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Street Food Guide: How to Eat Cheap in Rome, Italy

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Where to eat in Italy's capital on the cheap.

All photos by Katie Parla unless otherwise noted.

The concept of street food isn't new in Rome, where stalls selling cheap snacks populated the city center more than 2,000 years ago. In recent decades, pizza by the slice joints and supplì (fried rice ball) vendors have thrived in holes-in-the-wall all over town. But in the past few years, the number of shops selling economical snacks advertised as "street food," "cibo di strada," and the phonetic "strit fud" has boomed, and new food formats have been born to provide an array of cheap eats in a time of dire economic crisis.

For a variety of bureaucratic reasons, food trucks aren't common in Rome and just last week, the Roman city government banished tourist-oriented mobile food stalls parked around historical monuments. And while Romans apply the notion of street food more liberally than the global definition might allow, local "street food" is always portable, relatively economical, and often rooted in typical flavors and forms. Here's what (and where) to eat cheap in Rome:

Porchetta

Photo: The Roman Digest courtesy of Katie Parla

The towns of Ariccia and Marino southeast of Rome are famous for their deboned, rolled, and roasted pork belly and loin. When done properly, the bound pork rolls are cooked at a low temperature to maintain moisture and maximize flavor. Unfortunately, industrial porchetta production predominates Rome these days, and few historic places remain committed to quality. But a handful of shops in town sell sliced, savory porchetta of note.

Where to get it:

Panificio Bonci, (Via Trionfale 36, no website). Vital Intel: Panificio Bonci sells the best porchetta in town, though they don't have it every day. It's made by famed pork butcher Vito Bernabei at his shop in Marino.

Er Buchetto, (Via del Viminale 2f, website). Vital Intel: Porchetta is sold by the plate or as a sandwich filling.

Polpette di Bollito

Polpette di bollito are spheres or disks of simmered pulled beef. The patties are formed, breaded, and fried. The snack emerged as a way for home cooks and restaurants to use leftover meat scraps, which they would bind with egg and breadcrumbs.

These days, polpette di bollito have virtually vanished from Roman menus, but they are still served at trattorias like Cesare al Casaletto, Terre e Domus, and Flavio al Velavevodetto. The best affordable polpette are sold for €2 a piece by Sergio Esposito, a former butcher, at his food stall in the Testaccio Market.

Where to get it:

Mordi e Vai, (Box #15, Testaccio Market, website). Vital Intel: Closes around 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday. Order an offal sandwich, too.

Pizza al Taglio

Photo: Katie Parla

In Italy, pizza appears in a seemingly infinite variety of forms. The most quintessentially common Roman style is pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice). The dough is placed in rectangular cast-iron pans, topped, and baked. Then the rectangular slices are reheated and sold by weight. By design, pizza al taglio is a cheap snack, so to keep prices down, most places skimp on ingredients. There are a small but growing number of places that balance quality and profit.

Where to get it:

Pizzarium, (Via della Meloria 43, no website). Vital Intel: Avoid visiting during the lunch rush between 12:30 and 2 p.m. The shop closes in the late afternoon on Sundays, but reopens in the evening.

Antico Forno Roscioli, (Via dei Chiavari 34, website). Vital Intel: Closed Sundays.

Prelibato, (Viale di Villa Pamphili 214/216, website). Vital Intel: The amatriciana pizza marries the pizza by the slice form with a popular pasta condiment.

Supplì

Local lore tells that supplì, fried rice balls, were introduced by the French during the reign of Napoleon. Regardless of origins, this elongated croquette is among the most authentically Roman street foods. Not to be confused with spherical arancini, a similar Sicilian snack, Roman supplì feature seasoned rice packed around a bit of mozzarella, which melts when the whole supplì is deep fried. The classic rice flavorings are meat sauce or ground pork with gizzards, but recently pizza by the slice shops have offered different twists, even occasionally swapping out rice for pasta.

Where to get it:

Supplizio, (Via dei Banchi Vecchi 143, website). Vital Intel: Try the potato croquettes, too.

Trapizzino, (Via Giovanni Branca 88, website). Vital Intel: While you're there, try the signature dish, the trapizzino, as well (see below). There is a second location at Piazzale Ponte Milvio 13.

Pizzarium (Via della Meloria 43, no website). Vital Intel: Though Pizzarium opens at 11 a.m., supplì aren't fried until 12:30 or 1 p.m.

Trapizzino

Photo: Trapizzino/Facebook

Pizzaiolo Stefano Callegari invented the trapizzino in 2009, merging the triangular shape of the popular tramezzino sandwich with a long, slowly leavened pizza dough. He fills his tri-cornered creations with Roman classics like oxtail simmered with tomato and celery, chicken with bell peppers, and tripe cooked with tomato. For €3.50, the trapizzino delivers hearty Roman flavors for hungry locals on a budget.

Where to get it:

Trapizzino, (Via Giovanni Branca 88, website). Vital Intel: Closed Mondays. Start with a supplì alla Genovese (rice balls with onion and simmered beef). There is a second Trapizzino location at Piazale Ponte Milvio 13.

Sorpasso, (Via Properzio 31-33, website). Vital Intel: Sorpasso is a wine bar and restaurant. Trapizzini appear on its starters menu.

Gelato & Sorbetto

Photo: Katie Parla

Rome's gelato and sorbets are perhaps its most affordable gourmet snack. Two scoops rarely cost more than €2.50 and even the places devoted to extremely high-quality ingredients (a small minority of the city's 2,500 shops) keep their product affordable.

Where to get it:

Il Gelato di Claudio Torcè, (Various locations, website). Vital Intel: The locations closest to the city center are near the Vatican (Piazza Risorgimento 105) and the Circus Maximus (Viale Aventino 59).

Carapina
(Via dei Chiavari 37, Website). Vital Intel: The Tuscan owner is inspired by his region's flavors, from cookies to wine, which are transformed into creamy frozen treats.

Al Settimo Gelo, (Via Vodice 21a, Website). Vital Intel: Closed Monday.

Pizza Co' La Mortazza

Photo: Pizza & Mortazza/Facebook

Pizza co' la mortazza, essentially a bologna sandwich, is among the most classic Roman snacks. Pizza bianca, a local flatbread, is cut open and filled with a few thin slices of mortadella. The sandwich is best when the pizza is straight out of the oven and the mortadella melts into the steaming bread.

Where to get it:

Antico Forno Roscioli
(Via dei Chiavari 34, website). Vital Intel: Order pizza bianca at the bread counter, then bring it back to the small cafeteria at the back of the shop to be filled.

La Tradizione, (Via Cipro 8, website). Vital Intel: Closed Sunday and Monday mornings.

Pizza & Mortazza, (Mobile, website). Vital Intel: Pizza & Mortazza sells their products from a small mobile Ape cart. To track its location, visit its Facebook page, follow its twitter account, or go to its website.

Panini

Photo: Katie Parla

There are sandwiches all over town ranging from simple classics like prosciutto and mozzarella on a rosetta roll to pricey "panini gourmet." For a new approach to panini, but with strong Roman roots, go for an offal sandwich. The "new" Testaccio Market opened in 2012 near the city's former slaughterhouse. While the previous market sold only raw materials, the current market sells prepared foods, a rare but growing service in Rome's market spaces. At Box #15, Sergio and Mara Esposito serve offal sandwiches made from family recipes developed in the days of the old slaughterhouse. In Testaccio's restaurants, diners must sit down to a restaurant meal to try typical offal dishes, but the Espositos offer portable versions of Roman classcis like pajata (intestines of suckling veal) and coratella (lamb's heart, lungs, liver, and trachea) for a fraction of the restaurant price.

Where to get it:

Mordi e Vai, (Box #15, Testaccio Market, website). Vital Intel: Closes around 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday. Start with polpette di bollito.


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