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Eat Like an Italian in Rome

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Dining Out in Rome: What You Need to Know

In Italy, food isn’t just sustenance; it’s a celebration of life. Italians savor the experience of dining, cherishing good food in good company. With its rich culinary heritage and incredible local produce, dining out in Rome is a must. Here’s your comprehensive guide to dining like a true Roman.

When to Eat

Mealtimes in Rome might be different from what you’re used to. Breakfast is a simple affair, usually a pastry and coffee consumed standing at a café between 7 am and 10 am. Lunch typically occurs between 12:30 pm and 2:30 pm, and dinner service starts around 7:30 pm, though most Romans don’t show up until at least 9 pm.

Rome has adapted to modern dining habits with some restaurants offering all-day service, but traditional trattorias often close between lunch and dinner. If hunger strikes in between, join the locals for a merenda or spuntino (a light snack), with pizza and gelato being the perfect options.

Where to Eat

The streets of Rome are teeming with various eateries, each offering a unique experience. Understanding the different types can enhance your dining adventure.

  • Trattoria: Often family-run with a rustic charm, trattorias offer hearty, local dishes in generous portions. Service is informal, and prices are reasonable. Look for those with checkered tablecloths for an authentic feel.
  • Osteria/Hostaria: Originally unrefined places for workers to rest and eat, modern osterias have evolved into dining-centric establishments similar to trattorias. Some have embraced gourmet dining, offering sophisticated dishes and wines.
  • Ristorante: Expect a more polished experience with elegant service, quality silverware, and starched tablecloths. Ristorantes are a step above trattorias, with more sophisticated and expensive menus.
  • Pizzeria: For the best pizza experience, head to a dedicated pizzeria with a wood-fired oven (forno a legna). Be cautious of pizzas marked with an asterisk on menus, indicating they’re frozen.
  • Enoteca: Originally wine shops, enotecas now often function as wine bars or restaurants with extensive wine lists. Enjoy a glass of wine paired with a light meal.
  • Tavola Calda: Meaning ‘hot table’, these canteens offer a variety of ready-to-eat dishes sold by the portion. They are ideal for a quick, affordable lunch.
  • Bar: Not just for alcohol, Italian bars serve coffee, sandwiches, snacks, drinks, and often gelato. Prices are lower if you stand at the counter (banco) rather than sitting at a table (tavolo).

What to Order

Italian menus are structured into categories: antipasto (appetizer), primo (first course), secondo (main course), contorno (side dish), dolce (dessert), and drinks (coffee and digestif). You don’t need to order from every section. A special occasion might call for a full four-course meal, but it’s common to order one or two courses.

  • Antipasto: Start with an appetizer like bruschetta, caprese salad, or a plate of mixed cured meats.
  • Primo: Enjoy a pasta, risotto, or gnocchi dish. Classic choices include spaghetti carbonara, risotto alla Milanese, or gnocchi alla sorrentina.
  • Secondo: Opt for meat or fish. Try bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak) or branzino al forno (baked sea bass).
  • Contorno: Sides like roasted vegetables, salads, or potatoes complement the main dish.
  • Dolce: Finish with a sweet treat like tiramisu, panna cotta, or gelato.
  • Coffee and Digestivo: End your meal with an espresso and a digestif like grappa, limoncello, or amaro.

Be aware that bread and water are often charged separately, and tap water is uncommon. There might also be a cover charge (coperto) or a service charge. Check the menu for these details to avoid surprises.

How Much to Tip

Tipping in Italy is not obligatory. While you don’t need to leave a percentage of your bill, it’s a nice gesture to leave a few euros if you had a great experience. Rounding up the bill or leaving small change is appreciated, but not adding tips to credit card payments. Service charges on the bill usually don’t go to the staff. Read more here.

Local Food Guides

When in doubt, consult local food guides to ensure you’re dining at reputable establishments. Discover the hidden gems and avoid tourist traps by checking out the guides we regularly use in Rome and throughout Italy.

Dining in Rome is more than just a meal; it’s an experience. Follow these tips to eat like a local and make the most of your culinary adventure in the Eternal City!

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