Tuesday, 12 August 2014

edible rome

aperol spritz at ai tre scalini
rome displays the passage of history through her architecture, a wealth of art and culture. her timelessness is expressed as her being the eternal city. her streets and alleyways lead onto piazzas and fountains or fortified walls and monuments that hold the secrets of her past. it is these secrets that whisper to people all over the world, drawing tourists in hoards. even in the enervating heat of july, queues of people snaked around the walls of the vatican and the curvaceous structure of the colosseum. there were moments when both o and i were swept into tour groups feeling like cattle being herded by sheepdogs. at others, we had to wait to see pieces of art that were being admired through the click of a lens. i would have loved to have the leisure to be present in rome’s past without vying for space with those who had the need for constant preservation in pixel form.

my favourite postcards from our italian holiday are tastes, textures and visuals in the mind’s eye; like the length of galleria delle carte geografiche (the gallery of maps) at the vatican whose vaulted ceiling was gilded with burnished gold and whose walls were frescoed with maps illustrating the cartography of italy. on via panisperna the building that houses bottiglieria ai tre scalini is consumed by lush green ivy. the resourceful plant had crept along a pole projecting into the street causing it to tumble down as an emerald green curtain. and how can i forget the drive to monterosso al mare, (one of the five villages that constitute the cinque terre). the road hugs mountains that are really densely populated woods. the terrain reminded me of childhood trips in northern pakistan. the air was crisp with the clean scent of pine resin. in places clouds sat in the valley like they do in nathia gali. terraced houses in tones of flamingo, dusty rose and burnt peach gave way to vineyards. as we neared monterosso, the sea appeared on the horizon. it was blue like the sky and distinguishable only by its wavy texture.

on our first night in rome, o and i found our way to enoteca il goccetto, recommended by s, an erstwhile resident of rome. more aptly described as a wine library, it is lined from floor to ceiling with shelves that are home to wine bottles from italy and france. there is plenty to choose from by the glass including prosecco. a glass fronted counter displays antipasti and apertivo. we had a selection of these - cherry tomatoes the colour of lipstick, glossy with oil and roasted to concentrate their sweetness; miniature red peppers that were sweet and salty in equal measure as they were stuffed with anchovies, artichoke hearts and thin slices of rare roast beef. to finish there were glasses of soft and lightly effervescent moscato d’asti.

monday found us in monti, dutifully exploring tourist rome. there was the colosseum to start with followed by a wander through the ruins on palatine hill. we had intended to lunch at taverna dei fori imperiali (discovered on minchilli’s ‘where to eat’ in monti), but we were turned away instantly at the door like others without reservations. so we did the next best thing which was to make a reservation and headed to pizzeria alle carrette. the pizza bianca was good but the real highlight of our lunch were the courgette flowers stuffed with creamy soft mozzarella and the briny taste of anchovies. in rome, one is never too far from gelato and in monti we found fatamorgana that sophia had mentioned. this exceedingly popular artisanal gelatiera is known for its creativity. o fell in love with the basil, walnut and honey and the cream with lavender and chamomile. i tried their kentucky, an arresting combination of bittersweet chocolate with tobacco. halva was a refreshing take on the middle eastern combination of tahini with honey. ultimately, it was the creamy textured sorbets made from summer berries and peaches with wine that i settled on. fatamorgana was so loved that o refused to go to any other gelatiera’s in rome.

sorbet from fatamorgana
fully fortified, o and i set out for a walking circuit to take in the rest of rome’s sights. at monumento nazionale a vittorio emanuele ii two stern faced soldiers guard the tomb of the unknown soldier. they are flanked by an eternal flame whose heat created distortions in sight. trevi fountain was bound by scaffolding and the spanish steps were swarming with tourists. we chose to have a rest at fontana del pantheon and eventually found our way to a rather modern café somewhere in the tangle of streets behind it. we sat there a while, watching the world go by as we rested. then we wove our way back through the streets to taverna dei fori imperiali. the trattoria has been run by the same family for four generations. alessio, the chef wandered through the diners from time to time as if keeping an eye on the younger family members at the front of house. there is little fuss and ceremony aside from large plates of wholesome pasta, meat and fish dishes. we selected our choices from the specials. i had the cacio e pepe, a roman speciality made with tonnarelli, pecorino and black pepper. the taverna adds shaved black truffles to this which adds to its already bold flavours.

suppli at pizzarium
tuesday was spent within the walled enclave of vatican city and after being awed by the michelangelo’s sistine chapel we went in search for pizzarium. this tiny little hole in the wall sells pizza by the slice. its owner and creator gabriele bonci is famous for his craft earning him the reputation as "the michelangelo of pizza". business here is swift. slices of pizza are carved with the help of a scissor and placed on trays lined with paper. if you are lucky you may find yourself seated on the singular bench outside the shop. otherwise, there are tables to perch trays and elbows on. o has a slice of the ubiquitously roman pizza with potatoes and cheese; there is one with a riot of peppers and a slice of pizza rosso with spinach and mozzarella for me. the slow leavened dough is lightly fermented and has the aerated structure of a sourdough. it is satisfying in the way that really good bread is. o had suppli (as per tradition these are are deep fried rice balls with fillings that are native to rome). bonci tweaks his and o's was made the ligurian classic of troife with pesto and stracchino. the soft centre benefited from the crisp texture of its golden brown breadcrumb crust and was most delicious.

lunch was capped with a late afternoon espresso at sciascia caffè. established in 1919 the café has a cool marble lined interior and walls displaying old posters and picture. the coffee is excellent and if you are after something refreshing, i would recommend their blood orange granita. the tiny shards melt in the mouth leaving a bright citrus flavour. from here on, o and i parted ways, he to have a siesta and me to walk to st. peter’s basilica and then along the river past ara pacis and onto piazza del popolo.

our last supper in rome was at la carbonara preceded by aperol spritz’s a ai tre scalini (both recommended by sophia). despite being over a hundred years old, it has a decidedly modern vibe. the clientele are young and the walls are a kitsch mix of pictures and scribbled notes. la carbonara does not have english translations on its menu but you can rely on its friendly staff to help. i wanted something meaty and was recommended the house special. i do not remember the name of it. visually, it was a rustic heap of paper thin beef, mostly in tight curls from the heat it had been cooked in. it was coated in a very savoury and meaty sauce of porcini, cheese and truffle. as usual o’s hand kept straying onto my plate but after a few bites, i had to tell him that the rest was off limits. he always maintains that food eaten from my plate tastes better.

p.s. a note of thanks to the spicespoon, sophia real and elizabeth minchilli for their recommendations.

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