When in Rome: Eat like a local

There is no doubt: Italian cuisine is amazing. It lives up to the hype, and what you eat is likely to be one of the abiding memories of your holiday. Now while pasta and pizza are perfection on a plate, there are a few signature dishes Rome is famous for. Check out our guide below to learn which food to try during your holiday in Rome.  

Cacio e pepe versus carbonara

We don’t think you’ll ever say “basta” to a plate of pasta. Especially not to these two dishes which are the pride of Rome: Cacio e Pepe and Carbonara. What makes them special? Here are the answers to your most frequently asked questions.

1. Cacio e pepe

This simple and straightforward pasta dish is as simple as it is delicious.

  • What’s the recipe for cacio e pepe? Well, it translates as cheese and pepper. Pecorini is THE cheese to use. Add that to pasta and that’s the dish - three simple ingredients. The usual pasta type is tonnarelli, a type of spaghetti.
  • Where does cacio e pepe come from? Legend has it, that the dish goes back as far as the Roman Empire, with shepherds rustling it up from scratch as they tended their flock. Whether it’s true or not, it’s a great story. And it’s no frills recipe does lend to cooking on the hoof (pardon the pun).
  • What does cacio e pepe taste like? Slight spoiler alert, but if you don’t like cheese or pepper - this one might not be for you! Cheese is the predominant flavour however and its really melt-in-the-mouth pasta.
  • What wine goes with cacio e pepe? Depends who you’re asking - but the good news is, the dish can hold its own against both red and white wine so as you prefer. It’s usually a good idea to go with the house wine either way - as chances are it will be local.
  • How many calories are in a cacio e pepe? Not as bad as you think - probably around 500 calories. While it’s carb heaven, the sauce isn’t too heavy.

2. Carbonara

If you want to confuse and bemuse an Italian - tell them about your marvelous recipe for spaghetti carbonara. There’s a good chance you’ve been making it wrong. Here’s how it’s made in Rome.

What is carbonara sauce made of? Simply put, if there’s bacon in your Roman carbonara you’ve had a shocker. The main meat should be guanciale, an Italian cured meat made from pig cheeks (we’re most likely to call it pancetta). People also ask if a carbonara has cream? No - don’t even think about putting that in. The sauce is made from egg and pecorino cheese.

Why is it called carbonara?: As with many dishes, the name does remain shrouded in the mists of time. But that’s part of the fun. One theory is it derives from the name for a charcoal burner - so it could have been eaten by factory workers. Another theory says that the black pepper against the sauce looks like burnt flecks.

3. What else should I try in Rome?

It’s never too hot or too cold for a massive gelato. If you’re going on a romantic weekend, you could also try the Romans’ go-to aphrodisiac - artichokes (best between February and May). While totally out of fashion in the UK, tripe is a local delicacy. Try it trippa alla roman style - the tomato sauce will cover up any reservations you might have.

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