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So it’s been three weeks now since I left home. Remarkably, I’ve managed to catch every flight, train and bus on time. As I’m sure you know, I’ve been on the road in Italy. I started off in Rome, and tried some of the local foods in an inner city neighbourhood called Trastevere. Here I was introduced to a Roman snack called Suppli; deep fried rice balls soaked in egg and coated in breadcrumbs, with rice, tomato and melted mozzarella at the base. Simple, yet surprisingly tasty and addictive.
After indulging in some more local snacks, I was shown a restaurant with a peculiar wine cellar. Spirito DiVino in the heart of Rome is home to a 2000-year-old wine cellar, formerly a synagogue for the once-thriving Jewish population of Trastevere. Myself and a few others were fortunate enough to have dined in the cellar three floors below. It was an eerie yet sentimental feeling standing and eating where the people of Ancient Rome once lived and went about their daily rituals. The cellar was now used to house aged local red wines which we were generously offered with our mains; Gaio Mazzios Pork. This was a dish created by a renowned chef of the past, who was better known to be one of the main caterers of the great Julius Caesar. The very dish we were served was apparently one of his signature recipes which trickled down in to modern day society through careful hands. It was one thing dining in a cellar that dates back to BC, and it’s another to be eating a local specialty that has been passed down through generations! Unreal.
Throughout the night, I was briefed on the Roman banquet. It was similar to the order we’re used to in modern-day society, however they usually have two desserts and a cheese platter (often buffalo mozzarella or Burrata) to end. Pizza and pasta were plentiful, though admittedly I was surprised to find a lot of the pasta dishes lacked meat, which is something I’m used to when eating Italian cuisine. To my surprise, a lot of traditional Italian dishes have been altered from their original ingredients, chicken for example is hardly found in pasta dishes; they mainly eat pork and mince and even then, the portions aren’t huge. Below are home-made cookies, baked in a five-metre long oven with a conveyor belt, and Porchetta served on bread; glazed with salt, coarsely ground black pepper aged herbs and garlic.
Finally, what would Roman cuisine be without some cheese, pizza or gelato? I tried an authentic Roman specialty which included Burrata; a fresh creamy cheese made from mozzarella and cream, easily my favourite of the night. This was served with slices of rockmelon and strips of prosciutto. It sounds strangely off putting, but like popcorn and ice-cream, it works. The sweetness of the Burrata blended so well with the brackish taste of the prosciutto, and the melon completed the dish.
Five meals later and it was time to try my first Italian pizza. Marinara pizza consisted only of tomato, oregano, garlic and olive oil. No meat, no cheese and no pineapple. At first glance I wasn’t impressed, I’ve always known pizza to either have meat or cheese. It seemed the flavoursome, hearty ingredients were missing. However, I was yet again thoroughly impressed with the flavours, simplicity and lightness of the pizza. It was like eating a tonne of pizza without the heaviness and regrets that come with it. Amazing.
Gelato was last of course. I was taught how to pick out genuine, authentic ingredients when in Rome, or the rest of the world for that matter. Look for banana flavour and identify if the hue leans more towards a bright yellow colour or a softer cream shade. If it’s the latter, the ingredients are real and not made of powder, if it fits the description of the former, you’re supposedly eating powder and artificial ingredients. I have to say the gelato was super tasty. As someone who has tried different cuisines abroad, I’d rate Italian in my top 5. Being able to enjoy so many meatless dishes consisting of many different flavours is on point. Also, having a variety of aged cheese around every corner is always a good thing.
Lastly, the highlight of the meals I tried had to be the setting. The atmosphere in some of the rooms was otherworldly, hearing the history and what took place in the very four walls I was sitting within throughout Rome was an experience and a half. Hopefully the history and culture is well preserved for many generations to come, and also so many more can experience that speechless moment when you realise just how amazing it is to be alive at this point in time, thousands of years after our ancestors!
– Ben Mikha
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