Honeymoon Diary Part I: When in Rome
Some of you may have noticed a pause in activity on my blog these past several weeks. Indeed, I was a bit preoccupied with a significant personal milestone. On Saturday, September 27, an hour before sundown, I exchanged wedding vows with the love of my life and best friend in the presence of our close family, friends and colleagues. The ceremony took place at St. Paul's Basilica in Harissa and was followed by a soirée en plein air at Michael Garden. 30 hours later, we departed to Italy on an unforgettable honeymoon.
This post is the first in a three-part series that will proffer you a taste of our adventures in Italy and, naturally, some of the scrumptious eats we devoured during our trip. I’ll treat the city of Rome in this piece, deferring Florence, Livorno, Tuscany, Siena, Perugia and a few other spots to subsequent posts.
One thing we noticed about restaurants in Italy, particularly in the touristic magnets of Rome and Florence, is that many are unauthentic representations of Italian cuisine. In fact, if you follow the tourist trail, and it can be hard not to, you will come across a slew of rubbish that inaccurately portrays this country's dining. On the return flight to Beirut, we overheard several Lebanese tourists dismissing Italian cuisine as inedible and overrated, which is a pity because in all fairness, their grub is delicious, and Italy has contributed immeasurably to the international culinary scene. Think espressos, cappuccinos, gelato, pizza, pasta, chocolate, tiramisu, wine, cheese, cured meats, and a deluge more.
If you're bound for Rome, plan on staying 4-5 days to get fully acquainted with the city and immersed in the local flavors. For sightseeing, the Coliseum, Pantheon, Vatican, and the numerous piazza dispersed throughout the city are a must. The ancient relics will dazzle you with their grandeur, and if you’re an aesthete, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica are majestic manifests of Rome's rich art history.
But there's so much more that only aimless meandering can fulfill, and every few blocks you'll stumble upon awe-inspiring edifices, statues, landmarks, and the like. Getting lost in Rome is crucial to discovering the city. Dining at restaurants where the menu isn't printed in English or where there is no coperto, or cover charge, is also imperative--that's where the locals are eating. Shopping at salumeria (neighborhood meat shops, or charcuteries), grocery stores and even the COOP hypermarkets will also bestow a dose of real living to the uninitiated. This is why 4-5 days in Rome are highly advised.
So where should you dine?
1. Don’t skip the morning cappuccino-cornetto ritual. Cornetti are the Italian answer to croissants, and they come chock-full of apricot jam, pistachio cream (more on that later), chocolate, or ricotta with chocolate. Stand at the bar and have yours as the natives do. If you’re near Musei Vaticani, try La Pasticceria Siciliana.
2. For arguably the tastiest, most loaded sandwiches in the city, visit La Prosciutteria not far from Fontana di Trevi. Here you will find the traditional porchetta (pork roast) tucked into circular bread that seems to be a hybrid of pita and ciabatta. Other filler combinations include Serrano ham with Pecorino cheese or ricotta and salami with grilled zucchini slices. Sandwiches are €4.50 each, and wine is as cheap as €2.50 per glass. La Prosciutteria is tiny and modest, so plan on eating swiftly and moving on.
3. For a conventional Italian meal comprising favorites like parmigiana di melanzane, tagliatelle ai frutti di mari, and sautéed cicoria (chicory), stop in at the rustic Osteria Il Miraggio along Via della Lungara in Trastavere. A half-liter of house wine will set you back €4-5.
4. Superior focaccia can be had at Forno di Marco Roscioli. The ricotta-pesto number is divine, as is the heart of artichoke pizza.
5. Eataly is a mecca for any gourmet. Rome’s three-story outlet a stone's throw from the Piramide has a dozen dining spots within ranging from a gelato bar to a seafood restaurant. Buy Italian products here to bring home with you.
Other tidbits and fun facts:
1. The tiramisu in Italy is never presented in a cup, as we so often see it here in Lebanon. In fact, it is prepared in a rectangular pan and cut into hefty squares.
2. A bread basket is served at the start of any meal, but Italians generally don’t reach for a slice until the main meal arrives. Also, dipping bread in olive oil and balsamic vinegar is not Italian practice. Perhaps it originated in Italian communities in the USA, but as far as I saw, Italians never ask for either when they sit down to eat. Only foreigners are offered them, and that further feeds the misconception.
3. Just as chocolate has been fashioned into spreadable form (the most famous being Nutella), pistachios in Italy are ground up and made into a sweet paste (check this product from Eataly). It is absolutely divine inside a croissant, and you’ll wonder why you never run into it abroad.
4. Eating out in Rome is certainly less expensive than doing so in Beirut. Full-sized pizza range from €3-10 each, which is equivalent to about LL6,000-20,000. Pizzeria in Lebanon price their pies beginning at LL20,000, and that's for the basic marinara or margherita. Wine is a bargain, and so are coffee drinks. The standard price of an espresso or cappuccino is €1-1.50, which converts to LL2,000-3,000. Scour Lebanon meter for meter and you'll be hard-pressed to find an espresso under LL5,000.
And now the food in photos:
|Tagliatelle ai frutti di mari (seafood pasta)
|Focaccia topped with tomato sauce, ricotta cheese, and pesto
|Sauteed chicory in the forefront, caprese salad in the background
|More seafood pasta--notice how generous the seafood portion is (for €8!)
|Cappuccino with cornetti
|Me enjoying my cappuccino and pistachio-filled cornetto at La Pasticceria Siciliana
|Dense, pistachio-rich Italian cookie plastered with roasted pistachios