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A Taste of Roman Cuisine

What does one eat when in Rome? With extensive menus and so much choice, how do you decide what specialty to eat? 

There is no shortage of excellent restaurants, cafes and wine bars to visit in Rome or any Italian city for that matter. Italians love food and the country is well known for its regional specialties with each area having a typical dish, particular to their own region and province. Location and geography have a huge influence on the specialties of each region, so whether a place is close to the sea or the mountains, will depend on what food is predominantly served. What you can be sure of is that fresh, seasonal produce will be found in most Italian dishes, resulting in delicious, flavorful foods.

So how do you navigate an Italian menu? Some restaurants offer an extensive list starting with a ‘primo’ (first dish) followed by a ‘secondo’, literally meaning a second dish or main meal. Others start with an ‘antipasto’, an appetizer.

Antipasti and Primo Dishes

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Some examples of typical Roman starters:

  • Bruschetta – created with bread that has been rubbed with garlic and topped with tasty tomatoes, basil and olive oil.
  • Supplì (which are similar to the Sicilian arancini) – another popular Roman antipasto which is made with rice and formed into either croquettes or balls, coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried, inside they are filled with mozzarella and with meat and tomato sauce.
  • primo generally consists of a pasta, risotto or sometimes even a soup dish such as the well known Italian minestrone soup. Some typical Roman pasta dishes include:
  • Spaghetti alla Carbonara – pasta dish using spaghetti and a sauce made with eggs, Italian bacon, pepper, and grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
  • Bucatini all’Amatriciana – bucatini is a type of spaghetti-like pasta with a hole running through the middle (from the Italian word ‘buco’ which means ‘hole’) topped with a tomato based sauce, guanciale (a cured meat made from pork) and grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
  • Cacio e Pepe – a pasta dish using simple ingredients, Pecorino Romano cheese combined with black pepper, a dash of olive oil and some of the pasta cooking water to create a creamy sauce.

If you are more of a pizza person, you are spoilt for choice for pizza places in Rome. If you have traveled around Italy you will know that pizza is made slightly different depending on which region are you in. Pizza in Rome is generally thin and crispy, just delicious.

The Secondo

Saltimbocca alla Romana

The main meal (or secondo) usually consists of a choice of meat or fish and is always offered with a selection of side dishes. Some examples include:

  • Saltimbocca alla Romana (see photo above) – Roman-style veal with ham (prosciutto) and sage.
  • Scaloppine alla romana – Veal sautéed with fresh baby artichokes.

Tripe and oxtail are also often seen on Roman menu’s cooked in a variety of ways often in a tomato based sauce and topped with Pecorino Romano cheese.

You will always find fresh and usually seasonal vegetables on the menu including artichokes which can be prepared in a variety of ways. Carciofi alla romana are whole artichokes cooked with garlic, herbs, and olive oil, whereas carciofi alla giudia (Jewish style artichokes) are generally deep fried and cooked with chili peppers. Fiori di Zucca, which are zucchini flowers are also battered and deep fried and filled with mozzarella cheese and anchovies.

Desserts and After-Dinner Drinks


It’s worth saving some space for a dessert. Expect to see a selection of ice-creams and sorbets, along with cakes and other sweet delicacies. One of the most frequently found desserts on a Roman menu is the tiramisu, made with delicate ladyfinger biscuits soaked in coffee with a creamy filling made with eggs, sugar, and mascarpone cheese.

To complete the meal, it’s worth sampling an Italian liquor or ‘digestivo’ as they are often referred to in Rome. Originally through to help with digestion after a meal, these are typically served after food. Amaro and Limoncello are Roman favorites, however, there is a whole selection of liqueurs that can be chosen from.

If you love food and want to find out where some of the best places are to enjoy a truly Roman food experience, why not try our Roman Food Experience tour.

Whatever dish you choose in Rome, you can be sure of a wonderful gastronomic experience. Buon appetito!

What a Life Tours have provided extraordinary guided tours of Rome since 2009. They are the number 1 rated Vatican tours agency on Trip Advisor since 2011 and were recently awarded ‘Historical Tour of the Year 2016’ by the prestigious travel journal Luxury Travel Guide for their Colosseum Private tour. Find out more about their Rome food tours.