14 Essential Foods to Try in Rome, Italy

“Carbonara” and “cacio e pepe” may be famous around the world, but there are lots of other fantastic dishes to try when in Rome.


Want to make the most of Rome’s food on your next visit. We’ve got 14 dishes to start you off.

All photos by Laura Itzkowitz

You might be surprised to learn that some of the foods Americans think of as classic Italian dishes are not actually served in Italy. (We’re looking at you, spaghetti and meatballs.) Italian cuisine is very regional, so dishes like ragù bolognese and pesto rarely appear on menus in Rome. Instead, the foods Rome is best known for tend to come from the cucina povera (literally meaning poor cuisine) tradition. They’re often simple dishes, with only a few ingredients, but when made correctly, they taste positively divine. Here are 14 must-try foods to look for on your next trip to Rome.

1. Maritozzo

Pizza e mortazza in Rome.

Slice pizza bianca in half, add mortadella, and you’ve got yourself pizza e mortazza—a classic Roman lunch bite.

Italians typically start the day with something sweet. A classic breakfast order is a cappuccino and cornetto (croissant), but if you want to try Rome’s iconic pastry, order a maritozzo instead. Traditionally a soft bun split in half and filled with whipped cream, the recipe is one that chefs like to play with, sometimes stuffing the buns with savory fillings instead.

Where to try it

Pasticceria Regoli is the best old-school bakery to go to for the traditional version.

2. Pizza bianca

The window at Antico Forno Roscioli with a display of pastries on trays just behind the glass.

Hit up Antico Forno Roscioli for some of the best pizza bianca in town.

Roman pizza bianca resembles focaccia, but it’s a bit thinner. Any bakery worth its salt makes it. You can buy a piece and eat it plain, but Romans love to slice it in half and fill it with mortadella. If you hear Romans asking for pizza e mortazza, that’s what they’re ordering. Join them and you might just find your new favorite sandwich.

Where to try it

Antico Forno Roscioli makes some of the best pizza bianca in the city, and you can have it stuffed with mortadella right there.

3. Supplì

Sometimes called supplì al telefono, these fried rice balls are typically eaten as an appetizer at pizzerias, but you can also get one as a snack at a friggitoria. The classic supplì are made with rice cooked in tomato sauce with a crispy breadcrumb crust and gooey mozzarella in the center, but lots of places make versions inspired by other pasta sauces.

Where to try it

The aptly named Supplì in Trastevere is a classic hole-in-the-wall spot where you can get supplì and slices of pizza to go.

4. Fiori di zucca

Another fried appetizer often found at pizzerias and trattorias, fiori di zucca are zucchini blossoms that have been stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies, then lightly battered and fried. You’ll find them when zucchini is in season, in the spring and summer.

Where to try it

Try the traditional version at Checco Er Carettiere in Trastevere or a deconstructed version at Pianostrada.

5. Artichokes

A cluster of purple green atichokes

The word for artichoke in Italian is carciofi.

In winter and early spring, when artichokes are in season, they appear on menus all over the city. They’re prepared in two main ways. Carciofi alla romana are first cleaned to remove the hard outer leaves, then stuffed with garlic and mentuccia (a local variety of wild mint), and braised in olive oil and water until they become soft. Carciofi alla giudia originated in Rome’s Jewish quarter. They’re fried twice, so the leaves become crispy and the heart becomes soft and tender.

Where to try it

Ba’Ghetto in the Jewish quarter serves artichokes prepared in both styles.

6. Cacio e pepe

A white bowl full of creamy, yellow cacio e pepe with a person pulling a fork-full of pasta up above it; The restaurant is called Da Enzo al 29

The cacio e pepe at De Enzo al 29 uses fresh tonnarelli pasta.

The quartet of Roman pastas are variations on a theme—and that theme is pecorino. A salty aged sheep’s milk cheese, pecorino romano is the star of cacio e pepe. Combined with freshly cracked black pepper and a bit of cooking water from the pasta, the pecorino emulsifies into a rich, creamy sauce.

Where to try it

Da Enzo al 29 in Trastevere makes a dependably excellent version of the dish with fresh tonnarelli pasta.

7. Carbonara

An overhead of two bowls of pasta on a table covered with a yellow and red checked table cloth. On the left hand side is a bowl of Cacio e pepe with a woman about to put her fork in it and on the left is a bowl of carbonaro with a fork and knife resting to the side of it on the table. There are several drink glasses surrounding them.

Pasta at home is not the same as pasta in Rome.

One of the most iconic foods in Rome, carbonara is just pasta (usually spaghetti or rigatoni) tossed with crispy guanciale (pork cheek), pecorino romano, black pepper, and raw egg—nothing more, nothing less. The trick is to add the beaten egg at the end, so it doesn’t scramble but coats the pasta and makes all the ingredients stick.

Where to try it

Salumeria Roscioli—a restaurant with a deli counter up front and tables in the back—is famous for its carbonara and rightfully so.

8. Amatriciana

Take a carbonara, remove the eggs, and add tomato sauce instead and you’ve got amatriciana. It’s usually served with bucatini or rigatoni, which soak up the delicious sauce and crispy bits of guanciale. The recipe hails from the little town of Amatrice a few hours from Rome.

Where to try it

La Matriciana dal 1870, across the street from the Opera House, claims to have introduced this dish to Rome, and it’s still one of the best places to try it.

Related: Where to Eat in Rome if You Only Have 24 Hours

9. Gricia

La gricia is sometimes called a white amatriciana because it has all the same ingredients minus the tomato sauce. Try it when you want a lighter version of carbonara.

Where to try it

At La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali in Monti, you can try the traditional version or its take on la gricia with seasonal fruit such as pears or figs.

10. Abbacchio allo scottaditto

Abbacchio allo scottaditto at Piatto Romano.

Abbacchio allo scottaditto comes with a host of vegetables at Piatto Romano.

A main course available at trattorias all over the city, this dish is simply grilled lamb chops seasoned with a bit of rosemary, salt, and pepper. Abbacchio is the word for lamb in Roman dialect and scottaditto means “burn your fingers.” You can eat this dish with a knife and fork, but don’t be surprised to see Romans picking it up with their hands—while trying not to burn their fingers.

Where to try it

Piatto Romano in Testaccio does this dish well and offers an unusually vast selection of vegetable side dishes to pair with it.

11. Saltimbocca

The word saltimbocca means “jump in your mouth”—that’s how flavorful this classic secondo is. Thinly sliced veal cutlets are layered with prosciutto and sage, lightly floured, and sautéed in butter and white wine.

Where to try it

Armando al Pantheon has been family-run since 1961 and still keeps traditional Roman recipes like this one alive.

12. Coda alla vaccinara

Oxtail stew that’s been simmered in tomato sauce for at least four hours, this dish is a good introduction to Rome’s quinto quarto tradition of eating offal. These dishes were mainly born of necessity, as the butchers at the slaughterhouse in Testaccio were sometimes paid with the cuts of meat that they couldn’t sell.

Where to try it

Checchino dal 1887 is right across the street from the (now defunct) slaughterhouse and still serves classic quinto quarto dishes.

A roll of Porchetta, which is rolled pork, along with a three slices off the log of meat. The outside is crispy and browned. It sits on top of a grey table.

Ron Dollete/Flickr

13. Porchetta

Pork roast that’s been deboned, seasoned with garlic, rosemary, and sometimes other herbs, then slowly cooked with the skin on, porchetta hails from the town of Ariccia in the Castelli Romani, a collection of hill towns southeast of Rome. You can eat it on its own, thinly sliced, or have it on a sandwich.

Where to try it

Er Buchetto, a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop near Termini Station, has been serving porchetta sandwiches for more than a century.

14. Puntarelle

Puntarelle, otherwise known as chicory shoots, on a plate in a restaurant.

If you’re in Rome during the winter months, puntarelle is a seasonal delight.

Commonly served as an appetizer or a side dish, puntarelle are chicory shoots that taste crunchy and a tad bitter. Available between November and April, they’re usually dressed with anchovies, garlic, and olive oil.

Where to try it

Puntarelle can be found at trattorias around the city, including many of the ones mentioned above.

Laura Itzkowitz is a freelance journalist based in Rome with a passion for covering travel, arts and culture, lifestyle, design, food, and wine.
From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR