eating and drinking in rome 101
Italy is the land of regional cuisines. In Rome you’ll find mostly Roman restaurants, in Tuscany you’ll find mostly Tuscan restaurants, in Sicily you’ll find mostly Sicilian restaurants, etc. This means you’ll probably find the same dishes on most of the menus in the same geographic region, though I’ll never get tired of carbonara (true Roman carbonara is made with pork jowls and not bacon – delish!) and Jaime will forever be in love with cacio e pepe. Some of Rome’s most famous dishes are carbonara, cacio e pepe, amatriciana, artichokes, supplì, and Roman-style pizza. You can read more about Rome’s signature dishes HERE. You can find Neapolitan style pizza in Rome, but you’ll need to visit a Neapolitan pizzeria to get it — or it’s a great excuse to travel south to Naples!
What better way to experience and learn about a culture than through its food? That’s our motto. Here are a few tips we’ve learned over the last year about eating and drinking in Rome.
- Avoid most restaurants near tourist areas. HERE is Natalie’s advice, from An American in Rome blog, to avoid eating at a tourist trap. Armando al Pantheon is one of the exceptions, but you’ll need to make reservations 1-2 weeks in advance.
- It’s always a good idea to make reservations for lunch and dinner, especially if you’re dining on Friday or Saturday.
- Some restaurants are closed on Sunday, others are closed on Monday, and Google doesn’t always reflect the correct hours. Make sure to call before heading over.
- Most restaurants close between lunch and dinner, usually from 2:30/3 to 7/7:30pm.
- If a restaurant is open for American dinner time (around 5-6 pm), it’s probably a tourist trap.
- Italians eat lunch around 1 pm and dinner no earlier than 8 pm.
- Enjoy your time eating at restaurants. The average lunch can easily take over an hour and the average dinner can take close to two, if not more.
- A traditional Italian dinner consists of an antipasti (appetizer), primi (first plates – usually pasta), secondi (second plates – usually meat or fish), contorni (side dishes), and dolci (desserts). Don’t worry, you’re not expected to dine in for a traditional dinner every time you go out.
- Waiters won’t be breathing down your neck or hurrying you out to turn a table. If you need something and they haven’t swung by your table, flag them down and they’ll head right over.
- You have to ask for the bill at restaurants. Some restaurants you pay at the counter, some you pay at the table. We always “read the room” to see what others are doing.
- Always pay in euros when given the option because the currency exchange rate on the card machines is always high. Check with your card/bank about foreign transaction fees before you travel to Italy, so you don’t have surprises on your statement later.
- There’s no tipping in Italy. Many times there is a small service fee already included in the bill, but no tipping of any kind of expected in Italy. Jaime and I tip from time to time, but only when dining at our favorite restaurants where we are repeat customers.
- There are so many gelato shops in Rome, but they are not all created equally.
- True artisan gelato should not be able to hold a shape, so skip the gelato shops where you see mounds of gelato in the display case.
- Pistachio gelato should have a brown hue to it. It should never be bright green.
- Some of my favorite gelato shops are Come Il Latte, Otaleg, Origini, Fatamorgana, and Gelarte. They use all-natural ingredients and their flavors reflect seasonal products.
- Like coffee, gelato is also inexpensive. A small cup or cone shouldn’t cost more than €3 even at the highly recommended shops in town.
- The closest thing you’ll find to American happy hour is aperitivo and it’s one of my favorite things about Italy.
- Between shops closing down and waiting for restaurants to open, stopping at a bar or enoteca (wine bar) for aperitivo is the best thing to do before dinner.
- Aperitivo generally involves a light drink and shared nibbles including chips, olives, bread, small sandwiches, or even a small charcuterie board.
- Sometimes snacks are included in the price, sometimes they’re not, so make sure to ask.
- If you’re looking for a coffee shop, look for a “bar”.
- Coffee shop culture in the US is very different than in Rome. It’s not as common to sit down at a coffee shop.
- Coffee to go isn’t a thing. The only time I’ve found it is when getting coffee near tourist attractions.
- Coffee is very inexpensive. An espresso shouldn’t cost more than €1 and a cappuccino shouldn’t cost more than €1,50. You might find expensive prices near tourist attractions. Jaime and I once paid €3,00 for a cappuccino near the Spanish Steps – highway robbery in Italy!
- Many Italians eat breakfast at the bar stopping in for coffee or juice accompanied by a croissant on their way to work.
- Most Italians drink their coffee and eat their pastries standing at the bar counter. Prices are different at the bar and at the table; expect to pay up to three times as much to sit down.
- If you want to do as the Italians do, don’t order any drink that has dairy in it after 12:00 noon. That means no cappuccino or caffelatte.
ORDERING COFFEE IN ROME
- To order a shot of espresso ask for a caffè.
- To order a cappuccino ask for a cappuccino.
- To order a latte ask for a caffelatte. Latte in Italian means milk, so make sure to order a caffelatte or you might end up with a glass of milk.
- To order a shot of espresso that’s brewed with extra water order a caffè lungo.
- To order a shot of espresso with hot water added order a caffè americano.
- To order freshly squeezed orange juice ask for spremuta d’arancia.
- To order a croissant ask for a cornetto.
What are your favorite things to eat and drink in Rome? Let us know in the comments below.