Rome


You would have expected the Romans to spend their Buona Pasqua at home, eating chocolate and Easter bread, and roasting lamb for dinner. After attending morning mass at one of the 900+ churches in la bella città. 

Well –

Certainly that is a bit of a cliche, but I did think I would find few establishments open – and rather empty streets.  Not so.  It was a stunning sunny day – in the 70’s – and thousands of people, Italians – not just tourists – were out and about. In the historic center anyway. 

But I thought this scene on a small side street of the Monti neighborhood was rather touching.  A family held their Easter dinner outside on a wooden table – here just a few members of their group were wrapping up their meal. 

Carina. Sweet. 

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It is not entirely unusual to see a seagull in Rome. It is, after all, not that far from the coastline – and there is a river runs through it, but this fella made me laugh. He was one of two gulls sitting atop a delivery van. Look closely at the sign behind: Pescheria. Fish Store. Ha!

Definitely “Right place, right time.”

It was one of my favorite moments (among many) on this beautiful sunny fall day. Apparently there is an expression here in Italy: Roma Ottobre. Rome October. Just as we laud the beautiful autumns in New York, so, too, do the Italians their autonno.

I’m pretty sure this is is a pomelo tree — although those big green citrus fruits (look closely) could be anything as far as I know. I come from apple — or nut — tree territory. We don’t have orange trees in our backyards like they do in California. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a pomelo — have just read about them.
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This tree sits in one of my favorite places in Rome. I discovered this place only a few years ago. It’s near the neighborhood where I stay. I think it was some kind of villa in its heyday several centuries ago. The park is filled with lots of lime and other citrus trees, some palms, broken off marble statues, and folks from the neighborhood out for a walk, but usually a nap on its many benches. Ha! Maybe I’ll google it sometime.

I am noticing little, if any, change. But then this IS called the Eternal city. Oddly, I had my first restaurant experience of a waiter attempting to shuffle me inside rather than outside at a cafe table in the sun because I requested a tavolo for one. That hasn’t happened to me in years. A huffy “no” and a dirty look is what that waiter got. I wasn’t in the mood. It was my first day off the plane, jet lagged and employing my technique to enter into the city’s time zone by walking constantly, staying in the natural light. It always feels a little surreal. Though it struck me yesterday that I was approaching day one much as I do the Minnesota State Fair (no, not eating everything in plain sight) but by exploring, exploring, exploring as the mood struck.

I did observe some different street action beside the immigrant vendors with these gel characters that they slam down onto a board. They blob out like a raw egg white that has just hit the pan then re-form to their little blobby round shapes. The objects, silly – not the vendors.

Anyway, I did notice some new characters on the piazzas – beyond the ubiquitous green living Statues of Liberty or the pewter-coated gunslingers. They were saffron colored. Both sitting cross legged: one man on the bottom with a rod coming out of his head. On top of that big stick was a platform upon which sat another man. Om, baby! Drew quite a crowd on this beautiful sunny Sunday. Ever so often, a third man would come and cover the sitters with a large black blanket. This so the two men underneath could do, well, can’t say I know what they were doing under that cover. I’da taken a picture but usually by the time I got my phone out to do so – the tableaux had melted into a flattened blob.

Not really.

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Lunch is not all pasta with potatoes here in the Eternal City. I have seen this dish with oranges and olives, dressed with oil, for years — both here in Roma and in the states. I am not sure whether it is of Roman origins or not — so much of what one eats in this country is specific “tipico” to its region. I have admittedly seen some variance to that on this trip. Just like it used to be you couldn’t even order a cappuccino after noon but now you can — other regions’ foods are popping up here. I have seen pasta with pesto at a couple of trattorie this week — pesto is from Genoa, not Rome. I would be curious to see if that kind of regional culinary mixing happens in smaller towns or just in this sprawling metropolis.

While eating my “don’t leave Rome without (eating) it” cacio e pepe pasta dish at my favorite Roman restaurant Soro Margherita, I decided, finally, to order the orange salad. Important to note, that any salad or veg dish (it may be oranges but this is no dessert) is served after the primo (first course) of usually pasta, rice, or gnocchi and the (second course) secondo. That baffled me when I was first visiting Italy. This truth had not yet come up in my guide books. I would go to a restaurant, order pasta with (what I thought was going to be a side of) a vegetable. Watch my pasta get cold (okay, so I didn’t wait!) wondering “where’s my broccoli”? Sometimes even, I would ask the waiter to cancel the veg because I was full, dammit!

I digress. As I am wont to do. This simple orange salad was ambrosia! The oranges, blood oranges, were just the perfect mix of tart and sweet, so juicy that one bite caused an explosion of the most delicate and succulent tastes on the tongue and, if you weren’t careful, down the chin. The salad was dressed with a light, fruity but not intensely so, olive oil. The juice mixed with it to make a simple dressing. Sprinkled lightly in the dish, just the perfect grind of black pepper (not sure what the story is with the pepper here, if they roast it, or if it is farmed from somewhere else in the world than we are used to, but it is very special). They top the salad with perfectly sliced, crisp fennel and a small handful of mixed black olives. Simplice but squisito!

It was truly the food of gods. My dining companion tells me that it is the antidote to the pasta and deep-fried artichoke carciofi alla Giudia we had consumed. Eat this orange and fennel wonder, and it erases the fat and calories of anything you ate before it.

Oh. Yes.

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Lest you think I only eat thinly disguised donuts that don’t seem like they’re donuts because they have names I can’t recall — here is my porta via (take out) dinner purchased at a pizza/forno (bakery) in Monti. The turisti are all out in the piazzas now, or at the wine bars, or having those little glasses of nuts and chips & plates of savories with their glasses o’ wine (read Apertivi Time in Rome). There were only Italians in this pizza joint, working folks, grabbing a little slab of pizza like me. I walked away with veggie pizza with a slice of potato tossed on — and then oh those greens!

Why are they so damn good!?! I make them at home. They dont taste like this. Granted, I don’t see those water tubs with stalky greens floating in them that seem ubiquitous in every shop or super mercado I have visited. I went with cicoria (chicory) tonight. Alas, I think the punterelle season is over.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not all I do while in Rome: eating. I have been museuming, churching, praying, monumenting, Pantheoning, Coliseuming. Walking, walking, walking. It’s that food as microcosm thing at play. The way a culture does their food is the way they live and think. Hey, better minds than mine have pondered this. People you might say who are higher on the food chain. But, the Italians express themselves with those plates of bitter greens yanked from the ground. And, by the way, those Roman greens are nothing like the ones in Florence. Or, Assissi.

I ran into a funny blog written by an Italian in America when looking for the name of that killer sweet I had for breakfast. The writing is in Italian, but you get the drift with the pictures. This hapless soul looked into the face of Taco Bell coffee and a Hearty Man breakfast of bacon, eggs, hash browns, pancakes and toast. When all he wanted was un caffè e un cornetto.

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Ama Roma appears to be the new saying for la Bella città. Love Rome. And, really, how could you not.

At this morning’s breakfast ritual, with my cappuccino (pronounced copp-ew-CHEEN-oh) I picked a pastry larger than my hand. Hell, larger than that graphic hand on the side of the Roman city truck.

I loved that pastry. I’m glad I chose it (although at that size, it probably chose me). I should never be allowed to order it again.

It was the flakiest kind of pastry, covered all over with the lightest of sugar glazes, filled with just enough — abbastanza— cream. Sprinkled with a dusting of powdered sugar. Then, placed into the case for this hapless traveller. I didn’t see any locals in that coffee bar eating the hand-sized pastry with their copp-ew-CHEEN-oh.

I asked what it was called. I heard pasta and alla Romana. I think I’ve read about this legendary pastry, typical, only in Rome. As I walked out, I did see more pastries that looked like it. Just smaller. Hmmmm….

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What a day I have had.

I had my usual cornetto and caffè for breakfast. Walk walk walk. Then the most delicious lunch composed of my favorite pasta Romana: Cacio e Pepe (simply put: pasta with cheese and pepper — though believe me, there is nothing simple about this pasta) and then coniglio (rabbit) arrosto (roast), and cicoria. Incredibile! Il pranzo with my favorite priest. Of course with wine which, no excuses here, is much less alcoholic than ours in the U.S.

Walk walk walk.

I saw the Vatican. St. Peter’s. A charming little Via with antique store after antique store. The bridge of angels — Pont Sant’Angelo. Every bridge over the Tiber lined with African and Albanian immigrants who sell mini-tripods, sunglasses, costume jewelry, and these funny gel-filled soft rubbery like balls that the vendor slams into a board which makes the little squishy gel ball flatten like a puddle only to re-form as a little creature. Hard to describe. But, cool.

They are aggressive and persistent but, unlike the old toothless Roma (gypsy) ladies who don’t so much beg for money as whine, they will go away after a pitch. Or, two.

Now, though the picture doesn’t do it justice — for the price of a glass of wine, my apertivo of choice, I get a table, under an ivy-covered umbrella, as much time as I want (the Italians NEVER try to get you to leave. In fact, sometimes, you have to wave madly to get your bill, il conto, to get out of the restaurant or cafe). And all these snacks. Pretty much my dinner (leaving room, of course, for gelato). On this table I have a small cup of peanuts, another of potato chips, and a little plate with 2 tiny spinach pies, three little tomato tartlets, and 2 slices of crusty focaccia-like bread dripping with olive oil.

Oh. Oh! I just bit into what I thought was the spinach pie. Instead it is this flaky pastry triangle with anchovy paste inside.

Heaven. I’m in heaven!

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