Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Artichoke Hearts or Pig Hearts anyone?

Tell a Roman you are a "veggie" and you’ll be able to read the ensuing facial expression clearer than a tabloid headline on Election Day: Why?  Why, because what was understood, is as inexplicable to a Roman as an announcement of self-imposed celibacy, abstinence from fine wines and chocolate, rejection of art, film, music and literature, voluntary unpaid overtime and boycotting of beach and ski season all rolled into one. Why would anyone take such punitive measures against oneself in a country where pleasure is the supreme antiserum for the effects of inescapable exposure to mind-cracking bureaucracy?  All this and what was actually understood by the term "veggie" was that you don’t eat steak, or “stick” as Romans like to pronounce it.

So no invite to T-Bone Station  allora.  Even this almost lifelong vegetarian, can find it a trial, getting Romans to accept, although never fully understand that she doesn’t appreciate bits of beast tail or bird crown being furtively hidden in her main course.  “But you no know what you lose Signora” they wail while arguing vehemently that the tail I've just unearthed in my soup isn't meat.  I’ve lost count of how many concealed body parts I’ve dodged although once, during a dinner with colleagues, a particularly cunning waiter garnished my rocket salad with raw grated horse. Masquerading as beetroot it didn't register on my finely tuned stowaway meat radar. Fortunately it tasted of nothing. Had my fellow diners resisted the temptation to line my office drawer with polo mints the following day, I may never have known.  

Going "veggie" in Rome shouldn’t be so perilous given the range of tasty seasonal vegetable dishes on offer, but true Roman food specializes in the art of making the internationally discarded parts of an animal delectable, especially those best covered by a bikini. For a Roman, eating only the vegetables is like going to the Vatican, salivating over the Raphael Rooms and then rejecting the Sistine Chapel.  And then there’s all the questions.  Enjoying authentic Roman food should require only one question: Where do I sit?  Questions communicate a lack of trust in the most authentic places where Roman diners just accept that everything will be great and exactly what they are in the mood for.  “Does it contain "Carne" meat?” can be considered one question too many, especially if your pronunciation isn’t pure Queen Elizabeth II and the restaurant owner hears "Cane" which means dog.  At this point you’ll require a professional translator to get you off the meat hook.  As a new Roman, I’ve learnt the secret to full waiter cooperation is to play your  “my doctor says” card. Blame allergies, doctor’s cholesterol warnings and watch his facial expression change to: Certainly Signora, courgettes instead of pig cheeks "subito", right away!

The next of my restaurant recommendations is a top class vegetarian restaurant called “Arancia Blu”(Orange Blue).  Even in Italian, the menu is easier to decipher than that of my favourite vegetarian restaurant “Terre a Terre”  in Brighton, England.  Neither restaurant serves radioactive fake meat but offers a range of creative, filling alternatives using seasonal vegetables, local cheeses, fresh pastas,pulses, pastries and polentas. Desserts are phenomenal and Arancia Blu goes to the trouble of detailing the best dessert wine to quaff with delizia on the menu.  Arancia Blu’s anonymous exterior belies a sophisticated interior, lined with racks of fine wines and shelves of books and films. There’s nothing noteworthy about its location, tucked away behind a petrol station in a nondescript part of Rome so nip there in a taxi for a relaxed, sophisticated evening and then head back to the citadel. TripAdvisor reviews are varied, those in English are positive, those in Italian are negative, maybe because more adventurous Romans often feel obliged to try something different but somehow it never quite satisfies them. How could it?  The service in Arancia Blu is slow but attentive and the owner is passionate about wine so ask as many questions as you like and take non-veggies with you, even Romans. Buddhists will be meditating in the Vatican before Gastro-gnome becomes a vegetarian but he’s still enthusing about his lasagnetta although he insists it contained anchovies and won’t be persuaded otherwise.  Watch my facial expression: It most certainly didn’t.
Arancia Blu: No Metro. Tram 14 from Termini Station for 18 stops, get of Prenestina/Coccone stop- I recommend a taxi!  Prices: mid range. Even meat-eaters will enjoy.

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TO POSTS VIA FEED. Ice cream's on me in Rome!


  1. I got the same reaction when asked if I was married and I replied no. They can't understand why you would possibly want to be single. And they nearly always ask! I found it easier in the end to tell people I was married!

  2. Yes, they seem to view marriage like a type of business which brings in lots of revenue: the wife's mother's pesto recipe, an extra apartment to rent out etc. And then there's life out of the office...

  3. Ha Ha! I laughed out loud at this. It reminds me of when I ordered a vegetarian sandwich in Granada (Spain), and when it came with chicken they said "but miss, that is not meat, that is chicken!" Uh?!