When in Rome, do as The Romans do. Meaning it is polite, and possibly advantageous, to stand by the customs of a society when one is a visitor. But of course, if you’d rather literally do as The Romans do, whether or not in Rome, the best place to start is food.
Tasting the various flavours of the place you are visiting is one of the best ways of saying “I come in peace” and also, the best way to enjoy. All you need to know is what you are eating and all you need to do is try to find out how it is made.
Roman cuisine is the cuisine of the city of Rome, in Italy. Rome is city that is generally referred to as an empire. Though size has a major role to play in that title, it is also so called due to the widely spread culture. Roman food has grown through centuries of social, political, and cultural changes. The city became a chief gastronomic centre during the ancient times. Since Rome was, in many ways, a derivative of Greece, ancient Roman cuisine was highly influenced by Ancient Greek culture. The empire’s constant and enormous expansion exposed its people to new culinary habits and cooking techniques.
The most original and traditional Roman food can still be found in Testaccio Rione. Gladly, you needn’t go all the way.
Pasta is one major constituent of Roman food. There are various shapes of pasta, the most common being Spaghetti. There are others like Fusilli, Gemelli, Lasagna, Linguine, Macaroni, Orecchiette, Penne, Ravioli, Riccioli, Rotini, Tortellini, Tripolini, Vermicelli, Tubini, Zitti and many, many more.
However, the diversity in pastas doesn’t come from their shape alone, but also from their sauces.
Agrodolce is a traditional sweet and sour sauce. Its name comes from “agro” meaning “sour” and “dolce”, meaning “sweet”. Agrodolce is made traditionally using vinegar and sugar. Sometimes, additional flavouring is added, such as wine, fruit, or even chocolate. It is served over rigatoni or wide noodles, such as pappardelleand can also be served with salmon or lamb meat.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a large skillet over medium-high flame till it shimmers
- Sauté onions until they turn golden brown and crisp-tender. This takes 6 to 8 minutes.
- Stir in vinegar, sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt
- Cook until sauce is syrupy. This usually takes about 2 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in butter.
Arrabbiata sauce is a pasta sauce meaning “angry sauce” in Italian. It is so named because of its spicy nature.
- 1 tsp Olive Oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 3/8 cup red wine
- 1 tbsp white sugar
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 2bsps tomato paste
- 1tbsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp Italian seasoning
- ¼ tsp ground black pepper
- 4 peeled and diced tomatoes
- 2 tbsps chopped fresh parsley
- Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté onion and garlic in oil for 5 minutes.
- Stir in wine, sugar, red pepper, basil, lemon juice, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, black pepper and tomatoes. Bring mixture to boil. Simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes.
- Stir in parsley.
- Serve with the hot cooked pasta of your choice.
It is a myth to think that Roman cuisine consists of pasta alone. Sure, they eat pasta all the time, but not as a main course. In Italy, pasta is actually more of a starter (primo). It is eaten in very little quantities, followed by the main course (secondo).
In Rome, bread varies in quality depending on the flour, which depends on the grain used, the setting of the millstones and the distinction of the sieves. The very best bread is made from wheat flour and the very worst is from bran alone. Traditionally, bread loaves were cylindrical yet somewhat flat, like a coffee cake, but shape is hardly a fixed parameter now.
The types of bread include
- Libae—small rolls
- Panis Primus—cheap, coarse grain bread
- Panis Secondus—Bread one step above Panis Primus
- Panis Plebeius—Common Bread
- Panis Castrensis— Army Bread
- Panis Sordidus—Dark Bread
- Panis Rusticus— Country Bread
- Siligineus— White Bread.
Legumes like beans, green peas, chick peas, lentils, etc. were also added to bread.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
The common fruits eaten by Ancient Romans are almonds, plums, walnuts, apple, figs, pomegranates, filberts, quinces, grapes, chestnuts, pears. Fruits were generally eaten raw, dried, preserved, and cooked. They were generally dried and preserved for winter. However, this is not the case in modern Rome. Nowadays, all sorts of fruits are eaten all over the world and Rome is no exception. Vegetables were eaten in variety too—artichokes, garlic, beans, lentils, onions, parsnips, peas, pumpkins, radishes, melons, cabbages, cucumbers, lettuce etc.
Wine was a major beverage, considered as a symbol of richness and prosperity. It was always watered down. Romans never drank wine straight. It was taken in small quantities with breakfast and in moderately large quantities during the main meal—Cena. Cena was taken between lunch and supper. Supper was generally a light affair, but wine was mostly taken during Cena.
Other beverages included:
- Calda, which was a mixture of warm water and wine laced with spices. It was typically a winter drink.
- Mulsum; honeyed wine.
- Posca; Vinegar diluted with enough water to make it potable. It was a soldier’s or a slave’s drink.
MEAT AND FISH
Roman meats included Beef & Veal, pork, lamb, sausage, snails, sucking pig, hare, goat kid, venison, mutton, boar, mackerel, mullet, crab, eel, flounder, hake, lobster, rays, octopus, oysters, perch, duck, swordfish, flamingo, fig-peckers, dove, partridge, peacock, pigeon, thrushes, crane, goose, ostrich, etc.
The poor Romans could seldom afford meat. Out of the listed, pork was considered a great delicacy. Peacocks were served to impress guests at dinner parties and you were considered a happy guest if you belched loudly. It was a “polite” gesture, stating that you enjoyed your meal.
Well, after having read the scrumptious list of foods the Romans savoured, all one can say is Buon Appetito!