I love pasta. Whenever I end up with a pasta gone bad with a sauce too creamy, I thought to myself that I will have my fill when I visit Italy someday. And I did when I went to Rome, Italy in the summer of 2016.
I kicked off my trip with a visit to La Carbonara in Rome. The restaurant opens at 7 p.m. for dinner. But there was already a queue forming at 6.15 p.m. All kinds of people were waiting for the restaurant to open – people like my sister and I, older couples, college students on vacation and newly married ones. Exactly at 7 p.m. a lady in a black shirt and skirt opened the door and showed us to a table for two and were given time till 8.30 p.m. to complete our dinner.
The restaurant was cosy and a little cramped with just enough space for waiters to walk between tables. The walls were scribbled and photographs of people and paintings were scattered on walls, giving the place a homely feeling. Usually in restaurants we can take our own sweet time, even if we just order a glass of wine. But with endless stream of people coming here, it is only understandable that they had to restrict the timing.
I liked the guy who waited on us. He was tall, may be six feet, had long light brown hair that he had tied into pony and a sexy smile. One thing I love about Italian cuisine is the plenty of vegetarian options available. La Carbonara did not disappoint us and there was plenty to choose from. When I was confused the waiter suggested chef’s special pasta pistachio, pasta being fettuccine and white wine since I wanted something light. Why would I resist the recommendation of a handsome Italian hunk? (Fettuccine is a thicker and wider than a penne and spaghetti and is made of egg and flour. This is very popular in Italy.)
There was an elderly but lively American couple, in their sixties, on my right and Japanese couple on the left. I knew they were Japanese because the waiter asked if they want mizu, which means water in Japanese (Again binge watching anime helped me out here). Behind me were a party of three and among them was a woman who sounded like Agent Gracie Hart from the movie Miss Congeniality (Sandra Bullock played this role). The atmosphere was akin to those you see on movies and books, where people laugh hard and talk loudly. I loved dining in such an informal setting.
Though the pasta was little hard, it was different from what I have had before. There was more pasta than sauce, which was neither too creamy nor sweet but somewhere between. I loved baby tomatoes that were sliced in half. The mild sour and sweet taste it rendered did wonders to the pasta along with grated cheese. It was perfect with a glass of white wine.
It took a little more than an hour to finish our dinner, about the same time as the American couple who had just finished their second course. But the man seemed to want more. “My man is hungry. Give us the menu again,” the lady, in her white summer dress, said her eyes twinkling. Her husband with more white than black hair in his head just laughed when she gave an order for a large serving of chicken pasta. And they did manage to finish it. If our bill had not arrived just then, I would have spent sometime talking to them. They were really interesting.
After pistachio at La Carbonara, I tried risotto, a Trofie al Pesto (trofie is short, thin and twisted pasta) and classic spaghetti arrabbiata at different restaurants in Rome to name a few. Without doubt they were one of the best Italian dishes I had tasted till date. But I had difficulty eating a spaghetti without embarrassing myself. Because I slurp. But that is the best thing about eating spaghetti dripping with tomato sauce laced in cheese.
Food and wine are not the only things Italian love, they love their coffee and it shows in the way they are made. For a coffee lover me having a cup in its homeland held a certain charm. After a visit to Pantheon I came across a cafe La Casa Del Caffe Tazza D’oro. The shop had two entrance. Near the first entrance you can grab a quick bite and the other entry is where coffee beans are grounded and sold. It smelled heavenly. Right outside this entrance was a vending machine where you can get grounded coffee powders in 250 gm and 500 gm packets.
Inside it was was packed. I mean seriously packed with tourists who want to buy coffee and drink a cup of coffee. I had to stand in queue for like 20 minutes to get a cup of cappuccino. One of the reasons for this crowd is that people are supposed to finish the coffee at the counter. The grumpy barista does not rush you, rather he wants you to enjoy your cup while he cracks jokes in Italian. And you wait patiently for you turn. At last when my chance came, I placed orders for two cappuccino. The barista gave the coffee in small white porcelain cups. It was bitter, fresh, creamy and was over in a second. I can still remember the bitterness of the coffee I drank three months ago. Later I learnt that coffee from this place is one of the best.
Coffee is great anytime of the day, especially in Italy (though you do not see natives having a cup in afternoons and evenings. This is a typical and tourist thing to do and it is something cannot live without). The hot, heavenly flavour sucks you in. But on a simmering summer afternoon sometimes you long for something cold, something like an ice cream. So on the way to Trevi fountain, we stopped by an ice cream shop Il Gelato di San Crispino. It was not crowded but there was constant stream of customers coming in and going out. The shop has all kind of flavours. You name it, you get it. Of course they are famous for gelato but you get sorbets too. My sister ordered a walnut gelato while I went a grapefruit sorbet. Under the heat anything would have been wonderful, but this particular ice cream delighted us. We licked all the way to Trevi and did not stop savouring it even after we reached there.