Rome in March is unpredictable. From one moment to the next it can be pouring rain, sunny or grey. But no matter. Whenever you need to duck out of adverse weather you can find shelter among food: under a market stall’s awning heaving with rainwater, in a fogged up coffee shop, inside a traditional bustling Roman tavern or in the comparative calm of a contemporary restaurant.
And what’s a vegan meat eater to do in Rome? You know what they say, when in Rome… so I gleefully ate the chewy, yet crispy freshly baked bread accompanied by the deepest green most virgin of olio d’oliva, relished the Parmesan on my raw artichoke salad, and decided to pay for it later.
Rome is a city you can walk around, even in the rain, and I reasoned the more we walked, the more we could eat. Gelato three times in one day? No problem. After all we had some serious research to do with endless gelaterias claiming to be Rome’s oldest, Rome’s best, Rome’s freshest. You get the picture. For my Euro, Gelateria del Teatro was the best. It was hard to find (like most of them), but you can watch the gelato being made in the back and you see all the flavors on display. Some gelaterias take great pride in hiding all that goodness under stainless steel lids, but for me, half the pleasure in buying gelato is watching each of the flavors beg for attention behind the glass counter and seeing which one wins. In this case, we opted for two flavors: blood orange and chocolate. Sublime.
I have been to Rome twice before: once in my 20s, once in my 30s and this time, a decade later, I actually got to celebrate my birthday there. I’m a sucker for trips down memory lane. I’ve been known to say that I miss being wistful. I was keen to revisit Campo de’ Fiore and as I plotted our route on my iPhone, from the hotel just above the Spanish Steps down through the city, taking in the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and the Piazza Navona, I was flooded by memories of my first encounter with Roma. This city has my heart – it’s my favorite city in Europe.
On that first trip I was with a boyfriend and our trip to Italy was probably the first non-beach oriented holiday I’d ever had. (You have to know that Brits are obsessed with their beach getaways. We get no sun and rarely get to see the sea despite living on an island). We rented a car and drove hundreds of kilometers around the south of Italy, from Rome all the way down to the Almalfi coast. I felt so sophisticated, almost grown-up. My boyfriend was a few years older and had more expensive taste in dining, fashion and lodgings, and who was I to argue with his choices? I digress, but on that visit we stayed in a hotel near the Campo de’ Fiore, and early one morning we watched the market vendors set up their stalls of fruit, vegetables and flowers. It was August and the heat was rising. Afterwards, as we wandered down the side streets, we spotted Philippe Noiret, the star of Cinema Paradiso, dressed in a fine white linen suit, complete with a walking stick. My love for Rome deepened.
This time, our journey to the market is far damper and delayed by detours as we took refuge from the rain. We found a museum displaying models of Leonardo da Vinci’s machine designs. Did you know the man designed a helicopter? Pure genius and like so many entrepreneurs, way ahead of his time. Perhaps it was the rain or the time of year, but I found Campo de’ Fiori a little altered. Yes, there was plenty of seasonal fruit and vegetables, but lots of tourist tchotchkes have crept in, and this time there were no movie stars to evoke a slower, perhaps more romantic, era.
I also had memories of visiting a wonderful treasure trove of a kitchen store and the zinc containers I bought there still have pride of place on my counter at home. I couldn’t for the life of me remember the store’s name, but I knew it was somewhere off the Via Del Condotti so we poked around lots of cobbled side streets, dodging umbrellas and puddles, until on our last day it suddenly revealed itself. Cucina. It was just as laden with gems as I remember.
Another place worth a visit is Gusto. It’s a veritable haven if you love food, with two restaurants, a wine store, a cheese shop and a kitchen store. Apparently the lunchtime scene is great with an amazing buffet laid out at a decent price, although be prepared to battle your way through the local office workers stoking up for the afternoon.
Springtime is carciofi – artichoke – season in Rome and I plan to write another post soon about the many ways we ate these overgrown thistles, as well as share our experiences at some of the many ristorantes we ate at.