats.
Similarly, I could spend a whole day talking about my food favourites: where I’d take you out for a coffee, where you should stop for pizza, where the best ice cream is. For conciseness’s sake, I’ll give you two tips you’ll thank me for when you’re out on a sightseeing spree, and need a break before moving on to the next landmark.
One word of warning: forget the UK’s culture of service with a (well-rehearsed) smile. Customer service as you know it doesn’t exist in Italy; all you’re left to is the waiter’s judgement, mostly influenced by the mood they woke up in, or the inanity of the food substitutions you’re requesting. Conversations can get rowdy, occasionally rude, but don’t let this distract you from enjoying your meal. Rome’s eateries, from the tiniest corner bakery to the most frequented pizzeria, make up for their lack of Pret-like affectations with excellent food you’ll remember for life.
1. A Morning Treat: Kosher Bakes at Forno Boccione
Manned by a group of surly middle-aged women, Forno Boccione is a tiny, unassuming kosher bakery in the heart of Rome’s Jewish Ghetto. Stop by in the morning, before paying a visit to the Ghetto’s synagogue and historical sites: their offer is quite narrow, quantities are limited, and everything sells out really fast.
Their torta di ricotta, mandorle e visciole (almond, ricotta and wild cherry pie) is a real hit. Perhaps my all-time favourite cake – and you know I’d never say that lightly. Baked in a limited batch, it often sells out by mid-morning, so prepare to reserve it in advance, or turn up very early. That failing, you can still hope to find one of its variations (almond and wild cherry, or ricotta and chocolate), which are just as tasty. Also, don’t leave without picking up some Jewish pizza (a dessert, despite its name): always more than a bit charred on the outside, but always satisfying, with its soft dough, nuts and dried fruit. I don’t even scrape away the burnt bits. I know, I’m hopeless.
2. A Quick Lunch: Pizza Bianca Ripiena at Lo Zozzone
As you walk around Piazza Navona, you’ll stumble across a plethora of tourist trap restaurant. Sometimes, you only recognise them when it’s too late: when you see the price list, or have the first forkful of what you’ll since remember as overpriced, substandard food (hint: the more insistently waiters summon you to head inside, the faster you should walk away). Lo Zozzone (literally: “dirty big man”) is a happy exception. Burdened by the tacky decor and bustling crowds that distinguish many tourist traps, it actually isn’t one. Locals love it as much as visitors. And as it’s so well hidden behind Piazza Navona’s impressive façades, you really have to know your way around the area to find it.
The place is…well, awkward. It’s tiny, cramped, the opposite of what you’d expect for a sit-down meal (it does offer takeaway, if you don’t like to queue or squeeze). But that shouldn’t put you off trying the food: once you taste it, everything changes. How could it not, when pizza bianca ripiena (literally: “stuffed white pizza”) is involved. Think plain pizza dough, sliced and stuffed with a selection of fillings that takes up two pages in the menu (I recommend porchetta and aubergines, and ricotta and artichokes above all). A classic in every corner bakery worth its name, only that here, you can sit down and rest your legs for a while. Forget the waiters’ boisterous banter, or their addressing you in broken English, rapidly turning into tight Roman dialect. Just sit down, enjoy your pizza, and get ready to plunge back into the beauty of the Eternal City.
Via del Teatro Pace 32
00186 Roma, Italia
+39 06 6880 8575
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