Monday, February 15, 2010

Tiramisu: delicious when eaten on a zebra crossing

My favourite meals in Roman restaurants are comparable only to being invited to a friend’s gluttonous grandma’s house where requesting a price list or a menu would be equally as inappropriate.  Instead, wobbly tables (or as they say in Italian, dancing ballando) are sandwiched together refectory style and a jovial owner stands at one end shouting out the traditional dishes on offer, to all within earshot . Ordering is achieved by raising a hand when something sounds heavenly and hoping the request is noted on a wad of scrap paper the owner juggles while counting.  As with many things in this city, there’s giant scope for blunder but the food is, as they say here “Da panico”.   The kind of delicious that can send you into a panic as you anticipate the arrival of your order.  In this environment I could be mistaken for a Roman until I reveal my life-long vegetarianism, a phase they all concur I will grow out of.

These Roman eateries are mostly family-run and granny is often at the helm, so checking what kind of food she’s into before you sit down is a wise move. Sending back a bowl of soup because there’s tail in it could prompt her to leave her stove and deliver you a disapproving look, unless you are a grizzling child or vegetarian, in which case you are only pitied for turning down Roman delicacies.

These types of eating establishments are real Roman territory and only the most intrepid of tourists would dare to navigate them.  It's a shame as the atmosphere is one of frenetic family celebration and the food is genuine.  So often, in line at Ciampino Airport, the air in the departure lounge is thick with moans; “Arrogant bloody waiters, the food's not all that” . The chorus of the disgruntled British tourist who mistakenly chose to dine with a  view of a monument instead of the dessert trolley, full of homemade sweets.   The Colosseum will still be there when you have finished eating. 

So my first restaurant recommendation is “Luzzi”.  It’s not visible from the Colosseum, but hidden in a sidestreet nearby. Perfect. There, non-Romans feast on typical Roman fare with locals, amidst the animated, pleasurable confusion of an authentic Roman trattoria.  It's usually overflowing, so turn up and socialize in the jumbled queue until you are squeezed in.  In  spring, the boundaries of the outdoor eating area swell into the road when necessary. Their grilled aubergines and onions au gratin are a great starter and spaghetti alle cozze are spectacular on Tuesdays and Fridays when the mussels have just been caught.

TripAdvisor reviews are fair in my opinion although whosoever thinks they saw a microwave probably saw a portable TV in the kitchen: all Roma football matches are religiously observed.  Service can be sporadic and brusque but never arrogant. One Pavarotti-esque waiter likes to address all his customers as “secco”, Roman dialect for “skinnyribs”. "Luzzi" isn't intimate or sophisticated (you may well have to set your own cutlery out as you would at granny's house)  but it's great value and entertainment.   There’s no upselling and waiter recommendations are golden.  I for one can highly recommend their Tiramisu which tastes all the more delicious when eaten, seated on a zebra crossing with a statue of Padre Pio above your head. Metro: Colosseo. Closed Wednesdays. Ok for Vegetarians brave enough to unveil themselves.  Cheap Roman Cuisine with delicious bread from the Castelli. Menus provided!
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Ice cream's on me in Rome!

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