One of the perks of traveling to Italy is enjoying all the delicious food on offer. Although some Italian dishes are found throughout the country, food in Italy is very much regional, with each region and in fact even each city and village having its own culinary traditions.
The food in Rome is definitely not the same as the food in Milan, or the food in Sardinia; and while dishes such as “spaghetti alla carbonara” are worldwide known (though hardly in their original, traditional recipe), others such as “coda alla vaccinara” or “supplì” are virtually unheard of overseas.
If you are traveling to Rome, you should definitely make it a point to try the local specialties. Roman cuisine is based on the use of a very few ingredients and traditional dishes were created by literally using less valuable cuts of meat. What’s amazing is that by mastering the use of these ingredients, incredible, mouthwatering dishes have been created.
If you are looking for information on what to eat in Rome, you are in the right place. I am going to share all the best food in Rome and some additional tips to make the most of it!
What To Eat In Rome: The Best Food In Rome
Pasta is the undisputed queen of Italian food, and it certainly has an important role in Rome too. While dishes such as “fettuccine Alfredo” are unknown here, and things such as chicken on pasta literally forbidden, Rome has its very own delicious pasta dishes to make you fall in love with.
Here are the best pasta dishes in Roman cuisine.
Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe
Cacio e pepe can be eaten with tonnarelli, egg noodles that are similar to spaghetti in shape. Most, however, will tell you that the strong flavor or the egg noodles doesn’t pair well with the cacio e pepe sauce.
Spaghetti cacio e pepe is Rome food at its best. It’s a dish made with three ingredients only: spaghetti noodles, grated roman pecorino cheese (cacio) and black pepper. You may say it uses 5 ingredients if you want to add the water to boil the pasta, and the salt you add to the boiling water.
Albeit the recipe only calls for three ingredients, this dish is actually more difficult to master than you’d imagine. That’s why, if you look for a recipe online, you may come across some that will suggest adding cream (gross!), butter (gross!) and even lemon (apparently to mitigate the flavor of butter, that’s not even meant to be there in the first place).
If you care to make the best spaghetti cacio e pepe at home, just follow my recipe here.
For the best restaurants to each cacio e pepe, click here.
Bucatini or Spaghetti alla Gricia
Lesser known compared to other pasta dishes, pecorino and guanciale are once again the main ingredients of this staple dish of Roman cuisine. It’s a delicious dish you’ll find served in good trattorie around town, and what to eat in Rome as a good alternative to carbonara or amatriciana.
Spaghetti or Rigatoni alla Carbonara
Think of food in Rome, and your mind will probably run to a plate of spaghetti alla carbonara. This is definitely what to eat in Rome!
The super-creamy carbonara is made with no cream at all. Indeed, the original recipe calls for guanciale (cured pork jowl), grated pecorino romano cheese, egg yolk and black pepper. Some in Italy like to use pancetta instead of guanciale, suggesting it has a more delicate flavor, but let me tell you: the strong flavor of guanciale pairs perfectly with the egg yolk and the pecorino cheese!
The secret of making perfect spaghetti alla carbonara is to throw the drained, al dente pasta in the bowl where you have placed the egg yolk, previously beaten with pecorino cheese, and quickly stir: the egg mixture will remain soft and creamy and cook with the heat of the pasta. Add the cook guanciale at the end.
Check out my recipe for spaghetti alla carbonara!
Another incredible pasta dish you should definitely try when in Rome! Amatriciana can be eaten with bucatini – thick, long hollow spaghetti that are actually quite complicated to roll even for the most experienced Italian pasta eater – or spaghetti. The recipe comes from Amatrice, a small town in Lazio.
The sauce is made by lightly frying the guanciale in chili pepper infused olive oil and then fuming it with extra dry with wine, then adding the roughly chopped tomato passata. Once the pasta is cooked, it is tossed in the sauce and served with grated pecorino cheese.
Make sure to read my recipe for bucatini all’amatriciana.
Rigatoni con la Pajata
This is one of the most traditional dishes in Rome, and it’s not found anywhere else in Italy – so make a point to try it if you see it on the menu. The sauce is made with unweaned veal intestines cooked in a tomato sauce for a very long time. It’s traditionally served with rigatoni pasta.
Gnocchi alla Romana
Remember the potato gnocchi you eat at your local Italian restaurant? Ok, now forget about them, because gnocchi alla romana are completely different. They are made with semolina cooked in milk then mixed with eggs. Once shaped, they are sprinkled with parmesan cheese and butter and cooked in the oven until golden and crispy. It’s not a common dish to find in restaurants even in Rome – it’s usually eaten at home – so if you spot it on the menu, definitely go for it!
Meat and Fish Dishes
Despite what many people overseas think, we Italians don’t just eat pasta and pizza. Meat and fish are regularly found on the menu and on the table at home. They are what we call “secondi” because they are served as a second course, after pasta.
The following are the most common secondi you’ll find in Rome.
Saltimbocca alla Romana
These mouthful of veal cutlets layered with prosciutto ham and fresh sage then pan fried with butter and white wine literally jump in your mouth – hence the name “saltimbocca.”
Here’s my recipe for saltimbocca alla romana.
Coda alla Vaccinara
This stew made with slow-braised ox-tail with vegetables, tomatoes, red wine and spices is the perfect example of how traditional recipes in Rome use ingredients that are often thought to be leftovers. The sauce is delicious and calls for copious amounts of bread for a proper “scarpetta.”
Abbacchio alla Scottadito
Lamb cutlets are pan seared and meant to be eaten with your hands – hence the name “scottadito” literally meaning “burning your fingers.” Found on the menu of the best trattorie, it’s a seasonal dish. Italians don’t eat lamb in the spring or summer months.
Offal is a staple of Roman cuisine. When the largest slaughter house in Europe was located in Rome, on the banks of the Tiber River, was quite common for the working class of Rome to be paid in left over meat cuts – known as quinto quarto; whereas the best cuts where given to the wealthiest families.
But the working class used this to create delicious dishes such as tripe, or trippa alla romana – honey-combed cow upper stomach slowly simmered in tomato sauce and served with grated pecorino cheese. The texture is chewy, but if you can get past that, the taste is delicious.
Filetti di Baccalà
A staple of Roman Jewish cuisine, baccalà (cod in English) is dipped in a batter and fried. The best fried baccalà in Rome is at Dar Filettaro a Santa Barbara, at walking distance from Campo de’ Fiori.
Pollo con i Peperoni
This chicken stew is made with olive oil pan seared diced chicken sprinkled with abundant pepper and salt. Once cooked, wine and ripe diced tomatoes are added. Meantime, bell peppers are cooked in a different pan with olive oil, tomatoes and onions and added to the chicken only once cooked. After a short simmering, the dish is served with lots of bread.
Fagioli con le cotiche
This simple stew is made with pork grind slowly cooked in water until soft, beans and tomatoes. It’s the epitome of comfort food.
Coratella coi Carciofi
Another quinto quarto dish, coratella uses the heart, lungs and generally speaking insides of the cow and cooks it with artichokes. It’s typically served as an appetizer.
A lot of food in Rome is made with vegetables so vegans and vegetarians will have it easy!
Carciofi alla Giudìa
You’ll find carciofi alla giudìa in the best restaurants and eateries in Rome Jewish Ghetto. This dish of Roman kosher cuisine is made with local artichokes that are slightly beaten until flat and then deep fried until crispy outside, and soft and moist on the inside.
Carciofi alla Romana
Artichoke hearts are stuffed with garlic and a mixture of parsley, mint, oregano and pepper and braised until incredibly soft.
Want to make carciofi alla romana? Read my recipe!
A delicious salad made with catalogna chicory seasoned with a sauce made with extra virgin olive oil, crushed garlic and anchovies.
You can learn how to make puntarelle alla romana with my recipe here.
Chicory is slightly fried in olive oil, garlic and chillies. It’s a delicious vegan dish you’ll find in trattorie in the fall and winter time.
Fiori di Zucca
A seasonal dish found in the summer and early fall, zucchini flowers are stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies, dipped in a flour and water batter (for best result, you can use sparkling water or even beer) and then deep fried. The vegetarian version can be made with no stuffing at all.
Street food and sweets
A staple street food in Rome, these rice cones are made with a thick tomato risotto typically prepared a day early, mixed with eggs and parmesan cheese and stuffed with mozzarella, then fried. There even are newer version made with bechamel sauce. It’s a common appetizer – the kind of thing you’d oder while waiting for your pizza.
Want to make supplì at home? Check out my recipe here.
Porchetta is commonly found across Lazio. It’s made with deboned pork seasoned with salt and a mix of herbs and slowly roasted on a pit. It’s then sliced and stuffed in crispy bread for the best sandwich.
Pizza al taglio
Pizza by the slice (al taglio, which literally translates as “by the cut) is another common street food. I am a fan of the plain one, which looks a bit like focaccia and which is best with mortadella. Other kinds come with mozzarella and tomatoes, fresh ham, artichoke hearts. It’s served folded so you can eat it on the go.
A pocked of pizza dough stuffed with all sorts of ingredients. The best is found at Trapizzino, in Trastevere, where it was invented.
Rome’s favorite breakfast is this delicious pastry made with a bun baked till golden and stuffed with whipped cream. Traditionally an Easter dessert, it’s now found year round in the best pasticcerie in town. Try it instead of a cornetto for breakfast!
Crostata Ricotta e Visciole
A typical Roman Jewish dessert, it is made with pasta frolla – a dough prepared with flour, eggs and butter worked until smooth; ricotta cheese and sour cherries. Try it, instead of the ever-present tiramisù!
Gelato is commonly found across Italy and isn’t in fact Rome food proper. There are many gelaterie in town, but you should go for the “artigianale” ones, those that prepare gelato with seasonal local ingredients from scratch. The secret to finding a good gelateria is to look for those that have very few flavors, preferably not on display. If the color is too bright, and therea are 40 flavors on sale, steer away!
6 Tips To Find The Best Food In Rome
I have had plenty of bad food in Rome – heated up pizza; cacio e pepe which was nothing more than boiled pasta with cheese on top: you name it. So, I thought I’d share some tips to help you find the best food in town.
Go on a Food Tour
This is a great way to discover the best food in town: a local guide will take you to the best local spots, select the most delicious specialties. Some food tours go to the market and then include a cooking class, so that you can learn to prepare you own Roman dish!
Pick Local Restaurants
For the best food in Rome, follow the locals! Your hotel receptionist of Airbnb host should be able to tell you where to find the best food. In doubt, head to Vecchia Roma, near Vittorio Emanuele. It’s my favorite trattoria in town.
Tune in with local eating times
People in Rome eat lunch no earlier than 1:00 pm, and dinner no earlier than 8:00 por 8:30 pm. If you spot someone eating pasta at 6:00 pm, you’ll know that restaurants targets tourists. Avoid it!
Stick to local food
Lasagne are not easily found in Rome. Stick to local dishes and you’ll know you won’t be disappointed.
Cappuccino is only for breakfast
We Italians are grossed out by the idea of pairing a meal with a cappuccino, or even having it after a meal. If you are not a fan of espresso, order a macchiato: espresso with a drop of either foamed or cold milk. That’s considered acceptable.
Make sure to read my post How To Order Coffee In Italy.
For more readings about Rome, you may want to read the following posts:
- Where Is Rome?
- The Most Famous Landmarks In Rome
- The Most Famous Buildings In Rome
- Where To See The Lovely Cats Of Rome
- The Most Beautiful Squares In Rome
- The Nicest Monumental Fountains In Rome
- The Seven Hills Of Rome
- The Most Interesting Facts About Rome
- The Best Virtual Tours Of Rome
- The Best Markets In Rome
- The Most Famous Statues In Rome
- The Most Useful Italian Phrases For Travelers