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13 Things You Might Learn If You Go to Rome

Melissa wearing navy Tory Burch sunglasses, Cotopaxi winter jacket, and a brightly colored scarf as she stands in front of Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome.

On our trip to Rome in late January, I was always learning or eating. Sometimes, I learned while eating. Below are thirteen things I learned that I thought you might enjoy knowing.

1. Roman Fever

Edith Wharton’s short story Roman Fever is brilliant. Its ending made me gasp and cover my mouth on our flight from Porto to Lisbon en route to Rome.

2. Roman Pinsas

Before pizzas became a staple of Italian cuisine, pinsas were on the Roman scene. Pinsas are similar to pizza in almost every way except the crust, which is lighter in taste, lower in calories, and higher in protein. The first historical record of their existence can be found in Virgil’s Aeneid  which was written between 29 and 19 B.C.

A woman with blonde hair, wearing a gray sweater, holds an Eggplant Parmigiana Pinsa.

3. How to eat Roman Style Artichokes

When you eat Roman-style artichokes, Carciofi alla Romana, eat the stems. As the server at Armando al Pantheon informed me as he pointed to the artichoke stem left on my plate, “Madam, I must tell you, that is the best part.”

4. Madonelle

Madonnas are painted on street corners to keep everyone safe. They’re called madonelle — Little Madonnas. It’s a tradition that comes out of early Roman times when they would put images of lares (domestic gods) at the crossroads to keep evil away. According to our guides, the citizens of Rome are superstitious — always have been. 

A framed Madonna on a street corner of Rome. Her frame is held by angels. A light is above her.

5. Guanciale

Guanciale is pork cheek. And pork cheek is salty goodness. Guanciale is far superior to bacon or pancetta in pasta dishes like carbonara, amatriciana, and all Gricia, but it’s hard to come by in the United States. In American versions of Italian recipes, pancetta or bacon is often called for instead of pork cheek. When it comes to pasta dishes neither are guanciale’s equal. 

6. It Wasn't about an apple

Eve of Adam and Eve fame did not take a bite of an apple. It was a fig. According to our guide at the Vatican, there was an error in translation. 

7. Stanley Tucci

Stanley Tucci knows what he’s talking about when he talks about Italian food. If you’re planning a vacation to Italy, I recommend watching the episodes of Searching for Italy that correspond with your trip. I watched the episode on Rome. Or, check out his new travel and food show on National Geographic

8. Lemon + Steak

Freshly squeezed lemon on steak is delicious. At Pommidoro dal 1890 Ristorante, Chris and I shared a fantastic cut of beef tenderloin cooked to perfection, served with a lemon wedge. After making it halfway through the steak, we decided to try squeezing on a bit of lemon. It was amazing. I was so surprised by it that I did a bit of research and found that there’s some science behind squeezing lemon onto steak

Steak being sliced into with a knife and held in position by a fork. It is served with a lemon wedge and some greens on a white plate.

9. Telling Time

Every day at noon, a cannon fires from Janiculum Hill or, in Italian, Gianicolo. The daily ritual was started by Pope Pius IX at Castel Sant’Angelo in 1847 – his aim was to synchronize the ringing of bells in churches across Rome. 

10. Alora

Alora means “so” in Italian. I learned this from our The Tour Guy guide to the Colosseum and Roman Forum. She habitually said alora every few minutes, so I had to ask.

11. Pillaging vs. Recycling

One person’s pillaged is another’s recycled. This was a point our Colosseum and Roman Forum guide brought up a number of times. She mentioned the Gallery of the Candelabra floor in the Vatican museums — it’s exquisite, with mosaics in many hues of marble. According to her, that floor’s marble was taken from the Colosseum and Forum.

12. Parmesan Brûlée

Parmesan Brûlée exists. We’ve enjoyed Crème Brûlée many times in our lives, but neither Chris nor I had ever heard of Parmesan Brûlée before we dined at Trattoria Antonio dal 1934. The server shaved truffle onto it at our table. I hope to recreate it when we settle down and I have the kitchen setup I want.

13. Pandoro Cake

Pandoro Cake exists. This is another gem we learned about at Trattoria Antonio dal 1934. Pandoro is similar to Panettone but doesn’t have the candied fruits in it. Pandoro is a specialty of Verona, which makes me love it even more because I can think of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet while I eat it.

Pandoro Cake with Mascarpone

Visiting Rome? Check out our Rome: 8 Restaurants to Dine at During Your Roman Holiday for restaurants worth booking in advance. La Dolce Vita: A 5-Day Itinerary for Experiencing Rome’s Charm for ideas on how to put together an itinerary for your time in the Eternal City. If you’re looking for a hotel, we found the DoubleTree by Hilton Rome Monti to be just right.   

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