Rome Food Guide: What to eat in Rome Italy. The Roman Empire changed the world. Today, Roman food continues to have a huge influence over the world. Famous Roman dishes like Carbonara and thin crust pizza were popularised in Rome. So, what is the best food to eat in Rome in the 21st century?
In our Rome Food Guide, we feature 20+ things to eat in Rome Italy. Typical Roman pasta, pizzas, meat dishes, Rome street food, desserts, breakfast and more! Also, find out about taking a Rome food tour for yourself where you’ll discover where the locals eat in Rome.
NOTE: This Article looks at modern Roman Cuisine that you can eat today, not ancient Roman food.
What To Eat In Rome Italy (Rome Food Guide): Table Of Contents
Best Places To Eat In Rome: Restaurant Guide (Opens in New Tab)
Walking Map Of Rome Tourist Attractions (Opens In New Tab)
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Rome Food Tour (Trastevere)
No matter where we visit around the world, taking a food tour is one of our top priorities to do as soon as we arrive. It lets us get a crash course in the local cuisine, shows us the lay of the land and, if it’s a good tour, will introduce us to some places where the locals eat and dishes we likely would not have found on our own.
For a real local Rome Food Tour experience, we opted for the Trastevere Street Eats Tour with Eating Europe.
This tour happens over the river in Trastevere, away from the main tourist centre. You feel the difference straight away, even though it is only a 30 minute walk from Trevi Fountain. It’s a real local neighborhood where the Romans are getting on with daily life, shopping in the produce markets. Getting their bread, cheese, pastries and other tasty ingredients from the family run delis and bakeries.
What better way to start the day than with something sweet. Pastries are a preferred breakfast food for Romans, so heading to the “Pasticceria” (pastry shop) is an ideal start to our Rome food tour. I’ll share some of the most traditional pastries in the breakfast & desserts section below.
For our Rome Food Tour, we started with a light bite called Bigné. A choux pastry filled with zabaglione cream.
One of the best thing about having a local guide is when you turn up to small, local stores they can translate and introduce you to the staff. Rather than trying things at random, they can help you select the best things to try and give you some backstory to the produce and the locations.
With the Eating Europe Rome food tour, I loved how our guide Toni explained that market shopping in Trastevere is very much a social event. Not only is more about conversation than simply getting your shopping done but also there are some serious social dynamics going on. We wouldn’t have spotted this just walking around independently.
If stall owners that you have be-friended see you going to their competitors, there will be gossip. Stay loyal for the best deals.
And of course, we got to discover what was freshest and in season – we visited Rome in May.
Later, more opportunity to meet the locals as we made a stop for Porchetta – a deboned and rolled pork, stuffed with fennel, garlic and other herbs and spice, then slow baked. There were plenty more food stops to come but we also got some breaks from consuming and the opportunity to explore the magnificent interior of the Santa Maria church.
Want to find out what else you’ll eat on the tour? Discover some of the best Rome Street Food by taking one of the best food tours in Rome: the Trastevere Street Eats Tour with Eating Europe.
What To Eat In Rome Italy: Podcast
In this episode:
- What To eat in Rome – Pizzas, pasta and rice – it’s going to be a carb fest!
- The history of carbonara: it’s quite different from what you’d expect
- Plus, a little deep fried street snack with a built in surprise.
THE BELOW CONTENT IS A DETAILED COMPANION, NOT A TRANSCRIPT, FOR THIS PODCAST
What To Eat In Rome: Mains, Pastas & Pizzas, Snacks, Street Food (savory dishes)
It’s going to be a meat and carb fest as we explore what to eat in Rome Italy for a main course or snack.
First up, one of Rome’s smallest little street snacks. If you are just looking for a quick bite bursting with flavor, then eating Supplì is a good place to start. This is a deep fried rice ball, where the rice can be mixed with a variety of sauces. Cheese goes in the middle, for a molten gooey surprise.
Supplì was already common on the streets of Rome 100 years ago, but it has been around longer than that. It has likely been made in Rome at least since the 1700s. The original pre-supplì dish was rigaje di pollo, which are rice balls made with chicken heart, lung and liver. You could consider them a sort of leftovers inspired snack. Using up yesterday’s risotto or rice by mixing it with some sauce, or making use of the cheap pieces of meat.
The question is, are supplì related to arancini (Sicily’s famous rice balls)? If so, which came first? They are both different in terms of the types of flavors and also shapes – with some arancini actually being made in a sort of pyramid shape. But it’s interesting to note that Roman Supplì, having appeared in the 1700s may have been pre-dated quite a long way before by a pre-arancini ball in Sicily where it was common for Arabs living there in the 9th century, to roll bits of lamb inside balls of rice.
The shape of these balls were similar to that of a little orange or Arancia – and the name may have derived from that. Could these 9th century rice balls have evolved into today’s deep fried arancini and eventually been introduced Rome and then transformed into a local variant with different fillings? It’s hard to say.
There is no doubt that Supplì are their own dish today, based around classic flavours of Rome – the rice is mixed with a sauce, the classic choice is the meat ragu. More recently Suppli which emulates the flavors of Roman pastas: carbonara sauce, Cacio e pepe – and other pasta styles we’ll talk about shortly.
Whatever the origin, they have exploded in popularity today and as well as being a street food, you’ll also find them on many typical Roman restaurant menus.
Where the locals eat in Rome: Suppli Roma
Pecorino Romano Cheese
A salty and unique sheep’s cheese that was first created in the countryside around Rome and has been mentioned in historical texts from the first century AD and possibly before. It is one of Italy’s oldest cheeses and would have been eaten by Roman legionnaires during the Roman Empire. It is the most important cheese in Rome and is used in a lot of different dishes.
It should be noted that Pecorino Romano is quite different from other Italian pecorino.
Rome Food Guide: Pizzas
Not surprisingly, Romans like pizza! But not just one type. There are a few popular ways to chow down on one of Italy’s most famous foods. So what is the best pizza in Rome? Well, first you have to choose which style of pizza you prefer.
There are three types of traditional Roman pizza, or “Pizza Romana”, that are said to have originated in Rome and spread from there. These are Pizza Tonda, pizza bianca & Pizza al taglio. There is also a 4th type of Roman pizza that was created only in the 21st century.
Pizza Tonda (Round Pizza)
Pizza Tonda. This is your classic Roman style round pizza, baked in a wood oven and normally considered to be an evening dish – as sit down places often don’t start firing up the oven until 6pm. That said, tourist restaurants serve pizza all day. But if you want a local Pizza Romana experience, it should be an evening affair.
These are super thin and crispy, the edges are flat and normally start to blacken at the extremities.
These are very different to Neapolitan pizza. Pizza from Napoli is a recognized form with very strict rules and a UNESCO heritage status. Pizza of Napoli is sometimes referred to as pizza alta – high pizza – because of its puffy crust that rises high. Pizza tonda is sometimes called pizza bassa – low pizza – as it is entirely flat. Its crispy nature is increased by the addition of oil to the dough.
There is a huge variety of toppings, but look out for the ones with zucchini blossoms and sausage meat.
Where to eat in Rome: Pizzeria Ostiense
Pizza al Taglio
Unlike pizza tonda, Pizza al taglio is very much a lunchtime Rome street food experience. It’s served at the counter. Hot pizza is continuously coming out of the oven, and it’s luck of the draw as to whether the pizza you want is still on the counter when you get to the front of the line.
This type of pizza is rectangular in shape with a thicker base than pizza tonda – and different types of the pizza have varying thickness, often depending on the types of toppings.
Unlike pizza by the slice in most countries, it’s not a pre sliced, buy a single slice deal. They will actually cut off the amount of pizza you request, and they weigh each slice and charge by the kilo. This means you can buy a whole bunch of small slices to try them all!
Where to eat in Rome: Antico Forno Roscioli.
Pizza Bianca is white pizza. This name can refer to a plain bread pizza, just topped with salt, maybe olive oil, which can be used to make sandwiches, where the pizza is folded over and filled with something like porchetta or ham, or the bread may just be eaten plain. Pizza bianca can also refer to a pizza that has no tomato sauce and is white with cheese. These are both easy to find street foods.
You might want to compare the plain pizza bianca to focaccia… It is not focaccia.
Trapizzino – Pizza Pockets
Finally in our Rome Food Guide to Pizza… the 4th Roman pizza. Invented in 2009.
This is like a pizza pocket stuffed with saucy ingredients – I loved it with gooey Burrata and anchovies, salt and creaminess! But you can also have it filled with beef stews, or meatballs in sauce and many other selections of the day.
The inventor, Stefano Callegari, noticed that Romans already stuff focaccia or pizza bianca with meats or cheese, but how could you marry this classic street food with Rome’s favorite saucy dishes without making a huge mess. He realised the corners of pizza could be cut open to make a triangular pocket with a firm crust at the bottom to stop sauce flowing.
And so, the Trapizzino was born. And it’s been a worldwide hit, with restaurants opening over Italy, to the USA and beyond.
Where to eat in Rome: Trapizzino Trilussa – one of the best places to eat in Trastevere.
Tours in Rome:
What To Eat In Rome Italy: Pasta
Rome is filled with a world of pasta – but the below options are the 4 most typical Roman pasta dishes.
One of the most famous pasta dishes in the world. The exact ingredients used can vary but for a real Roman Carbonara, expect: Pasta (Mainly spaghetti or rigatoni) combined with Guanciale (cured pork cheek), Pecorino Romano, egg and black pepper. NO cream. NO peas. Ever. Get the real thing, a must eat in Rome.
Carbonara has become a world classic, but could the Romans only have been making this dish since the 1940’s? And who exactly invented it? There are a lot of stories surrounding the history of Carbonara. Listen to the Podcast above for the full story.
Cacio e Pepe – A Must Eat In Rome
The simplest of the famous Roman pasta is Cacio e Pepe, with Pecorino Romano and black pepper only – cacio means cheese and refers to the pecorino romano and pepe to the black pepper. Those ingredients, along with pasta and some starchy pasta water make up the whole dish. Spaghetti is the most common option to make this dish, though rigatoni is popular too.
The origins are uncertain, but with the history of past dating back to ancient Rome and the Roman empire, they would have had sheep cheese and imported black pepper. So it could be a very old dish.
Pasta alla Gricia
After cacio e pepe likely came pasta alla gricia.
Pasta dish made with Guanciale and pecorino only – though some say black pepper and/or olive oil should be added.
This simple old recipe has no exact invention date either. But there are two theories on which group of people invented it. One theory suggests the connection to the people from Grison, a part of Switzerland neighbouring North Italy. They migrated south to Rome and were nicknamed the Grici by people in Rome. Did they add pork to the already existing cacio e pepe?
The other theory which seems more likely to me, and we’ll see why below, is that shepherds around the village of Grisciano, about 100km / 60 miles Northeast of Rome, used their sheep cheese to make this simple dish – as they would have had little access to other ingredients.
The story moves on through another popular food to try in Rome… Amatriciana
Amatriciana is a pasta made with Guanciale, Pecorino Romano and tomato – though some recipes seem to add black pepper, and or chili, onion and white wine.
The classic Roman way to have this dish is as Bucatini Amatriciana. A very popular food in Rome.
Bucatini is a thicker spaghetti like pasta which is hollow in the middle. So it’s a tube.
But, this dish did not originate in Rome, even if it has become very much adopted.
The original version of the dish comes from the small town of Amatrice in the Apennine Mountains. There, spaghetti is the most common pasta used to make the dish, though some sources claim macaroni may have been the original pasta used.
The origin of the dish is believed to be a variation on the simpler predecessor dish “Gricia” – that we discussed above. Once tomatoes had found their way into Italian cuisine in the 17th & 18th century, it was only a matter of time before cooks experimented with adding it to popular pasta dishes.
Gricia + tomato sauce = Amatriciana.
It turns out that the town of Amatrice is less than 5 miles from Grisciano. This area is within the designated origin area for Pecorino Romano sheep cheese. It just seems to make more sense that everything adds up as the origin of these pasta styles being from there, and not from immigrants from Switzerland.
Unlike Pasta alla Gricia, the Amatriciana could not have been created prior to the 17th century, due to the need for tomatoes. The first recipe appeared in the L’Apicio Moderno cookbook, first published in 1790 by chef Francesco Leonardi.
Rome Food Guide: Meats, Veg & Sandwiches
Enough carbs yet? Next on our thing to eat in Rome Food Guide list: Meat… and a few more carbs too.
Porchetta – a deboned and rolled pork, stuffed with fennel, garlic and other herbs and spice, then slow baked. Perfect in a sandwich as a popular Rome Street Food. Although porchetta is popular across Italy, it’s said that ist was first invented in Ariccia, in the province of Rome – about 25KM from the capital.
Alesso di Scottona
Slow simmered beef with greens (chicory) in a sandwich. Scottana specifically refers to the meat of a female bovine that has not ever given birth. This leads to some seriously tender sandwich filling.
Coda alla Vaccinara
An oxtail stew with celery and other vegetables. Cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper give this stew a spicy punch.
Saltimbocca Alla Romana
Thin veal steaks wrapped in prosciutto and pan fried with sage. The literal translation of Saltimbocca is “jumps in the mouth” – probably due to the rich and salty bang this dish provides. Popular in much of Italy and beyond, most, not all, sources claim the dish originates in Rome and has been adapted from there.
Carciofo Romanesco (Roman Artichokes)
Roman Artichokes can be found seasonally in markets and restaurants around Rome from October through until around May. Early Spring is peak season.
Carciofi alla Romana – This dish features the trimmed artichokes being stuffed with garlic, parsley and mint. Then braised upright in olive oil and white wine.
Carciofi alla Giudia – Jewish-Style Artichokes. The Artichokes are fried whole, left to cool, then re-fried at a higher heat to encourage the leave to open and then go crispy. The leaves are then eaten like potato chips.
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What To Eat In Rome Italy: Breakfast & Desserts
Looking for something sweet? Next in our Rome food guide – breakfast and desserts.
A sweet yeasted bread bun. Though they can come in many forms, the most popular is filled with whipped cream. Must be enjoyed with an espresso, of course.
Cornetti / Cornetto
Similar to a croissant, the cornetto is a Roman breakfast pastry – definitely not an ice cream. They may come plain, or filled with jam or cream custard.
The word ciambella can refer to different foods across Italy, normally ring shaped ones. In Rome, it typically is a ring shaped breakfast donut.
A filled donut that likely evolved from the filled donuts of the Austrian empire and became popular across Italy.
Rome Food Guide: Desserts
The first dairy based gelato may have been inspired by Marco Polo after returning from China with recipes which used milk, rather than just shaved ice, to make ice cream.
However Gelato was born, it has grown into an international beast, loved by almost everyone without a lactose intolerance. Gelato is always an easy dessert choice in Rome.
Looking for a more unusual dessert? Mont Blanc is made from meringue, whipped cream and pureed chestnuts. Then piped into different sizes and shapes and topped with icing sugar to resemble snow capped mountains.