Rome is a city where gladiators, philosophers and artists walked the streets over many millennia. The whole city feels like a living museum with exhibits from the times of Julius Caesar, to Renaissance artists, all the way up to Twenty-First Century high fashion. The city that was famously not built in a day is a testament to the march of history, moving forward constantly and bringing with it an ever growing collection of landmarks, traditions and of course, foods. While all of Italy is known for its excellent cuisine, there are particular dishes that must be eaten in the city of their inception: Rome.
Perhaps the most famous pasta dish in the world, Carbonara, is one that absolutely must be eaten in Rome. Prepared the traditional way with rigatoni pasta, guanciale (not bacon), eggs and parmesan, carbonara is a dish found at almost all Roman establishments. My first dalliance with Roman carbonara was at a restaurant called “Paris in Trastevere” located in Rome’s Trastevere neighbourhood, an area known for its abundance of bars, trattorias and artsy ambience.
Also in the pasta family is Cacio e Pepe. This is a relatively simple pasta dish, the stars of which are black pepper and cheese. I enjoyed a wonderful cacio e pepe at Dal Bolognese restaurant in the heart of Rome and would recommend this restaurant to anyone looking for a comforting meal in stylish surroundings.
Another relatively unknown dish native to Rome and one of my personal favourite Italian dishes is stuffed zucchini blossoms, also called zucchini fritters. This is a favourite snack food in Rome and is made with the blooming flower of the courgette (zucchini) plant. The flower is stuffed with seasoned cheese, most often ricotta, and is then deep fried. While it is true that more often than not, anything deep fried is delicious, this dish is so sinfully savoury, crispy and gooey at the same time and so widely available that I would argue it is one of the best deep fried foods out there.
For those looking for a meal truly unlike anything you have had before, especially if you are celebrating a special occasion, I would point you to my favourite restaurant in Rome. Mirabelle restaurant located in the Hotel Splendide Royal is a Michelin starred spot with the most magnificent panoramic views of Rome and The Vatican. It is advisable to book a few days in advance and request a table in the front row of the balcony as this will allow you the best views. A sunset dinner here has been the highlight of my trips to Rome. The whole menu here is carefully curated and though I am sure every dish on there is heavenly, my tried and true favourites are the Rocher artichoke starter (named for the many layered Ferrero Rocher chocolate), and the duck with orange sauce and apple.
Of course no visit to Rome would be complete without gelato, and upon recommendation from locals the following three gelaterias definitely did not disappoint: Come il Late, La Romana and I Caruzo.
Florence is an art lover’s paradise, from the Uffizi to the Boboli Gardens every corner of this city houses something to be admired. The food is no different.
It is sometimes difficult for a tourist to fully experience the food culture in a place when you are only there for a few days. I would therefore recommend a visit to Florence’s Mercato Centrale (food market) where the food is of a high quality and is some of the most affordable I came across in Italy and where you will experience a crash course in Tuscan food. Here you can shop for locally sourced foods (an excellent place to buy gifts for the foodies in your life), drink to your heart’s content or eat freshly prepared hot and cold meals.
For a Michelin approved fine dining experience head to The Winter Garden at the St Regis Hotel where you can sample the very best of Tuscan food in a setting as beautiful as the region it represents. The food here is second to none, but if dressing up and sitting down for a three hour meal is not quite your speed, the Winter Garden is still worth a visit for their afternoon tea or a drink at the bar just to take in the unique interiors.
A more casual and lowkey option in Florence is a restaurant called 4 Leoni. I was told that I absolutely must go there and try the pear and asparagus ravioli. I know what you’re thinking, “why would I want to eat pasta with fruit in it?” But trust me, along with prosciutto (Italian ham) and melon, this is a salty-sweet treat that we Nepalis who love to eat our sweet sel roti with spicy-salty achar will love!
Now for those who are simply too busy to sit down for a meal but still want a mouth watering culinary experience, Florence offers some of the best panini (like an Italian sandwich). Florence is home to numerous noteworthy panini shops where you can place your order and be out the door with your freshly prepared and reasonably priced hand-held meal in minutes. The most famous of these is Osteria All’antico Vinaio which has been the subject of many a Youtube video about eating in Florence. Another option which I found to be about as tasty as a sandwich could possibly get was from Lo Schiacciavino where my friend took me and where the line was significantly shorter than at All’antico Vinaio.
Being in Venice is like finding yourself in a movie set. Everything looks like it has been specifically and artfully arranged for the pleasure of the viewer. The singing gondoliers, the snaking canals and the colourful Venetian masks all make this city incomparable to anywhere else I have ever been. While there are a wide array of fine eateries of every kind in Venice, the one I remember most is Caffè Florian. Located in Venice’s bustling Piazza San Marco, known to tourists as St. Mark’s Square, home to the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica, Caffè Florian claims to be Europe’s oldest cafe. As the eager employees of the cafe will tell you, it was established in the 1700s by Floriano Francesconi and has a history as intriguing and delicious as it’s coffee, gelato and pastries. The opulently decorated cafe is nestled under the arches of St Mark’s Square and is an artistic triumph as well as being an historical and gastronomical marvel.
Not only has the cafe been the backdrop to Hollywood films, but its premises were frequented by the likes of Casanova, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, Nietzsche, Ernest Hemingway and Claude Monet amongst many many others. As a student of political theory and a lover of literature, I could almost feel the intellectual conversation seeping out of the cafe’s history soaked furniture as I sipped on my macchiato (the preferred coffee concoction in Italy) and ate my way through as many of the decadent desserts offered as I could.
Any coffee lover, history buff and dessert connoisseur should definitely add Caffè Florian to their list when visiting Venice.
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Positano lies on the famed Amalfi Coast, just an hour’s drive from Naples. The small town is recognisable due to the colourful houses that are built on the cliff face above the town’s pebbled beach. Positano is the ideal destination for a summer getaway. With splendid views, luxurious accommodation and of course some of the best food, this is a town that anyone in search of relaxation can enjoy. As mentioned, the town is quite small and by the third or fourth day there you will begin to recognise the other inhabitants and will easily be able to navigate the winding paths and steep staircases that make up Positano. Given its seaside location, the seafood here is of course an obvious highlight; fresh fish and shellfish are found at all the eateries here. Along with the seafood, the fresh fruit and vegetables found here are also some of the most flavoursome. Specifically, the Amalfi Coast as a whole is renowned for its citrus fruit, in particular the lemons. Every shop in Positano proudly displays their fresh Amalfi lemons artfully arranged in wicker baskets in prime position amongst the other produce. These aren’t just any old lemons, they range in size from what you or I would consider the “normal” size for a lemon up to rivalling melons, often measuring between 10 and 15 inches. Also unlike our normal mouth puckering sour lemons, these Amalfi lemons are full of sweet juice. They are consumed in various ways, most of which are designed to beat the Amalfi heat. Lemon granita is a popular refreshing snack, along with the highly Instagram-able lemon sorbets which are served in hollowed out lemons. These #foodporn worthy lemon sorbets come in sizes ranging from small to large, and fair warning a small is more than big enough for two people to share! The sorbets are found in many restaurants along the beachfront in Positano, though I had them at L’alternativa which is right at the end of the main beach. For an alcoholic take on Amalfi lemons, limoncello is made throughout the region. Drunk as a digestif after a meal, limoncello is often served in shot glasses, though it is meant to be gently sipped. Along with these thirst quenching concoctions, the leaves of the Amalfi lemons are also consumed. The leaves are grilled with thick slices of mozzarella on them, making a popular appetiser.
Given its small size mostly all the restaurants in Positano serve delicious food. The few that I visited included Max Restaurant, Al Palazzo (Michelin starred), Chez Black (famous for its heart shaped pizza) and Bar Buca di Bacco. All of these establishments served incredible food and I would highly recommend them all. In terms of bars, the most famous is Franco’s bar. Get there early (they open at 5.30pm) so you can secure a table with a view and enjoy delicious cocktails while you watch what will undoubtedly be one of the best sunsets you have ever seen.
For a more unique experience, you can drive just five minutes out of the main town to Hotel le Agavi, home to the Michelin starred La Serra restaurant. I would suggest that you try the tasting menu here and settle in for a seven course culinary experience that takes almost three hours to get through. Everything from the type of bread, olive oil and even salt served with each course is meticulously planned to give the consumer the highest quality tasting experience possible. This is a perfect location for special occasions or a long romantic meal.
A hidden gem in Positano is the restaurant Da Adolfo. Accessible only by Da Adolfo’s private boat this is a casual seaside restaurant tucked away from the rest of the town. While I did not visit this restaurant myself (getting a reservation is near impossible at short notice), it came highly recommended by several travel blogs and the locals themselves love this spot too.
All in all, Italy is a bucket list destination for history and art buffs, fashionistas and foodies; we at Aviskara hope to inspire all our readers to travel and explore Italy (once it is safe to do so) and enjoy all it has to offer.
Please note that Aviskara does not encourage unnecessary travel during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. All visits to foreign countries mentioned above were made before the pandemic. While we hope that it will soon be possible for us all to travel freely, we urge you all to stay safe and cautious.