Translation: The cuisine of a country is only the exact attestation of its civilization.
– Eugène Briffault, French food critic
Love this. Also loved this unforgettable line from 18th century gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, food writing trailblazer and the namesake of Brillat-Savarin cheese:
“A scoperta di un piatto nuovo è più preziosa per il genere umano che la scoperta di una nuova stella.” The discovery of a new dish is more precious to human beings than the discovery of a new star.
Italy’s culinary tradition is one of the most famous in the world and I didn’t get a great chance to evaluate it when I visited Milan, which turned out to be a rather vulgar tourist trap. It was up to Rome to redeem things, and Rome succeeded.
The first night got off to a great start at Mangiarte. The menu is by Antonino Cannavacciuolo.
For an appetizer I ordered the mozzarelline (3 euros). They don’t look like much at first, until you break them open and the fresh mozzarella, still oozing juice, stretches out…
And keeps stretching…
Free of grease, these were fun to play with as I waited 25 minutes for the lumaconi with codfish, potatoes and pea cream (8 euros). The wait was worth it.
Where to begin? Tender fish (with the slightest bounce in the mince), (properly) al dente pasta, smooth pea cream – everything about the texture and flavors worked together exquisitely. This was the most memorable dish of the trip.
I thought the gnocchetti in the gnocchetti all’amatriciana (7 euros) could have had more bounce. This is something you could replicate anytime in any western country outside of Italy.
Great char on the skewer of meat mixed with peppers (8 euros).
Mangiarte is located around 20 minutes from the Colosseum in the hideous neighborhood of San Lorenzo (not a tourist trap). The restaurant itself has a warm atmosphere and outdoor seating.
Prices are relatively low for the quality (a good thing) but plating is totally sloppy. Effort in the non-taste aspects of a dining experience is often what makes high-end restaurants high end.
Next up is Maranega. Maranega is the kind of typical overpriced tourist restaurant with the prime location, this prime location being the Piazza Campo de’ Fiori with its famed market (super underwhelming – nothing compared to Barcelona’s La Boqueria, but good for people-watching and close to the picturesque Tiber river).
We ordered two types of bruschetta and two types of pizza.
These were in the neighborhood of 6 euros each.
The marinara pizza is 7 euros and the funghi pizza is 9 euros.
Each dish was completely free of errors but also completely free of anything interesting. It may be unfair of me to give a bad review because I went and ordered the stereotypical bruschetta and pizza instead of any of the meat, fish, pasta, salad, and side dishes on the menu, so I’ll just praise the ambiance and location.
Continuing the theme of mozzarella at every meal: Naumachia! Naumachia is steps away from the Colosseum.
I started off with an arancini, a fried rice ball. This was really good. At only 2 euros each feel free to order one or four. I want to recreate this at home.
I decided to stretch the mozzarella here as well. This string kept getting longer and longer. I wound it around my fork so many times and it remained unbroken! This would never happen with dry American mozzarella.
After all this winding I just ate it.
Naumachia serves fresh pasta handmade in the kitchen, not shelf-stable dried pasta. There’s merits to both and dried pasta (basic ingredients: semolina flour and nothing else) is often preferable for its firmness and neutral flavor, but everyone should try fresh pasta at least once. Fresh pasta is much softer and usually incorporates egg into the dough. Naumachia’s pasta was melty at the first bite and became springy-er as I chewed. This sausage pasta was 9 euros.
Of course there is more to cheese than mozzarella. One of my favorite types of cheese i scamorza, a bouncier and less-sweet cousin to mozzarella. I discovered smoked scamorza at the Grand Hyatt all the way over in Beijing and could not stop dreaming about the rubbery rind. Scamorza is really hard to find in America and I’ve never seen it in any supermarket. I also tried and loved formaggio latteria, a very mild and slightly creamy young white cheese.
The bad taste Milan (literally) left in my mouth is gone. Thanks, Rome. Paese che vai, usanza che trovi!