What is traditional Roman food? At its core, Roman cuisine, or cucina Romana, is simple and seasonal. Dishes are based on fresh ingredients and the thousands of years of cultural exchange that have passed through the Eternal City. Italy comprises 20 regions, each with its own characteristic cuisine. Rome finds itself in the region of Lazio, and typical Roman foods include pizza al taglio (literally, “pizza by the slice”), offal-based dishes, pasta, and fried vegetables.
Many Roman foods have their origins in pockets of ethnic groups and cucina povera (“poor kitchen”), a frugal style of cooking originated by poor and peasant cooks. Today, one can still see and taste the influence of Rome’s Jewish community in the fried “Jewish-style” artichokes that grace nearly every menu. And the ingenuity of 19th-century Testaccio’s slaughterhouse workers and their wives lives on in the offal-based dishes now served in cheap, street-food sandwiches at the new Testaccio market.
These days, Roman chefs and restaurants are putting modern touches on traditional Roman recipes and hospitality, making the same dishes you’d eat during a four-hour dinner at a trattoria accessible to younger generations who are constantly on the go. Unlike some other cuisines that search for the “new” outside of its own tradition, these new approaches to Roman food look within the canon of cucina Romana to reintroduce forgotten dishes to an eager audience of locals and tourists alike.
In this episode of Connections: See Both Sides, cookbook author Alison Roman explores the traditional and modern sides of pizza, meat, and gelato in Rome.