A while back (it seems a lifetime ago), Rand and I were sitting in the living room of our old home talking about our then-upcoming trip to Italy.

“Do you have a must-see list of places you want to visit?”

“Not really,” I replied honestly. “But I have a must-eat list.”

He looked at me, waited a beat, and replied with grave sincerity: “I love you so much.”

—————

Truth be told, I rarely have a plan of what to visit when I head to a city. This is amusing, because I am one who diligently plots most elements of her life (I remember meticulously charting out my 8th birthday party into 10 minute increments before my mother stepped in and stopped the lunacy). It just seems pointless – so many of the best adventures I have happen on the fly, and besides, when I do plan things out, a wrench is often thrown into the cogs and things never go as I anticipated. So I prefer to just head somewhere with a vague idea of what I want to see (i.e., Italy = old stuff; London = big clock) and that’s that.

But when it comes to what I’m going to eat? There can be no ambiguity there. I’ve staked out patisseries. I’ve tracked down cupcake carts. I traveled across Manhattan for hummus. I’ve walked across English cobblestones in uncomfortable shoes while braving freezing rain in search for a meat pie. And when I do plan to see a particular sight? I’ll have at least three or four nearby restaurant options jotted down in my purse.

The way I figure it, eternal landmarks come and go, but a really good meal? The memory of that lasts FOREVER.

And so, before we left for the eternal city, I had a list of dishes that I wanted to devour. Some distinctly Roman. Some merely Italian. All of them were must-eats. Oh, and we went to the Pantheon and the Roman Forum and saw a bunch of other nonsense like that. But whatever. Let’s talk about the food.

  1. Prosciutto. I suppose I could add just have added salumi misti, but really it was the prosciutto that I was after. It’s the stuff that I’ve devoured since childhood. Light and airy and salty and wonderful, I’ve met more than one Italian “vegetarian” who insisted that they ate no meat … except for prosciutto, which, really, was a different creature entirely (pun intended). No trip to Italy would be complete without eating a kilo of the stuff.
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    Prosciutto, with a bunch of its cured friends.

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  2. Porcini. I could write a blog post solely devoted to mushrooms (actually, I’m putting that on my to-do list, along with laundry. Guess which one will get done first?). I’ve never understood why foraging hasn’t taken off in the states like it does in Europe (and since we’re asking lots of questions, why do truffles cost so much more over here, whereas the Europeans toss them in EVERYTHING?).
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    While I'm at it, I'd better include fresh pasta on this list, too.

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    And speaking of truffles …

  3. Truffles. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: always trust a pig. Wait, no. That’s not it. Whatever. Truffles, freshly shaved over carpaccio, drizzled with bright green olive oil, at a restaurant with a name that we were forced to forget, otherwise we’d whisper it like a prayer, a la Prince of Tides. Lowenstein. Lowenstein … (only, you know … more Italian).
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  4. Trippa Romana. I remember slurping bowlfuls of this stuff down when I was a kid, asking my mother what it was. When she explained it was the lining of an animal’s stomach, I didn’t flinch. That was the world in which I was brought up. I later learned this dish was distinctly Roman, and incredibly hard to find on menus outside of that eternal city. So when I’m there, I make sure to order this rubbery, salty, thoroughly comforting dish.
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  5. Burrata. Somewhere between mozzarella and cream exists these cheese. Ephemeral and impermanent, neither solid nor liquid, it lasts for only a day or so before being past its prime. And once it is placed in front of you, it lasts even less time.
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    A great man of restraint, he waits until I take a photo before tucking in. Bless him.

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  6. Carbonara. My favorite as a kid, this pasta emerged after the second world war, the result of American troops trading their rations of eggs and bacon with locals (I love the idea of Roman women chatting up soldiers with a bowl of this pasta, daring them not to fall in love). In Rome, you’ll find its truest and best form – eggs, guanciale, olive oil, pecorino, tossed over fresh pasta.
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    Adding to my fondness, it's also one of the first dishes I ever learned to cook.

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  7. Pizza. ‘Nuff said.
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    Eat your heart out, Domino's.

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  8. Italian wine. I’m by no means a wine connoisseur. I’m not even that big a fan of it (I rarely drink, period). But when in Rome, right? I mean, how could I not have a glass?
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    Veni, vidi, vini.

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  9. Affogato. The word means, quite literally, “drowned” in Italian. As in, “our gelato was drowned in coffee.” There is no nobler an end (I mean, for gelato at least).
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    This is a good death.

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  10. Tiramisu. So pronounced is my love for this espresso-soaked dessert, that my first boyfriend actually called me by its name, which means, literally, “pick me up”. Were I not so damn proficient in Italian, I’d swear it actually meant, “Bring me five more of these.”
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    Oh, and it's not too shabby when ordered alongside a Gorgonzola semi-freddo.

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So that’s it: my top ten must-eat list for Italy. While we may have missed seeing all the sights of the eternal city, I’m pleased to say I was able to check all of these off. Which, really, is a far more rewarding achievement. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I happen to be starving.

Full list of categories:  Somewhat Useful Info » Top Ten
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Comments (13)

  1. 03. May, 2011 / Deanna:

    I WANT ALL OF THIS. Even the tripe. ESPECIALLY the tripe. Also, Rand has the restraint and willpower of a saint.

  2. 03. May, 2011 / John Doherty:

    Oh man, all of this looks incredible. I love food in Italy. There’s really no way to go wrong, IMHO.

    When at that pizza place I recommended to you via Twitter, I got a prosciutto and arigula (arugula? sp?) pizza which was PHENOMENAL. We got it again the other night and it was so good that we’re doing it again tonight. If you’re ever in Philly, check out Mamma Mia Pizzeria on 15th St and Spruce. You won’t be disappointed.

  3. 03. May, 2011 / Thomas:

    Ditto what Deanna said. While I have had all but one of the items on your list, my real challenge will be Spain and their tapas.

  4. 03. May, 2011 / Philip:

    Whenever we go visit my darling wife’s darling family, her to-do list includes one simple phrase:

    “Eat my way through Tokyo.”

    And we do. And we will again when we go in three weeks. I’ll take pictures.

    • 03. May, 2011 / Everywhereist:

      GUEST POST, DAMN IT.

      • 04. May, 2011 / Philip:

        I promise. I totally failed last time and it keeps me up nights.

  5. 03. May, 2011 / Gianluca:

    Just one thing… here it is 11.45 pm and I’m hungry again…
    The Burrata… lovely delicious. And the wine offer of Cul de Sac (where the photo had been shot, right?) is incredible.

  6. 03. May, 2011 / Kristina:

    It sounds like we are two peas in a pod. Whenever I travel it’s the food research which is done first. Anything else is secondary. I’m a little, ok a lot, OCD about it and create my own little guidebooks of food, restaurant and market information I’ve culled online, broken down by neighborhood.

    I’ve spent two separate weeks in Rome in the last couple years and the food just blows my mind. If you like tripe, you have to try a dish called “rigatoni al pajata” next time. It’s the intestines of a baby calf or lamb who has suckled before slaughter. The milk inside the intestines is cooked with it, making a sort of cheese like filling. This is typically served with rigatoni in a red sauce. You can see more about it here (near the bottom of the page): http://www.wired2theworld.com/ROME2008Day7.html

    I just got back from a week in Japan and the food there was amazing. We ate a different style of Japanese food every day and never tired of it.

    This fall, I’m hoping to make it back to Italy, to Naples and points south, in search of the birthplace of burrata and buffalo mozzarella.

    • 04. May, 2011 / Everywhereist:

      Beautiful write-up about the pajata – and for the first time, I almost got a tiny bit squeamish, which says a lot about your bravery. I wish I had found your blog prior to my Italy trip. Bookmarking it for next time. :)

  7. 04. May, 2011 / Mike:

    My favorite post yet. I mean it.

  8. 04. May, 2011 / JoAnna:

    Serious swoon! Everything in those pictures looks delish! I can’t wait to go to Italy and eat, eat, eat!!!

  9. 13. Nov, 2011 / Tiffany:

    I just stumbled upon your site for the first time, and can’t wait to try out all the dishes you’ve recommended when i return to Roma for the second time this coming January!! Do you have recommendations for specific restaurants to go to for those dishes, or anything else distinctively Roman? (i did read the post of Trippa Romana)

    Thanks!!!

    • 14. Nov, 2011 / Everywhereist:

      Trippa Romana is great, as is carbonara, and though it is a really simple dish, I love cacio e pepe pasta. The three restaurants I’d recommend are the Peroni Birreria (yes, the brewery – shockingly, it is non-touristy and the food is good. Be warned – the staff is a bunch of brusque locals, so you need to know how to order quickly, and hold your own), Roscioli – a great wine bar with FANTASTIC PASTA and salumi, and Osteria Margutta (the last one is a little pricey restaurant but the food is very traditional and yummy). We also went to Dar Poeta pizzeria – which was good, but a little over-rated and crowded.

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