Undeniably a major-league cultural and historic powerhouse, dining out in Rome can be both a gastronomic joy and an entertaining experience. Culinary traditions run deep in Rome and the city has been known since ancient times for its grand feasts and banquets. During our visit, we were on a mission to find the best Roman cuisine and had a blast eating our way through the must-try foods in Rome. Here’s our scoop on what to eat in Rome: traditional Rome food from cheap eats to hearty pasta dishes, and sweet treats!
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Table of Contents
What is Roman Cuisine?
Hearty, unflinching, and proud, Roman cuisine (La Cucina Romana) originates from the various geographic and cultural influences on the city stretching back over 2,000 years. A lot of Roman cuisine includes meat, vegetables, and pasta, while also incorporating a lot of fried foods, as well.
A significant chunk of traditional Roman cuisine eaten today originated in the Testaccio neighborhood, which was once a thriving hub for the butcher trade in this part of the country. This had led to an emphasis on meat dishes.
Quite a lot of old-school Roman dishes involve offal and throw-away parts, the so-called “fifth quarter” (quinto-quarto) of the animal that was take-home pay of abattoir workers after the butchers had sold the best cuts to paying customers.
There is also a considerable Jewish influence in authentic Roman cuisine as the city was once home to many Jews.
A traditional Roman feast entails up to four courses: antipasti (starters or appetizers); primo piatto (first course); secondo piatto (main course) with contorni (vegetable or salad accompaniments) and dolce (sweets/desserts). However, don’t fret if you’re just looking to grab a quick bite – you won’t be expected to soldier through all four courses.
So, without further adieu, let’s take a look at some delectable and traditional Roman foods you should really try when visiting the “Eternal City.”
Rome Food: Pasta Dishes
Being a mainstay of the Roman meal, pasta easily makes its way on our list of what to eat in Rome. While most Italian cities have one or two kinds of pasta that are famous outside of Italy, Rome has at least four.
Rome’s staple pasta dishes are simple yet packed with flavor and are sure to satisfy any foodie. Here are the best pasta dishes in Roman cuisine.
1. Spaghetti Carbonara
The classic spaghetti carbonara is quite possibly the most famous export of Roman cuisine. Using the simplest of ingredients in the most ingenious manner, the Romans sure know how to put on a show with their signature pasta dish.
Traditional carbonara is made with fresh eggs, guanciale (cured pork cheek — like really fatty, delicious bacon), pecorino romano cheese, and black pepper. The raw eggs are the vital component of the dish and when mixed with the starchy pasta water they create a glorious silky, creamy sauce that coats and complements the pasta. The dish is never made with the addition of cream in Italy.
Guanciale is cured, salty, and has a high fat-to-meat ratio, so when it cooks, the fat renders and creates a crispy meat. The cured pork and the sharp pecorino romano cheese are salty enough, so there is no reason for additional salt.
Despite its immense popularity, carbonara is actually quite a new dish on the Rome food scene! No record of it exists from before the Second World War.
Popular legend dictates that the recipe was born out of US army rations after World War II when American GIs were craving bacon and eggs, but no one seems to have proven or discarded the theory
Whatever the origins of carbonara, there’s no denying that it is an iconic part of Rome’s cuisine. Once you’ve tasted carbonara in Rome, you’ll forget all the others you’ve ever had! No wonder it remains Jacky’s favorite Roman food.
2. Bucatini all’Amatriciana
Originally invented in the small town of Amatrice in the province of Lazio, Bucatini all’Amatriciana is one of the most famous pasta dishes you can feast on in Rome.
Amatriciana is a rich sauce made with fresh tomatoes, guanciale, a bit of pecorino romano cheese, olive oil, and dry white wine. Onion, fresh or dried chili pepper, and pepper are thrown in as well.
The tasty sauce takes its pungency from black pepper and dried chiles and its depth of flavor from guanciale. Amatriciana is traditionally eaten with bucatini — long, tubular pasta that is thicker than spaghetti and has a hole in the center. It can however be eaten with rigatoni or spaghetti.
In the 2010 hit film Eat Pray Love, Julia Roberts’s character Liz gorges on a plate of spaghetti all’amatriciana while sitting on the terrace of a typical Roman osteria.
If you’re a pasta lover, do not miss out on bucatini all’amatriciana as this dish is definitely a must-have. It can be rather messy to eat so be careful not to get any of the sauce over your clothes as it’s tough to get out.
3. Cacio e Pepe
The irresistible Cacio e Pepe is what Rome food is all about and remains my absolute favorite Roman dish. Like many Roman pasta dishes, it’s an incredibly straightforward pasta dish.
Cacio e Pepe means cheese and pepper and that’s exactly what this dish is: pasta served with grated Pecorino Romano cheese (cacio) and black pepper. Seemingly easy to make, cacio e pepe is a dish that is notoriously difficult to prepare as the cheese can turn rubbery or clumpy if the ingredients aren’t mixed in the proper proportions.
Similar to many other pasta dishes, the sauce is what makes cacio e pepe utterly irresistible. Unlike parmesan, which is made from cow’s milk and has a milder, nuttier flavor, pecorino romano cheese is made from sheep’s milk and has a sharp, salty, and bold taste.
The freshly ground black pepper helps to cut through the fattiness and adds a kick to the dish. Cacio e pepe is traditionally made with tonnarelli (a variety of egg pasta that is long, square, and approximately twice as thick as spaghetti), although spaghetti is sometimes used.
Feasting on cacio e pepe is definitely one of the top things to do in Rome. You’ll be dreaming of it long after you’ve left the Eternal City.
The late famous chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain was so enamored with cacio e pepe that on an episode of his hit show No Reservations he declared the dish “could be the greatest thing in the history of the world.”
4. Pasta alla Gricia
Rounding up the four most famous Roman pasta dishes is pasta alla gricia. Though it’s an iconic food in Rome, it is surprisingly lesser-known compared to carbonara, amatriciana, and cacio e pepe.
Pasta alla Gricia consists of pasta (typically bucatini, tonnarelli, or bucatini), Pecorino Romano cheese, black pepper and guanciale. It is basically carbonara without the eggs but no less creamy than its more famous sibling.
It is rumored that pasta alla gricia was invented by the shepherds of Lazio, who, with the few ingredients available to them, came up with this simple but equally delectable and substantial dish.
Pasta alla Gricia certainly doesn’t suffer from its use of minimal ingredients. The heady richness of guanciale shines through, contrasting beautifully with the tanginess of Pecorino Romano and fierce black pepper.
5. Rigatoni con la Pajata
A symbolic dish of Roman cuisine, rigatoni con la pajata is a perfect example of just how far do the Romans go with their use of the so-called “fifth quarter” (quinto-quarto) of the animal.
This dish is made from the upper intestine (pajata) of an unweaned calf or lamb that still contains partially digested mother’s milk allowing the mother’s milk to curdle and cook inside the casing. Though a dish containing not-yet-weaned baby animal innards sounds quite revolting, it’s actually quite appetizing.
Usually, the intestines are chopped, coated with a creamy tomato sauce, and served over rigatoni. It is topped with a generous sprinkling of grated pecorino cheese.
You should definitely try rigatoni con la pajata if you see it on a restaurant menu as you won’t really come across it anywhere else in Italy.
Rome Food: Meat Dishes
Meat dishes in Rome commonly include beef, lamb, and pork. Offal is also featured heavily in traditional Roman cuisine. The following are the best traditional meat dishes in Roman food.
1. Saltimbocca alla Romana
If you adore meat, Saltimbocca alla Romana is an absolute must-try food in Rome. This savory dish consists of veal medallions dressed in prosciutto and sage then sautéed in butter and white wine.
Loosely translated as “jump in the mouth”, saltimbocca is a satisfying and simple dish whose name does it justice. The blend of the buttery sauce, the salty prosciutto, and thin, tender veal scallops elevate the mouthwatering flavor of the dish.
2. Coda alla Vaccinara
Coda alla Vaccinara is a stew made with slow-braised ox-tail with vegetables, tomatoes, red wine, and spices. Like pajata, it is a staple in the Roman tradition of eating offal, known as the “fifth quarter” (quinto-quarto).
There is no doubt, however, that coda alla vaccinara is one of the most delightful offerings of traditional food in Rome. When cooked to perfection, the unctuous, fatty, meaty hulks of protein are so tender that they will be falling off the bone and literally melt in your mouth.
The dense, garlicky, peppery, tomato sauce is full of flavor and is perfect to scoop up with bread.
3. Trippa alla Romana
A cornerstone of Roman cuisine, trippa alla romana is the most beloved of all the offal foods in Rome. This classic Roman dish is made by simmering tripe (the honey-combed upper stomach of a grazing cow) in a tomato sauce along with finely chopped fresh herbs.
As long as you can get past the slightly off-putting texture, you’ll love trippa alla romana. The flavors of the slowly cooked tomatoes, onions, grated cheese (Pecorino Romano or Parmesan), carrots, cloves, and mint blend together and lend their taste to the strips of tender tripe. It is a food rich in protein but low in fat.
Though I was a tad skeptical about trying trippa alla romana, I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed this dish. Buried under the mass of sweet tomato sauce and the snowy pile of grated parmesan cheese, the soft and tender tripe was hideously moreish.
4. Abbacchio Scottadito
Among Rome food, lamb is also very popular. Abbacchio, or milk-fed lamb, has been a springtime delicacy in Rome since ancient times.
Abbacchio Scottadito consists of grilled baby lamb chops drizzled with a blend of olive oil, mustard, lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic, and herbs such as marjoram, mint, and thyme. The result is supremely tender, very aromatic, and succulent meat with a strong, and salty punch.
Rome Food: Vegetarian Dishes
Vegetarians will find plenty of options in Rome: many pasta dishes and pizzas, of course, are made entirely without meat. The following are the best traditional vegetarian dishes in Roman food.
1. Carciofi alla Giudia (Jewish-style Artichokes)
Artichoke is Rome’s most iconic vegetable and the Romans are the undisputed masters of the artichoke. At restaurants throughout Rome, you will be able to try it prepared in an assortment of styles.
One of the two most popular styles is carciofi alla giudia (Jewish-style artichokes). Tracing its origins to the Jewish diaspora in Rome, this legendary Rome food is a giant artichoke that is flattened, deep-fried twice in olive oil, and seasoned with salt and pepper.
Resembling a beautiful bronzed open flower in the middle of spring, carciofi alla giudia is not only aesthetically pleasing but quite delicious. It is crisp on the outside, meltingly tender in the middle. Due to the lack of thistles, these artichokes are consumed whole.
2. Carciofi alla Romana (Roman-style Artichokes)
Rome’s other popular variety of artichoke is the equally iconic carciofi alla romana (Roman-style artichokes). It is served in restaurants year-round but is traditionally a spring dish because the Romanesco artichoke variety is harvested between February and April.
Carciofi alla romana are laced with parsley, garlic, mint, and are slow-braised in a mixture of olive oil and water, until soft all the way through. In contrast to carciofi alla giudia, Roman-style artichokes are served closed up.
I prefer the Roman-style artichokes over the Jewish style. They are delightfully tender and utterly delicious, even those who don’t usually like artichokes should try this delectable appetizer.
3. Gnocchi alla Romana
Gnocchi alla Romana is one of the best comfort foods you’ll come across in Rome. Not to be confused with classic gnocchi, which is actually a bite-sized dumpling made out of potatoes, the main ingredient of Roman gnocchi is flat discs of semolina flour.
The fluffy semolina rounds are layered in a buttered baking dish, bathed with melted butter and lots of grated Parmesan cheese, and baked until golden and crispy.
Though Gnocchi alla Romana is an extremely popular dish in Rome, it’s not such a common fixture on restaurant menus in the city. So, if you see it on the menu, go for it!
Bruschetta is the ever-so-simple antipasti we all know and adore. The word “bruschetta” is derived from the word bruscare, which means “to roast over coals” in the Roman dialect.
In its simplest form, the classic starter consists of a slice of grilled bread rubbed with fresh garlic and rubbed with extra virgin olive oil. Easily altered, the versatile bruschetta comes in countless varieties from classic tomato and basil to rocket pesto, mozzarella, prosciutto, and various types of salami.
Rome Food: Street Food
As in any other Italian metropolis, street food in Rome is top-notch and extremely popular with the locals. The following are the best traditional street foods in Roman cuisine.
Widely regarded as one of Rome’s best street foods, suppli are breaded, deep-fried croquettes traditionally stuffed with mozzarella, marinara, and risotto-like rice. In Rome, they are popularly known as “supplì al telefono”, because when pulled apart the stringy mozzarella resembles a telephone cord.
With a crunchy exterior that quickly gives way to the gooey interior, the fried morsels are best savored as appetizers.
2. Pizza al Taglio
Though Naples has the best pizza in Italy, Rome comes a distant second. Roman-style pizza (pizza alla Romana) is markedly different from its more famous Neapolitan ancestor making them almost completely different dishes.
Whereas Neapolitan pizza is soft, slightly thick, wonderfully chewy, and has a raised rim, Roman-style pizza is cracker-thin and crispy with light toppings and minimal cheese. Pizza al taglio (by the slice), which is more popular in Rome than regular pizza, is baked in rectangular trays and sold sliced into squares or rectangles.
Though there are always plenty of toppings to choose from, the two most popular local varieties of pizza al taglio in Rome are pizza rossa – topped with nothing else but red sauce and nothing else and pizza bianca, which has no sauce and is instead seasoned with olive oil, salt, rosemary, and garlic.
Don’t forget to grab a bite of pizza al taglio in Rome as it is the perfect fuel as you explore the Eternal City!
If you’re searching for a perfect quick lunch, or snack for the road while roaming the streets of Rome, look no further than popular street food trapizzino. Invented by local pizza maker Stefano Callegari in 2009, this portable pizza-sandwich hybrid has rapidly become a fast-food icon in Rome.
A trapizzino is essentially a triangular-shaped pocket made of fluffy white pizza and filled with a filling, usually meat or vegetable. Unique and tasty, it comes in lip-smackingly delicious flavors such as eggplant parmesan with thick parmesan shavings, spicy chicken (pollo alla cacciatora), and meatball with sauce (polpetta al sugo).
A true piece of heaven for meat aficionados, porchetta is common street food in Rome that originally hails from the Roman countryside. It is a full, deboned pig, which has been seasoned with an abundance of herbs, wrapped in its rind, and cooked over a wood fire for several hours
The result is an aromatic, juicy, tender roast meat pale pink in color, and a buttery layer of fat nestled under a crunchy crackly skin the color of burnt sienna.
The best way to eat porchetta in Rome is as a sandwich with no other ingredients than bread and meat: the popular panino con la porchetta. You can find it in markets and delis around the city.
Rome Food: Pastries & Sweets
While Rome is not as pastry crazy as Naples or Palermo, there are some traditional Roman pastries and sweets worth seeking out.
Originally only consumed during Lent, maritozzi are now a much-loved staple in Rome’s pastry shops. They are sweet, oblong-shaped yeasted buns that are sliced in half, and then filled with an obscene amount of whipped cream.
Normally consumed for breakfast with coffee on the side, maritozzi are the perfect way to start your day in Rome. The name “maritozzo” means almost-husband and refers to the grooms-to-be who traditionally presented these sweet buns to their fiancées.
2. Crostata Ricotta e Visciole
The crostata ricotta e visciole (ricotta and sour-cherry tart) is another example of food in Rome with Jewish heritage. Originating as a Hanukkah dessert, it is Rome’s version of the cheesecake, only better.
The sour cherries and ricotta complement each other perfectly and make a tasty tart that will give your gastric juices a run for their money. Yum!
Ok, I know gelato isn’t indigenous to Rome but how can I make a list of what to eat in Rome if gelato is not on it? Roman gelato is top-notch and there are some fantastic artisanal gelaterias all over the city!
If you’re wondering where to find the best gelato in Rome be sure to check out our article on the 11 best gelato shops in Rome.
Rome Food & Wine Tours
When in Rome, do as the Romans do! Trust me, in order to dine like a local in Rome and get an authentic Roman culinary experience, you can sign up for an insightful food tour.
You can even sign up for a cooking class and learn to make Roman food under the tutelage of a local chef. The following are some of the top-rated food tours in Rome:
- Rome Street Food Tour with Local Guide
- 4-Hour Rome Food Tour by Night
- Rome Pasta-Making Class
- Make Your Own Pizza Cooking Class & Dinner
- Jewish Ghetto & Campo de Fiori by Night Food Tour
- Roman Countryside Vineyards and Wine Tasting
Where To Eat in Rome?
With hundreds of eateries in Rome competing for your attention, it may seem like a daunting task to find authentic Roman food. There are numerous good restaurants in the various districts of Rome, and it’s still surprisingly easy to find places that are not tourist traps.
Having said that there are still a few guidelines to keep in mind when dining out in Rome:
1. Don’t eat at any restaurant where the menu is translated into five languages or, worse yet, where the menu is simply photographs of spaghetti drowning in red sauce.
2. Avoid places with cajoling waiters standing outside. If their restaurant is so great, why do they need to hustle you off the street?
3. Try to avoid establishments that are located on the main piazzas or ones that are adjacent to some major monuments, such as the Pantheon, or the Vatican. The food in these places can be bland, and the prices truly outlandish.
4. The bill usually includes service (servizio) of between 10 and 15 percent, but just ask if you’re not sure. Tipping is not obligatory, but it’s always appreciated. It’s customary to leave a small tip (from a euro to 10% of the bill) for the waiter, depending on the quality of service.
5. Most Roman restaurants keep pretty rigid opening hours, generally from 12:00-15:00 and from 19:00-23:00 although some stay open during the afternoon. Getting a table at peak lunch hours (13:30-14:30) and peak dinner hours (19:30-21:00) often requires a reservation.
Without going into great detail these are some of the best restaurants, trattorie, and pasticcerie in Rome:
1. Da Enzo al 29
3. Armando al Pantheon
4. Ristorante Pinseria Da Massi
5. Da Romolo
6. Da Roberto e Loretta
7. Da Gino al Parlamento
8. Felice a Testaccio
10. Antico Forno Roscioli
11. Pasticceria Regoli
12. Pasticceria Boccione
13. Er Buchetto
Further Reading For Your Rome Visit
That summarizes our definitive guide to Rome Food: What to eat in Rome. We reckon you’ll also find the following resources useful for planning your trip to Rome!
Further Reading For Your Rome Visit
→ Find Out How to Spend One Perfect Day in Rome!
→ Read Our Comprehensive Guide to Public Transport in Rome
→ Check Out the 11 Best Gelaterias in Rome!
→ Uncover the 24 Best Rome Instagram Spots!
→ Discover How to Spend a Wonderful 48 Hours in Rome!
→ Check Out Our Ultimate Itinerary of 3 Days in Rome!
More Information About Italy
Pompeii & Herculaneum: Find out everything you need to know about visiting Pompeii & Herculaneum on your own!
Now, what do you think? What are some of your favorite traditional foods in Rome? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!