Food and drinkTips and advice
Seren Morris

How to Eat Like a Local in Rome

When in Rome, eat as the Romans do. Italy is known for its delicious traditional dishes like pizza, pasta, gelato, and coffee. But how can you eat your way around the city like a local? Follow our helpful guide below for top tips on how to eat like a local in Rome. From coffee etiquette to which pasta to try, it’s full of dos and don’ts for navigating Rome’s food and drinks scene.

Top Italian food facts

  • So much pasta is consumed in Italy that the country has to import wheat to keep up with the demand.
  • Modern pizza originated in Naples in the 18th century.
  • Tiramisù, the coffee-flavored dessert, means “cheer me up”.
  • Gelato was invented by Italian chef Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli in the 1600s.

Coffee etiquette

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To eat like a local in Rome, it is crucial that you learn the proper Italian coffee etiquette. It may seem complicated at first, but here are a few tips to help you navigate Rome’s cafes like a local.

  • Cappuccinos are a morning coffee. Italians only drink milky coffees such as cappuccinos, caffè lattes or latte macchiatos in the morning. Order one after 11 AM and you’ll be branded a tourist.
  • The rest of the time, drink caffè normale. Italians drink caffè normale, also known as espresso, during the rest of the day.
  • Drink little and often. Unlike in the US, Italians drink short coffee in small cups. Do not try to order a Venti in a Roman coffee shop. If you think a single espresso isn’t enough to satisfy your coffee craving, in Italy, it is acceptable to visit a coffee shop multiple times a day.
  • Try coffee variations. Order a variation of a caffè normale. A caffè corretto is an espresso with a shot like grappa, sambuca or brandy. Try a ristretto, which is an espresso with less water, or a cappuccino scuro, which has less milk.
  • There are no international coffee chains. Speaking of Starbucks, though they plan to open a coffee shop in Rome, there is no sign of the chain yet. Independent coffee shops are the only acceptable place to buy coffee.
  • Expect to sit down to enjoy your coffee. There is no such thing as a takeaway cup in Rome. Italians sit or perch at the bar to drink their coffee – you won’t see anyone running around with a to-go cup.
  • But don’t hang around. However, people don’t hang out in cafes for hours either. Take time to sip and enjoy your coffee, but don’t waste valuable sightseeing time (or risk having your “local” cover blown).

Pasta

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It is not enough to simply try Italian pasta. Each Italian region and city has its own traditional pasta dishes. There are four pasta dishes you have to try in Rome: Pasta alla Gricia, Cacio e Pepe, Pasta Carbonara, and Bucatini all'Amatriciana.

  • Pasta alla Gricia. This pasta dish originates all the way back to 400 A.D. It’s made with pecorino romano cheese, guanciale (which is a cured meat made from pig cheek), salt and pepper.
  • Bucatini all'Amatriciana. This dish is similar to Pasta alla Gricia in that it also uses pecorino romano cheese and guanciale. However, the amatriciana sauce has a tomato base.
  • Cacio e Pepe. This dish translates to “cheese and pepper”, making it one of the simplest, but most delicious, kinds of pasta on this list. Again, this one is made with pecorino romano cheese. And, of course, pepper.
  • Pasta Carbonara. Traditional Roman pasta carbonara is made with guanciale or pancetta, pecorino romano cheese, eggs, and pepper. Though this is a popular dish internationally, be sure to try the real thing in Rome.

For an authentic Italian cooking experience, take a pasta and tiramisù making class. During your 90-minute class, you will learn to make ribbon pasta from scratch using a traditional pasta machine. Then, you’ll get to make your own tiramisù before sitting down to indulge in the fruits of your labor. Not only will you get to enjoy a traditional, homemade Italian lunch, but you’ll learn recipes and methods that you can take home with you to enjoy time and time again.

Gelato

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A trip to Rome would be incomplete without tasting traditional gelato. To experience gelato like a local, it’s worth understanding what gelato is, and why it’s different from ice cream. Gelato is made with a higher proportion of milk and a lower proportion of cream. The method differs slightly from ice cream, as gelato is churned at a slower speed, which makes it denser. It tends to be served at a warmer temperature than ice cream, so gelato is typically softer and smoother. If you really want to learn about gelato and its process, take a gelato-making master class. Head to Grom, Rome’s go-to gelateria, where an expert will teach you how to make your very own gelato. You’ll also get to taste Grom’s own gelato and learn all about its history and secret recipes. Did we mention you get to taste a lot of gelato?

Pizza

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Think you don’t need to be told how to eat pizza? Think again. Like pasta, Rome has its very own pizza variation that you have to try. There’s also a different method of ordering pizza, too, so keep reading...

  • Pizza Romana. Unlike Neopolitan pizza, there is no agreed definition of a pizza Romana. However, it tends to be a thin, large, and crispy pizza. So order a pizza Romana to eat like a local. It’s a whole different experience to a Chicago deep dish or New York-style pizza.
  • Pinsa Romana. Pinsa is similar to pizza, except its an oval-shaped flatbread. To make pinsa, they use more water and less salt, which makes the bread airier and lighter. Pinsa is a healthier alternative to pizza, so it could be worth checking out if you’re worried about overindulging on your Rome vacation.
  • Pizza al taglio. When in Rome, you may come across a different kind of pizzeria. It is common in Italy to by pizza al taglio, or pizza by the slice. This method originated in Rome, so it should definitely be on your list of authentic eating experiences to try. The pizza is baked in large, rectangular trays, and you will choose which pizza and how much you would like. Then your slice will be weighed and priced up. This is a typically more casual experience than eating pizza in a restaurant, and you may get a takeaway box to eat outside.

Italian dining experience

To enjoy a traditional Italian dining experience, head to the Agrodolce restaurant. Located near the Trevi fountain, this restaurant serves up authentic Roman cuisine like pasta, pizza, and pinsa. Go Rome pass holders can enjoy a starter, main and dessert at Agrodolce Restaurant included in the pass. Choose from set menu mains like ravioli ricotta e spinaci con pachino e mozzarella di bufala or gnocchi al 4 formaggi. Then, enjoy a dessert, like torta al cioccolato or panna cotta.

Italian food market experience

For a truly authentic activity, experience how Italians shop for fresh ingredients to make their homemade dishes. Take a tour of the Vatican District and Trionfale Market and enjoy samples at food and wine stalls using your Go Rome pass. Try classic Italian items like olives, salami, cheese, pizza, and parma ham.

Drinks

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So you’ve learned to eat like a local, now it’s time to drink like a local. From Italian cocktails to an electric nightlife, Rome is the place to experience Italian drinks.

  • You’re probably familiar with Italian cocktails like Bellini and Aperol Spritz. Head to Alembic bar with your Go Rome pass to enjoy three cocktails, either Bellinis, Aperol Spritz, (or both), at no extra cost.
  • If simply tasting the cocktails isn’t enough, learn to make them yourself. Take a 90-minute class, also at Alembic bar, and learn to make a Bellini, Aperol Spritz, as well as a Negroni. Your friends back home are sure to appreciate your newly-learned skill.
  • If you’re traveling as a group of adults, take the time to discover its bars and pubs to experience Rome's nightlife. Go on a pub crawl using your Go Rome pass and enjoy beer tastings or free shots at some local pubs.

In summary

That’s your ultimate guide to eating like a local in Rome. From the best pasta dishes to try, to how to drink coffee like a local, you should be ready to visit Rome armed with the knowledge you need to eat around the city. Remember, admission to many of these attractions is included with Go City.

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