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.

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