Monthly Archives: February 2012

My Parents in Rome!

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This past week, I had the pleasure of having my parents visit me in Rome! Long awaiting their arrival, I had many activities planned for them. They have visited Rome in the past, but I wanted to show them the city from a different point of view- MY point of view.

I no longer consider myself a tourist in Rome, since I have now been living here for almost seven weeks. However, when I was with my parents, it was hard to not appear as one. Spending time with them allowed me to experience Rome in two different perspectives: through my parents’ eyes as tourists, and as a growing member of the Roman community.

I understood that tourists have difficulty communicating. In fact, there is a stereotype that Americans expect everyone to know and speak English, which is, of course, not the case. When I first arrived in Rome, I knew very little Italian, but I used it anyway. I did not want to seem ignorant, and I wanted to learn the language. The first night I went out to dinner with my parents, they ordered everything in English. Afterwards, I kindly explained to them that next time they should try to order in Italian. I began to teach them simple phrases, like “where is the bathroom?” and “the check, please.” This was just one small step closer to making my parents feel a little more immersed in the Italian culture.

While my parents were visiting, I was very eager to teach them some Italian customs. For example, one night we ordered some delicious pizza, and my parents’ first instinct was to cut it into slices and pick it up and eat it by holding the crust. I told them that it was customary to eat pizza with a knife and a fork, and to cut it as you eat. Also, I taught my parents how to use the Metro. By doing this, I was able to better orient my parents with the layout of Rome. Instead of just taking a taxi everywhere they went, they began to familiarize themselves with the city and learn their way around. That way they could see and experience even more of Rome!

The weather this past week was beautiful, so my parents and I took advantage of spending time outside. We did a lot of walking, and my parents had many questions. I was able to explain what different monuments were, who built them and how old they were. I showed them Temple, the Residence, and the many places where I shop and eat. I was able to give them a good idea of what my life is like in Rome!

I had such an amazing time with my mom and dad. I was definitely spoiled- we went out for dinner every night! We went on a tour of the Colosseum and Forum, the Catacombs of St. Agnes and St. Priscilla, and we got to experience Carnival in its height. I was so happy that my parents traveled so far to come see me- so in return, I gave them the best Roman experience that I possibly could.

A Vegetarian in Rome

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I am a vegetarian (granted, a relatively new one who does still eat seafood). Before coming to Rome, I was anxious that it was going to be difficult for me to find food in restaurants to accommodate my dining restrictions. I mean, Italians have a reputation of loving their meat. It is a reputation that I have found certainly holds true, and for good reason. Italian cold cuts are some of the best quality meat products in the world. Mortadella (smoked ham similar to bologna) may be gross in the United States, but according to my meat eating friends, it is fabulous in Italy. In almost every specialty food shop there is cured meat hanging from the ceiling. You find this in several restaurants as well. Meat is something Italians take pride in.

Despite this reality, it is not impossible to be vegetarian in Rome. In fact, it has started to become easier. There are a few health food stores and specialty shops around that sell alternatives to meat, like tofu and tempeh, and some grocery stores have even started carrying them as well. The fresh produce available at markets is overwhelming, making it super easy to prepare vegetarian meals at home. Even restaurants are generally vegetarian friendly. At the very least there is usually one pasta dish that is meat free. In every pizzeria, there are several options that don’t even have cheese on them making those options full on vegan.

While it is possible to be vegetarian in Rome, there is a point of caution that needs to be mentioned. The concept of vegetarianism is different from how it is in America; in Rome the definition is not as strict. For example, my first weekend here, we were brought to a special lunch with a separate menu prepared for vegetarians. This “vegetarian” menu included fish. Where as in the United States, it is assumed that a vegetarian does not eat meat; in Rome the opposite is assumed.  This was proven to be the case once again when I ate lunch at an all vegetarian restaurant.  Back home, a menu at a vegetarian establishment would not contain seafood, so I was not expecting to find any on this menu either. However, two of the dishes I tried surprised me by containing salmon. Since I still eat seafood, it was not a problem for me, but for stricter vegetarians, it is something to be aware of.

At other restaurants, I have asked if my dish could be prepared without the meat and was told it would not be a problem only to see them literally take the meat out of my bowl before serving it to me. In Rome, this is no different than if the meat was never in it at all. Other times, I have just been judged or seen as odd for being a vegetarian. When I have told some waiters that I do not eat meat, they have looked at me as though I had three heads. This is by no means the end of the world and can actually be amusing once you get used to it.

Ultimately, the important thing is to be aware that the American meaning of the word “vegetarian” differs from Roman meaning. As long as you are prepared and willing to take a few extra precautions, it is possible to eat meat free in Rome and still enjoy the marvelous food that Italy has to offer.

 

Slow Food in Italy

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Italy is the founding nation of a global food movement known as the Slow Food Movement. This movement was originally founded in 1986 in opposition to fast food. In fact, it was started in protest to a McDonalds opening near the Spanish Steps in Rome. Today the movement has expanded to over 150 countries, including the United States. Its objectives include promoting buying local, fresh, and organic food, educating the public about the food system, food safety, and the risks of fast food, and trying to encourage people to buy the best tasting, best grown, and best overall food for yourself and our world. Many restaurants in Rome embrace this slow food movement, one of them being Urbana 47.

Urbana 47, named for its location on via Urbana, 47, right by the Cavour metro B stop, is by no means your traditional Italian trattoria or pizzeria. It is much more similar to the kinds of restaurants that populate Philadelphia. It was relatively small, very modern and super sleek. Although the look and feel of the restaurant was more what I was used to, the thing that got it on my list (as is always the case) was the food. Urbana 47 prides itself on “healthy cuisine,” but most importantly, the restaurant has a “zero food miles” philosophy. This means that all their ingredients come from nearby, small producers which allows them to leave a small environmental footprint and insure they are using only regional, fresh, and quality ingredients.

In addition to the a la carte option, Urbana 47 also offers 3 tasting menus for you to choose from “to make you appreciate the quality of “km 0″ local products,” as they put it. I opted for the first tasting menu: 2 savory courses and a dessert for 35 Euro.

Since Urbana’s menu was more modern and a bit more refined than the trattorias I had become familiar with, I was less certain about the items that I had ordered. There was an English version of the menu online that I had looked over, but I did not remember details from it. This made it all the more exciting to guess which dish was mine as I watched the kitchen prepare the plates.  When I saw them plate this particular dish, I desperately hoped it was meant for me and was happy to find out that it was.

Two generous slices of mozzarella di bufala grilled and placed atop two piles of crispy chicory with a sweet and spicy tomato jam on the side. Oh my goooosssh. This was incredible. It was rich from the cheese which had traces of smokiness from the grill and was countered by the bitter-sharp taste of the chicory, and then it was all brought together with the sweetness of the jam which lightened the whole thing up. Perfection.

My second dish was more of a mystery to me. All I knew was that it was something with cod. It ended up being a cod and potato tort topped with a creamy parmesan cheese sauce. Even as I ate I couldn’t find where the super fresh taste of cod was coming from. I didn’t care. The dish reminded me of scalloped potatoes, a favorite of mine growing up. Despite how much effort clearly went into the making of the dish, it didn’t taste overly complicated. There was a good balance between the cod, potato and cheese, and it was just enough food to satisfy my hunger.

What my dessert would be was, as well, a mystery to me. What I was brought was quaint, simple, and chocolate. It looked promising.

I was pleased to discover that the dessert was a take on tiramisu. There was a light chocolate-coffee mousse layer on the bottom topped with a light sponge cake layer, topped with a chocolate pudding layer finished off with a bit of whipped cream and espresso beans. It was not too sweet and had more mousse than cake to it, which I liked.

Urbana 47 ended up being exactly what I needed. I was ready for a break from heaping piles of pasta (delicious as they may be) and was missing the restaurants I had grown to know so well in Philly. At Urbana 47 I was able to reconnect with a more familiar style of dining while still experiencing the classic flavors of Rome’s chicory, cod, and cheese. The best part of all was that I knew the food I was eating supported a local system of fresh, quality, slow food.

Getting Around Town

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With so many sites to visit, Rome is prepared to get you everywhere. When it comes to getting around in this ancient city, there are many forms of transportation. The two most popular ways to move around Rome are the metro (subway) and the buses.

There are two lines for the metro: Linea A (Line A) and Linea B (Line B). I happen to take Line A everyday. It’s very convenient- the stop is about a five minute walk from the Residence, and I ride the metro three stops to “Flaminio,” right near Piazza del Popolo. This is the closest stop to school, and in total, it takes me about 25 minutes. Line A also stops near St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican, The Spanish Steps, and the Trevi Fountain. Line B travels mostly in the southern part of Rome, but the two most popular stops are the Colosseum and Termini. Termini is like the 30th Street Station of Rome, and this is the only stop you can transfer from Line A to Line B. The metros come every three minutes, so it’s never a long wait, which is good for when I’m in a rush! Currently, the subway lines are undergoing construction to put in a third line, Linea C. I don’t believe it’ll be completed during my time here, but I’m sure it will make getting around Rome a little simpler!

The buses run in every which way. There are countless different numbers of bus lines, and they’re really convenient for those who don’t want to walk at all. However, sometimes I find myself waiting a long time for the bus to arrive, and find myself getting impatient and eventually walking to the metro. On the other hand, when the buses do arrive more frequently, they can get you around pretty quickly. I prefer the metro, because the trains always arrive quickly and they don’t get tangled up in the Roman traffic of beeping cars and vespas!

Another form of transportation in Rome is the tram. The tram is confined to certain tracks that run above ground, along the cars and buses. I rarely take the tram, because it runs on very specific streets that I do not often travel on a daily basis.

There is a universal ticket that you can use for the metro, bus, and tram. A one-way ticket is one euro, but you can buy a monthly pass for 30 euros. With the monthly pass, you can ride any of these forms of transportation as much as you want and whenever you want all throughout the month. Definitely worth every cent!

Aside from the metro, bus, and tram, there are also taxis. The taxis are separate from the other three, so you can’t use the ticket/pass. They’re private companies, so it’s a bit more expensive. The only time I would take a taxi is at night, when it’s late and I want to get home safely from wherever I am. Also, the public transportation system doesn’t run late on some nights, so in that kind of situation a taxi would be a good option. Aside from spending a little extra money, another downside to the taxis is that they occasionally go on strike!

The last form of transportation in Rome is, of course, walking. Even when it’s really cold, I enjoy walking the streets of Rome. It makes me realize how lucky I am to be studying in such a beautiful city, and I can appreciate every bit even more!

Who said there is only pasta?

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The food scene in Rome is definitely dominated by Italian cuisine. Most of the restaurants are trattorias, pizzerias, or hosterias that serve the standard pasta dishes, meats, and contorni (side dishes). While there is diversity as far as the region of Italy these eateries are inspired by, there is not nearly the variety of ethnic restaurants to choose from that exists in Philadelphia. There are few places to order Chinese take-out, sushi is definitely not the trend it is in the States, and good luck finding more than one authentic Mexican restaurant.

While Italian cuisine reigns supreme here, it is not to say authentic ethnic restaurants do not exist in Rome. For instance, I found a wonderful authentic Ethiopian restaurant near the outer part of Rome. The restaurant is called Mesob. It is a quaint, one dining-room restaurant located in a parking lot behind a convenience store. It was like my roommate and I had found a treasure hidden away, and after three straight weeks of nothing but pasta, bread, and pizza, it was exactly what we needed to find.

We arrived at Mesob pretty much the second it opened so we had our pick of tables to sit at. I immediately fell in love with our surroundings. The room was small and cozy with off-white walls accented by warm reds and purples in the curtains and painting hung on the walls.

I am not going to be able to give you much detail about the dishes we ate because I did not actually know what they all were. Most of them were pureed concoctions whose ingredients were unidentifiable (and since the menus were in Italian, my grasp of what we were eating was limited). I can, however, tell you how they tasted: wonderful.

None of the food that we received was bland, generic, or second-rate. It was straight up authentic (and delicious) Ethiopian food. Everything about Mesob, from the décor to the food, made it stand up to any Italian restaurant I have eaten at so far. The staff was friendly and made sure we were enjoying our meal and the price of the food was cheaper than a lot of Italian establishments that are gunning for tourists. We ended up only paying 15 Euro a piece for more food than we could eat. Mesob has therefore proven that while ethnic cuisine may be limited in Rome, it does exist and is definitely worth venturing out to find.

A Snowy Surprise

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There is only one word to describe the past week: insanity. I’ll explain- this past Friday, it snowed in Rome for the first time in 26 years! It snowed about four inches, but to the Romans, it was as if it snowed a foot. Since it almost never snows in Rome, everyone here was very unprepared. Roads weren’t plowed, sidewalks weren’t shoveled, and steps weren’t salted. It was very difficult to get around- there was slush up to my ankles and ice everywhere. Also, the buses stopped running so you either had to walk, take the subway, or just stay inside!

Being from the Northeast, I, as well as the rest of Temple Rome, couldn’t believe the disorder that took place as a result of the snowfall. Had we received the same amount of snow in Philadelphia or New York, streets and sidewalks would have been instantly cleared and nothing would have been closed. Here in Rome, restaurants were closed because they could not receive any produce, so this also meant that cooking wasn’t an option because the supermarkets couldn’t receive any deliveries either! I think that on Friday and Saturday night, everybody just ate pasta.

My boyfriend Kenny came to visit for the weekend, and had never been to Rome before. So, of course, I wanted to show him all of the major sites: the Colosseum, the Forum, Pantheon, and so on. However, these sites, including half of the Vatican Museums, were shut down due to the weather. I guess the Romans really don’t know how to handle the snow! Kenny and I still did a lot of site seeing, and he’ll be back in the spring to see the places that we couldn’t go to this time.

I discovered that the most popular Italian fashion item for snow are Moon Boots. They literally look like what they are called, and they come in many different colors. Everyone was wearing them, and I felt a little out of place without them! I did see some women still wearing their high-heeled shoes trying to ignore the snow, which was a funny sight. Many Temple Rome students were also unprepared clothing-wise, because we were advised not to bring snow boots since it doesn’t ever snow here. That being said, many of us, including myself, invested in some snow boots this weekend which got a lot of use.

Even though nobody was expecting this type of weather, everyone dealt with it in a light-hearted way. Walking outside, I would meet cute little snowmen along the sidewalk, as well as grown men throwing snowballs across the street at each other, using parked cars as a protective wall. St. Peter’s Square was full of photographers, trying to capture the very rare image of Michelangelo’s dome dressed in white. People on the sidewalks would stop midstep to just look around, and would chuckle to the person next to them. Snow is something that I have grown up with and constantly take for granted, but many Romans have never seen snow before. Although this weekend was very chaotic, I got to witness and be a part of an important piece of Roman history!

To Eat Out Or Not To Eat Out… That Is The Question

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Italy is widely known for its rich, delicious and fresh food. I have in fact caught myself eating what is considering “Italian fast food” pizza, and still thought it tasted incredible. We have also ventured to some more authentic Italian restaurants only to be even more impressed. Dar Poeta’s ricotta cheese and chocolate calzone and Tony’s Chicken Parm in Trastevere have been some of the favorites. We also have enjoyed suppli across the city, cake and fried artichokes from the Jewish Ghetto, and cacio e pepe. Finally of course the gelato never lets us down. Gelateria near Piazza Navona has taken the cake as the favorite with over 70 flavors to choose from.

However amazing this food can all be, we are college students, on a college budget and it’s not that easy to splurge all the time. Although prior to coming to Rome, my cooking skills extended as far as making cereal or perhaps a sandwich when I was feeling adventurous. However, I have now questionably mastered chicken with vegetables, chicken with bread crumbs, chicken with canned vegetables, chicken with salads. Chicken could be considered my specialty. I also managed to find an “exotic food store” that sells peanut butter, my all time favorite food (since when is peanut butter considered exotic). It’s been a great snack to have around the apartment. We also have enjoyed some tomato and mozzarella salad with garlic bread. Maybe one day we’ll figure out the oven but for now I’m pretty happy with our family style cooking. And without question we still splurge on our meals out but it’s nice to know we can make a far less impressive but still delicious meal at home!

The Jewish Ghetto

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In my pre-departure to Rome food research, I kept reading about an area of the city known as the Jewish Ghetto. It is an area just across the Tiber River from Trastevere very near where the first ever fish market of Rome was (the ruins of the marketplace still remain). The streets of the ghetto are lined with restaurants, trattorias and bakeries offering authentic kosher Roman food. This food used to be limited to fried goods, most famously artichokes and cod. However, the area has grown and changed over the decades, and along with it, the food. Now the area has a reputation for culinary feats that go beyond its fried classics. At the restaurant, Nonna Betta, I tried a bit of it all.

My friend, Jordyn, and I were greeted outside the door of the restaurant by a sweet older Italian man who led us inside and has us seated immediately.  We ended up ordering a full Italian meal: an antipasto plate, two first courses, and two second courses. We decided to share everything so we could taste as much as possible.

The antipasto dish we ordered provided a sample of all of the antipasti offered on the menu. These were the traditional fried dishes that the Jewish Ghetto is known for. On our plate were a fried cod filet, a fried zucchini blossom, a pumpkin arancine (fried rice ball), fried mozzarella, and most importantly a fried artichoke. It was all excellent. Even through the fried breading, I could still taste the freshness of the ingredients and the distinct flavors that they all had. My favorite was the fried artichoke, a first for me. The outer leaves were crispy and could almost have been made into artichoke chips. The heart was tender and rich, but not heavy as fried food often is.

The fried artichoke was not the last first Nonna Betta served me. For my first course, I ordered gnocchi, but not your typical potato based kind. Instead, they were made with semolina flour. When the dish was placed down in front of me, I was expecting to see small puff balls of starch but instead was presented with 3 large, flattened pillows sitting in a small Dutch oven with the parmesan and ricotta cheese sauce still bubbling around them. The texture was not as smooth as traditional gnocchi is. The semolina made these gnocchi much grainier, almost polenta like. They were delicious.

Jordyn’s first course was a spaghetti dish with artichoke and salmon roe. The fish flavor came through surprisingly strong, but not in a bad way. We both enjoyed being able to taste the roe as opposed to it being overwhelmed by the pasta.

When the second course dishes arrived, they were both still bubbling furiously in the dishes they were cooked in.  I ordered the zucchini dish, which was essentially a zucchini au gratin, while Jordyn got the cod alla Nonna Betta. We both agreed that the cod dish was our favorite of the two. While the zucchini was plenty cheesy and plenty good, the cod was cooked in a sauce that was uniquely wonderful in its flavor. Despite our best efforts, we could not figure out what was in it. There was a hint of nuttiness accompanied by a subtle sweetness that paired with the cod in the most pleasant way.

For dessert, we decided to put our bets on the waiter and order his recommendations. We got two slices of ricotta cheesecake: one with a blackberry compote topping and the second with a chocolate topping. Both were served warm and tasted sweet and rich, but not overly so (I’ve found Italian desserts in Rome are not nearly as sweet as they are in the United States).

At the end of the night, Jordyn and I walked home with full stomachs and a discount card to use the next time we eat a Nonna Betta. While the meal ended up being a bit of a splurge for me (just under 45 Euro for each of us), the wait staff and food both made the experience well worth it. It is a great place to go to discover the Jewish Ghetto.

Everyday is a Learning Experience

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It’s been another busy week in Rome! Today marks the end of the third week of classes, but also the start of a new month! It’s hard to believe that I arrived in Rome last month, and everything is now in full-swing. I have a feeling that this semester is going to fly by!

Last Friday, I journeyed to Hadrian’s Villa with a group of fellow classmates. We were led on a tour by one of the professors from Temple, and it was a great experience. It was organized by Temple and I had to pay additional euros to attend. Excursions like these are offered almost every Friday, and they’re a great opportunity for students to explore beyond Rome. It’s one thing to go by yourself to see a famous site, but it’s another thing when you go with someone who has a lot of knowledge regarding the subject. I learned that Hadrian was the emperor of Rome in the years 117 to 138 AD, and that his Villa covered over 200 acres of land! Of course we didn’t have time to cover the whole site, but we saw a large amount of this beautiful site. I also learned that the reason Hadrian built his Villa 25 miles outside of Rome was because he had a negative relationship with the Senate, so he ruled Rome from the mountainside. The Villa was more like a vacation resort for the emperor, with many huge and luxurious baths, gardens, and fountains.

From the Villa, we traveled a short distance to Tivoli, which is home to the beautiful Renaissance estate, known as Villa D’Este. It was completed in 1572, and was built for Cardinal d’Este. It was so hard to believe that the Villa was built for a cardinal, and not for a king! It was so extravagant, with beautiful frescoes, sculptures, and massive fountains. After walking through the peaceful gardens that cover this big plot of land, you meet the incredible view that looks out along the mountains. It was a great day, and I got to learn and see so much!

Aside from all my sight-seeing, I am beginning to feel more and more comfortable with speaking Italian. Of course it’s not perfect, but I am becoming more familiar with phrases and how to ask for certain things. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was shy about using Italian, but I’ve learned that it is a necessity to speak it in order to communicate with the local people. For example, this week I needed to bring my jacket to a dry cleaner (I spilled some espresso on it, oops!). With the few phrases that I know, I was able to tell the woman that I would like to clean my jacket, and ask her when I should return and how much it would cost. The woman, who didn’t speak any English, was very patient with me as I slowly gathered my words, and most importantly, understood everything I said. When I left, I felt accomplished and very proud of myself. It just goes to show that I shouldn’t doubt myself, and to have a little more faith in Italian strangers- most of the time, they’re really nice!

I’m really excited for the weekend. My boyfriend is coming to visit, and he’s never been to Rome before. I’m going to take him to the Vatican Museums, the Colosseum, and Forum- places I have yet to fully explore! Ciao ciao!

Food, Glorious Food…

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Whenever I talked to my family and friends about studying Rome, the first thing they would say was: “Oh, the food is amazing!” And they were definitely right!

The Italians are artists in the kitchen. I have never been disappointed by the food in Rome, and I don’t expect that to change! Fresh food and ingredients are very important here. The produce is fresh from the market and they would shudder at the thought of adding preservatives. Most places prepare their food on the spot, and “to go” food is not popular because by the time you eat it, it’s no longer fresh!

The most popular places to grab a bite to eat are the snack bars and pizzerias. A snack bar is not your typical bar. Instead of drinks, french fries and a football game on TV, snack bars offer espressos, cappuccinos, fresh orange juice, sandwiches and cornettos. Cornettos are an amazing breakfast snack, and have become my favorite. There are many different kinds of cornettos- sweet, salty, chocolate, honey, and the list goes on. They are very similar to a croissant, but a little smaller and not as flaky and so delicious. At the snack bars, there are usually no chairs or bar stools, so you have to stand and eat, so they’re a great place to stop on the way to school or for a quick lunch.

Pizzas here are very different than the familiar American staple (in a good way!) The slices are usually cut into rectangles, not triangles, with a thicker base than what we’re used to. You’ll get two slices, place them with the toppings sides together, and eat it like a sandwich. The many toppings include: zucchini, prosciutto, cheese (of course), potato, spinach, tomatoes (and, again, the list goes on!)

A few nights I ventured into some cute little restaurants for dinner to get a plate of delicious pasta and I’m pretty sure the pasta has been homemade every time. The Italians also give you plenty of food for your money. Last night, I got a heaped plate of linguini pesto for six euros! It was to die for, and worth every penny.

My friends and I have been taking huge advantage of our kitchen space (as everybody must on a student budget) by cooking for ourselves some nights of the week. I’ve been making a few trips to the supermarket a few times a week to get ingredients. The supermarkets are filled with lots of fresh produce, and even fresh pasta to take home and cook. There’s a large selection of raw meats, cheeses, and breads- everything you need to make a delicious home-cooked meal. Some nights, my roommates and I arrange potlucks with our neighbors, so we all get to share our food and have a big meal! It’s really nice because we get to save some spending money and it’s relaxing to hang out after a long day of school.

I’ve said before how I’ve been doing a lot of exploring around Rome, and that includes exploring with food! Though I have visited some of the same restaurants more than once, I try to go into a few new places each week. Everyone cooks differently, and it’s really interesting to see the variety.

I almost forgot to mention the most delicious Italian food of them all: GELATO! For those of you who have never had gelato, it’s way better than regular ice cream. Here, gelato comes in many different flavors: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, pistachio, espresso, stracchitella (vanilla and chocolate chips), and so on. Gelato never has any artificial coloring, flavors, or preservatives, and it’s softer and creamier than the ice cream you might be used to. It is my true weakness. I can’t walk down a street in Rome without seeing a sign for gelato, so I give in to the impulse and have some most days.