3rd STOP: ROME, ITALY
Rome, a must-go-to city for anyone who truly cares about food. I cannot emphasize enough how much better pasta really is in Italy. To be honest, I’ve always said Italian cuisine was a little boring and simple. I’d clearly never eaten real Italian food when I said that…
First of all, Italian was a welcome change from French because although they’re both romance languages, as a Spanish speaker, Italian is a breeze to understand compared to all the nuances of French pronunciation.
My golden rule while traveling Europe= When in doubt, speak Spanish.
It usually worked.
Tren Italia, though notorious for their slow service and constant delays, treated me pretty well. With my first class ticket I got complimentary wine, water, snacks, breakfast, and even a little sink with a lit up mirror in my compartment for the long overnight journey. Also, I got this whole thing to myself:
When you’re backpacking (even solo) you rarely get any time when you’re truly alone. So I was pretty thrilled to have some privacy which I took advantage of by dancing around to Beyonce and eating my fried brie from McDonald’s. Yep, fried brie from McDonald’s. I’m not ashamed.
Rome has been around for 2762 years. 2762 YEARS! That’s pretty crazy to think about. Modern architecture is pretty cool, but there’s something really humbling about knowing that the structure you’re standing in front of was touched by human hands thousands of years ago.
The Vatican, of course.
Ceiling of the Pantheon, a temple dedicated to all the Pagan gods of Rome which was converted into a church in 609.
The Colosseum, where 55,000 spectators could go watch gladiators get their fight on.
An average city street in Rome, about a block away from my hostel.
Trevi Fountain. According to legend, if you toss a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder, you will return to Rome. Each day an estimated 3000 euros are thrown into the fountain. Money was tight, so I only threw in a 1 cent coin…Maybe the gods will only allow me a day trip to Rome after this as punishment for being stingy.
I walked to all these places, but Rome has a really great easy to use metro system- I just didn’t feel like spending money on it.
Now…onto the food.
My budget allowed one decent lunch and one decent dinner for the two days I’d be there. I got lunch at Obika Mozzarella Bar.
3 types of proscuitto and burrata:
From left to right, proscuitto di Parma, Mortadella di Prato, and proscuitto Cotto alla Brace. Proscuitto di Parma has been a favorite of mine since I was little when my mom would buy some for special occasions. As always, it was moist, stringy, salty and wonderful. The Mortadella was kind of like your typical salami, just with a more velvety texture and slightly weaker taste. The Cotto kind of reminded me of deli turkey meat..I didn’t care for it much.
Burrata, the star of the show. It’s a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and heavy cream. The name means “buttered” in Italian. This particular burrata very loose and liquidy. It was lacking a little salt, so it went perfectly with the proscuitto di Parma which of course, is cured with salt.
Now I know a lot of Italians might want to shoot me for saying this, but the best burrata I’ve ever had was not in Rome, it was in Boston. If you ever want to taste really amazingly flavorful burrata, go to Il Casale in Belmont. Aside from adding olive oil and pistachios, I’m not sure what they do to it over there that makes it so flavorful and seductive. Definitely worth a visit.
For my one nice dinner I could afford, I went to La Fata Ignorante.
Funny story: While I was walking to the restaurant, I almost got into a fight because some kid threw his ice cream at me. I was just walking by this fat little probably 12 year old kid and he takes his cone and throws it straight at me. Since I was furious and couldn’t speak Italian, I just slowly turned around and gave him a long, searing glare. It was probably one of the dirtiest looks I’ve ever given in my life. Then his mom starts walking towards me and screaming at me in Italian! What?! I didn’t do anything! So I just turned around and walked away. One of my Italian-American friends joked that I was wise not to take on an angry Italian woman, or I would’ve been “swimming with the fishes.”
ANYWAY, La Fata Ignorante has a nice, romantic atmosphere- The walls are lined with wine bottles, the tables and chairs are all dark colors and the place has a very sophisticated feel to it.
Despite the romantic vibe, I had just arrived in Rome and hadn’t really talked to anybody yet. Check out my hot date-
No worries, I was there for what really matters in life- The food.
This cheese plate consisted of black pepper + red pepper provolone with buffalo mozzarella.That mozzarella was so good- It was really squishy with a rough outer texture. When I broke into it with my fork, it released some of its water and revealed a lovely soft, spongey texture on the inside. It was perfectly salty and chewy. The provolone was mild and pleasant but not particularly remarkable.
The waiter was very friendly- He went over the entire menu with me in English to make sure I understood everything and suggested a nice beer (I drank Franzishaner Weiss, very light and citrusy) to go with my meal. While describing their pasta dishes, he recommended that I go with the Carbonara which many ladies like. I pointed to a dish with red wine sauce and he said “No, no, that is much more for big boxer-type men.” So naturally, I ordered it.
It was the best pasta I have ever eaten in my life.
Spaghetti with red wine sauce and sweet Italian sausage. Oh my god. I don’t think I ever truly understood what al dente meant until that moment. Usually when someone hands me a plate of pasta saying its al dente, it’s just chewy and undercooked. Not this. This was perfect. The noodles had just the perfect amount of resistance to each bite. That absolutely perfect amount of done-ness struck me so hard. I have never, ever been wowed by how well a noodle itself was cooked. This was phenomenal.
The sauce was rich and almost (but not quite!) overwhelming. It stuck to the noodles so perfectly (notice there’s no pool of sauce on the bottom) that each bite delivered big flavor. Crumbled sausage interjected the deep flavor of the sauce nicely. It’s flavor was bright, fatty and salty. The meat was dense and had a nice snappy texture, which are characteristics of a well made sausage. I will seriously never forget this plate of pasta.
The server was right about one thing- I did have a little trouble finishing it. However, due to my lack of $$$ (or should I say €€€?), I barely ate anything all day in anticipation of this big expensive meal, so I got it done.
Yep, €20. That’s it. And I’m pretty sure they all felt bad for me because I was the only person eating alone amongst all the couples, so I got a free Limoncello. I suppose that’s kind of a perk of solo traveling…Pity drinks? Oh well, I’ll take it.
Later that night, I went out with everyone from my hostel, Ivanhoe. If you’re a backpacker in your twenties looking to meet people and see some nightlife, this hostel is definitely for you. They alternate free pasta and free cocktail nights throughout the week and take everyone out to local bars and clubs. That place was an absolute blast. Only a ten minute walk from Termini station too!
From left to right, Australia, Maryland, Boston, Hawaii, and another Australian. We danced all night and met quite a few interesting Italian characters along the way.
Every step of this trip I kept thinking that the city I was leaving was the overall best one, only to be proven wrong by the next place. That pattern definitely repeated itself with my next stop, Prague….