As a tourist in Rome, it feels like you are in the majority doesn’t it? Queuing for the Vatican with two thousand fellow sardines, speaking English, eating with a view of St. Peter’s and buying a purple polyester shawl covered in Rome’s famous monuments; you are no different to the rest of them. But how much do you want to be the swarthy twenty four year old Italian, riding with a bella ragazza on the back of his Vespa and heading to the coolest aperitivo in town? Well I’m afraid I can’t make you twenty four, swarthy or provide you with an Italian lady, but what I can do, is tell you the top ten local hangouts and the ‘off the beaten track’ scenes of the Caput Mundi. But don’t worry, I’ll give you a well-known equivalent so you don’t feel too out of your depth…
1) THE GELATO
Now if you think I’m easing you in gently, then you’ve clearly never had Italian ice-cream. Food is, without doubt, Italy’s number one pride and joy (you can forget the culture), and gelato sits up there at the top with pizza, pasta and the Fiat 500. The problem with Rome is that there are so many ‘gelaterie’ (sing. gelateria) to choose from that you just end up going to the touristy one that is next to the touristy restaurant in the touristy area that you are having a touristy lunch. But the trick is to know the crème de la crème (or ice de la crème as it were) of gelaterie… So instead of heading towards the Pantheon (the area is infamous for its selection of gelati), I would head to Alberto Pica.
This is without doubt the numero uno gelateria in Rome… and that’s not just because it is situated one minute from my old apartment. Unassumingly placed off the busy Largo di Torre Argentina, you will know where you are when you see a group of eighty year-old Italian men shouting at one another, smoking, and eating gelati in the leafy outdoor seating area. Do not be put off by this, nor by the neon sign above the entrance or the surly wrinkly lady seated at the till in the dated Italian bar who, for a fact, has never smiled in her life.
Buying most things in a (traditional) bar in Italy usually goes a bit like this: choose, buy your ticket, give the man behind the counter your ticket, and then tell him what you want. In Pica, you will have chosen your cup size (if only it could be that easy…) and after paying Signora Grumpy you will give her deceivingly friendly-looking son your choice of gelato. If you’re feeling safe, go for the best Crema in town, if you’re mid way on the adventurous-o-meter go for Pistacchio and if you are feeling as daring as me every day that I was in Rome, dip your fluorescent plastic spoon into Riso or Riso e Canella. Yep, that’s right, your Italian translation skills are correct. Rice. Rice ice-cream. Or rice and cinnamon for those of you with more of a sweet-tooth. Just think rice pudding, but frozen.
In the name of the father, the son and the holy gelato, I can promise you, Alberto Pica’s Riso is the best ice-cream that’s ever passed these lips…
To visit Alberto Pica, you need to head to Via della Seggiola, 12 00186 Roma. For a map, visit: Alberto Pica Google Maps