Today, I’ve had gelato for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And as I write this, it’s only 3pm in the afternoon.
It all started on this bright Sunday morning, when I made the onerous hike up to Prati, to Fatamorgana for their daring, wildly-flavored gelati. If you weren’t looking for the place, you’d probably keep going. But being the trooper that I am, in the blazing heat, I pushed past the crowds at the Vatican and trudged upwards toward my goal.
To say the walk was worth it is putting it mildly. This compact address scoops up some of the most astounding gelato I’ve tasted. I wasn’t quite sure what to order, as there were literally three kinds of frozen zabaglione and nearly ten various riffs on cioccolata.
I decided to go for it and had Kentucky, flavored with chocolate and tobacco, ricotta-coconut, and pure zabaglione. When I took my cup outside and spooned in my first bite, I almost started crying. In fact, I did cry a bit—it was so good.
Fortunately at that hour, no one was awake and I had the sidewalk to myself.) Each mouthful was better than the previous one, and surprising to me, Kentucky turned out to be my favorite. Smoky tobacco mixed with bittersweet chocolate? I can see why people become addicted. I am, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
It’s not a very good photograph, and I suppose I could blame the heat. But in truth, I ate it so fast, it was hard for me to stop eating and now I’m craving more.
Rome is always a pretty awkward city for me. I’ve been here a few times, and I’m back again, and each time it takes a few days to get used to the crazy jumble of streets, a good portion of which aren’t marked. Or if they are, names change when you walk a few meters, which make navigating a bit tricky. And most aren’t listed on maps either. Unlike Paris, there’s not much of an underground subway system you can hop on and off of, since every time they start digging around below the surface in Rome, they come across some archeological marvel and have to stop and unearth it with toothbrushes. So you have to relax and just let your feet guide you around the cobblestone streets, being careful to avoid the scooter and cars that aren’t afraid to brush by you are harrowing speeds.
Taking advantage of the disorientation was my “official” cab driver from the airport who somehow forgot the “official” fixed rate, and the fare was a bit higher…like 50% higher, than the rate he was supposed to charge. (In Rome, cabs with SPQR from the airport are supposed to, by law, charge a fixed fare.) After him pretending he had no idea what I was talking about, and me pretending I spoke Italian and explaining the laws of Rome to him, I guess I got off lucky with just a verbal altercation (one word I did get in was “prison”) since some Italian friend recounted to me that they had a cab driver pull out a baseball bat when they scoffed at paying the overcharged cab fare the driver of their taxi insisted on in Naples.
In other bad news (for him), he could be making a helluva lot more money as a model instead of fleecing visitors. I don’t know why he was wasting him time hauling folks around when Dolce & Gabbana would’ve hired him on the spot. But it’s important not to let one bad mele spoil the whole bunch and you have to smile at their moxie for being able to lie with a straight, ruggedly bearded face. And toned, muscular arms.
For those of us who aren’t model material, we have to earn an honest living. And my first night in Rome, Elizabeth Minchilli and her husband Domenico were kind enough to host a book signing for me in their Roman courtyard. The weather cooperated and we drank sparkling rosé and nibbled on sesame cookies, crisp flatbread brushed with olive oil and salt, and I popped many giant, meaty green olives in my mouth in between meeting new friends, and seeing a few old ones, in Rome.
One thing I love about Italy, aside from the fact that everywhere you go people are happy to let you take their photos (except for the cab driver…although I did get a snap of his cab license number…), is that there’s always tons of food. And people don’t make any qualms about eating lots of it. The food is fresh, tasty, and copious.
Italy has great things. Olives, olive oil, gelato (we’ll get to more of that in a minute), coffee, and chocolate. But one thing I do miss about France when I travel is the bread.
Italians aren’t necessarily known for are their breads and I have to agree that I’m not really a fan of them. But my Italians say that in Italy, bread is more of an afterthought, something to sop up sauce with, rather than an important component of meals. But I scored when I discovered Roscioli where a wall of crusty, beautiful breads was spread out before me.
When you see a sign in Rome that says “Forno”, that means to make a quick and immediate detour inside. Romans are famous for their pizza bianca and Roscioli is every bit as good as its famous rival Forno Campo di Fiori, not too far away.
For breakfast, Italians don’t eat the mountain of bread that some of us do (guilty) and I need more than a few rusks of dried bread to greet the day. So I was happy to find such earthy, grainy breads, including a compact rye loaf, which I was eager to try since I needed something a bit ‘healthy’ to accompany up all the gelato I was sopping up.
Aside from my book party, I’m also preparing to lead a few gelato tours with my friends at Context Travel this week. Yesterday, I barely unpacked my half-empty suitcase (which was intentional, so I can bring back bricks of cryo-vac’d Italian coffee to France) and me and my amica Petulia, who is coming on the walks with us, headed out to explore our favorite gelaterias, for a little last-minute quality assurance test.
One favorite is Cremeria Monteforte (via della Rotonda, 22), conveniently located just behind the Pantheon. It gets less press than the more famous, larger gelato shops, but when it’s this hot, their espresso granita con panna can’t be beat. Often Americans don’t realize they’re agreeing to a blob of whipped cream when asked if they want it con panna, and they’re always surprised when the cone or cup is handed over with a formidable poof of whipped cream so large that the creamy blob is tipping over the edge. I have to admit that I’m not a huge whipped cream fan, but I’ve learned when in Rome…
One of the first places I had true Italian gelato during a visit decades ago was Alberto Picaa (via della Seggiola, 12). Not flashy or modern, I love the polished service which includes iced silver dishes and waiters in ties and buttoned-up vests. But the real stars are the interesting flavors, which include rice, manna, rose, and licorice gelati.
The good news is that I get to go back this week, twice (at least), as well as hitting a list of others. And I can’t wait to get into the kitchen at Giolitti, where the masters of gelato are going to show us how they whip up their classic Rome gelato, which they’ve been making for nearly a century. They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it’s nice to know that I’ve almost found the limit to how many flavors of gelato I can consume in one giorno.
Related Posts and Links
Espresso di Roma: Sant-Eustachio
Rome Gelato (Lonely Planet)
Gelato in Rome (Elizabeth Minchilli)
Tour del Gelato (Ms. Adventures in Italy)
Tasting Rome: Gelato, Pasta, and the Market