How to Eat Like a Roman at Christmas
Our guide to eating in Rome at Christmas
The beginning of December sees Rome take on a festive shine as twinkling Christmas lights and sparkling baubles start to adorn the Eternal City’s streets, monuments, and piazzas. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th December is a public holiday and the traditional day for Italian families to dress the Christmas tree. It signals the start of the Yuletide period which concludes with Epiphany on the 6th January.
As with every major holiday in Italy, there is an extra focus on food and seasonal specialties available only during this period and they begin to appear in bakeries, pastry shops, and delis while locals meticulously plan their celebration menus. Here is the Local Aromas guide to eating like a Roman this Christmas time:
Seasonal Sweets: panettone, pandoro, pangiallo, torrone
Dried and candied fruits, nuts and spices feature heavily in Italian Christmas dolci. The most common is the hefty, dome-shaped panettone, a sweet dough studded with raisins and candied citrus fruits, and the lighter pandoro, a star-shaped sponge cake sprinkled with icing sugar, both of which originate from northern Italy.
For something specifically Roman, try the pangiallo (literally ‘yellow bread’). A recipe dating back to the Roman Empire, it is a heavy cake of mixed nuts, fruit, and honey which is covered with a saffron glaze to give it the distinctive yellow coating. And no Christmas meal would be complete without torrone, bars of nougat made with egg whites, honey and sugar, and flavored with nuts or chocolate.
La Vigilia: Christmas Eve fish-based dinner
La Vigilia, or Christmas Eve, is an important dinner in the festive Calendar. According to the Catholic religion, no meat should be consumed so a lighter, fish-based dinner is prepared. Most Roman families will kick-off with the frittura mista, pieces of fish and vegetable which are battered and deep-fried until golden. Typical fritti include zucchini, eggplant, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, potato, anchovies, calamari, shrimp and even apple and sage leaves. This is generally followed by a seafood-based pasta such a spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams), zuppa di pesce (fish stew) or whole baked fish.
Christmas Day: lasagne and seasonal sweets
There is no universally traditional dish for Italian Christmas lunch, but it will usually be a culinary celebration of meaty, fatty dishes after the abstinence of the previous evening. Common primi (first courses) include meat-filled pasta such as ravioli, cappelletti or agnolotti cooked in broth.
Hearty baked pasta dishes are also often found on tables up and down the country. The classic lasagne alla bolognese with its layers of rich meat ragù, creamy béchamel sauce and fresh pasta one of the top examples of festive extravagance. This is followed by a second course of roasted meat and vegetables with lamb and potatoes being a popular choice in Rome. All, of course, finished off with the ever-present panettone, pandoro, and torrone along with mandarins and nuts.
Find the perfect Christmas present for the food lover in your life (or treat yourself!) with our useful guide to Christmas Shopping in Rome for Foodies. Then experience a traditional Italian family-style Christmas meal with our Decembre-only Christmas Food Walking Tour in Rome.