Recipes from Rome: Adapting to food culture with street eats
When I was first planning my trip to Rome, I Googled and Pinterest-ed fervently. “What Not to Do in Rome,” “Top 10 Things You Should Know Before Going to Rome,” and other tips. One thing that came up again and again — besides not ordering a cappuccino after 11 a.m. — was that Romans didn’t eat on the streets. There’s a very romantic and long-perpetuated vision of Italians sitting for long lunches, ordering multiple courses, and apparently never going to work or school. This is, obviously, not true.
The days of marathon eating in Italy are mostly over. Maybe on a Sunday families will cook multiple courses, but most of the time Romans eat just one course, usually pasta. The economy has a lot to do with this — as money got tighter, tastes changed towards quicker and less expensive things. Street food, or Cibo di Strada, has always been popular throughout Italy, but it has spiked in both popularity and trendiness in recent years.
People sitting in piazzas with panini and pizza are a common sight, especially now that the temperatures are getting warmer. Here are some of the most common street foods in Rome.
We’ve already spoken about supplì, but they are probably the most common Roman street food. You will see Romans of all ages lining up for freshly fried, hot supplì and eating them when they’re almost impossibly hot. The crisp, breaded exterior cracks when you bite, giving way to a soft center of rice and melted mozzarella. If you’re lucky, and your supplì is freshly fried, you’ll get a long cord of cheese going from the supplì to your mouth — Supplì al Telefono.
Pizza al Taglio
There are two types of pizza in Rome — round Roman pizza, which you sit down and eat with a fork and knife, and pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) which is rectangular and sold by weight. Pizza al taglio is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While a Cornetto is the most common Roman breakfast, pizza bianca and pizza rossa are close seconds. Pizza bianca is plain, thin pizza dough, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with a little salt. Pizza rossa is the same, just with a thin layer of tomato sauce on top. I eat a slice of pizza rossa every morning for breakfast on my way to school, and I can tell you firsthand that it is a great way to start your day. There are also more creative pizzas, with various types of vegetables, cheeses and meats. My favorite has cicoria (kind of like bitter spinach) and sausage.
Most pizza al taglio places serve panini, as do bars. There are various types of panini, but my favorite (no surprise) is made using pizza bianca as bread with some sort of sliced meat in between. I like Mortadella or Porchetta. Another genius street food, which falls under the panini category, is “trapizzino.” A “trapizzino” is a brilliant creation that uses pizza dough as a cone to be stuffed with various traditional Roman foods, such as Coda Alla Vaccinara or Lingua in Salsa Verde. Trapizzini are a great way to try traditional Roman foods in small, affordable portions. Luckily, an outpost of Trapizzino just opened in Manhattan — try it!
While it is not common to eat on public transportation or to eat as you walk, it is certainly common to find Romans taking their food to go to be enjoyed standing outside of a shop or sitting in a piazza. Food culture is always connected to economics, and it is interesting to observe how people change the ways in which they eat in response to changing lifestyles.