/Some Myths About Rome That Need To Die

Some Myths About Rome That Need To Die

giolitti gelato ingredients
Giolitti is terrible and this ingredients list is proof.

It’s 2013. Sometimes I have to remind myself. This is due partly to my awkward relationship with calendars, but I mainly attribute it to the continued proliferation of falsehoods about Rome that were true a decade or more ago (or never!), but long ago ceased to be universally accepted truths. Too often, I read outrageous claims about Roman food culture; these are in desperate need of an update. It is time for the information out there to conform to this century. Wake up and let’s face the city’s gastronomic realities head-on. Here are some myths about Rome that need to be put out of their misery:

Caffe’ Sant’Eustacchio serves the best coffee in town. This could not be further from the truth. The coffe is sometimes good, occasionally great, but mostly just passable. Also its surfaces are perpetually sticky. Ditto for Tazza d’Oro. Check out Sciascia in Prati for the real deal.

You can’t find a bad meal in Rome. It’s true that everything tastes better on vacation. But if you compare the ingredients and dishes found on Roman restuarant tables today to what typified the city 2 decades ago, you’ll be surprised by the tangible decline. The center of Rome is particularly plagued by very mediocre restaruants. Luckily, there are still a handful that keep it real, though bear in mind that even the great places excel at some dishes and not at all of them. For a round-up of where to eat well in Rome, check out my app. And for more on how to order the “right thing” in Roman restaurants, visit this post.

Romans eat tiny portions and order every course. This was perhaps the case in pre-euro Rome when people went out to eat regularly and could afford four-course meals. Now budget-oriented customers order fewer dishes and are attracted by portions of ever-growing dimensions, especially pasta.

Testaccio is undiscovered. Just because the free tourist maps slices Testaccio off the bottom of the page, doesn’t mean this neighborhood is outside the center. On the contrary, it is very much central and very much on the beaten track. I love Testaccio on Sundays when the Città dell’Altra Economia Biomercato is going on, but during the week, get there early or prepare yourself to be trampled by huge tour groups that pack out the market and that overrated store owned by two greedy brothers.

Giolitti serves amazing gelato. Nostalgia is a powerful force and, though I wouldn’t touch Giolitti’s gelato with a ten foot pole now (call me picky, but I prefer to consume ice cream that doesn’t contain vegetable oil and artificial colors!), I get that visitors and locals alike have fond memories of the place. It was a regular stop for me in the early to mid-aughts. But then the (albiet small) natural gelato movement took off. This is where to get amazing gelato these days:

Visualizza The Essential Guide to Gelato in Rome in una mappa di dimensioni maggiori

Campo de’ Fiori is an authentic market. Spend 10 minutes standing next to Giordano Bruno and analyze the tourist to local shopper ratio. No Rome resident has ever purchased limoncello that comes in a boot-shaped bottle, nor has a local ever purchased phallic pasta. Though a handful of stalls sell (overpriced) produce, the only reason to go Campo these days is to have a good cry.

House wine is delicious. Unless you are referring to that of a fine dining establishment, the odds are the vino della casa is industrial swill. Spend a few euros more and get the good stuff.

Trastevere is some sort of food paradise. This statement was teetering on the edge of falsehood when I moved to Rome over a decade ago. Perhaps the neighborhood had some good, rustic places to eat back in the 20th century. But those days are long gone. Now Biscottificio Innocenti, Fior di Luna and a handful of other places are satisfying, but the neighborhood as a whole disappoints.

There is no good ethnic cuisine in Rome. This one drives me nuts. One of the best restaurants in Rome the world is Mesob, a spectacular Ethiopian restaurant on Via Prenestina. Rome is not and will never be London or even Paris, but you can find some stellar non-Italian options in town. Check out The Rome Digest international dining category here.

Sora Margherita is delicious. I had a good laugh when I saw T+L shout this place out in their recent Food Issue. Then I immediately felt nauseous, perhaps a residual effect from having eaten at this terrible place. The food is overpriced and of poor quality and they have hygiene issues. Lawsuits have been waged and won for less inflammatory statements, but I’m sticking to my story.

Romans are devoted to local produce. Not really. In general, consumers in Rome are driven by value–or the perception of value. Just visit any supermarket (where most people shop) and check the quality and provenance of the stock.

I could go on, but I’ll leave the ball in your court for now. What myths would you like to see put to rest?

2017-02-17T15:16:51+00:00 April 4th, 2013|Categories: Culture, Food & Wine, Rome & Lazio, Rome Dining Advice|49 Comments


  1. Irene April 4, 2013 at 2:45 pm - Reply

    Great post Katie! Was actually doing research on some other Italian food myths the other day. I am really curious to find answers on why these myths are actually so incredibly persistent in the entire world!

  2. Lindsey April 4, 2013 at 3:22 pm - Reply

    SO much of this applies to Paris as well (with obvious differences in neighborhoods and food staples) but such a good idea.

  3. William April 4, 2013 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    There is a fish and chip shop in Lytham near me which about 10 years ago was awarded ‘Food Hero’ status be English TV Celebrity Chef and renowned restauranter Rick Stein. People now visit Lytham and flock to this fish and chip shop called Whelans to try the celebrated fish and chips – and you can even enjoy them with a glass of Chardonay! 10 years later and 2 changes of owners the ‘Food Hero’ certificate can still be seen in the shop window even though the quality of fish and chips bears no resemblance to the fine quality fayre on sale a decade ago.

  4. Congolese April 4, 2013 at 4:18 pm - Reply

    Well… One good Ethiopian restaurant doesn’t really disqualify that myth, maybe it is better to say there is not a statistically relevant amount of “ethnic” food in Rome. But just the fact that Ethiopia was a colony well never mind… Too involved for a blog!

    Also on local produce, what is considered local in the US is really the case here because the place is so small. 90 miles or even 60 miles from Rome covers a vast territory. I’d say for this reason “local” doesn’t matter much but people definitely think “Italy” means “organic hand picked at the optimal hour nobody uses canned or boxed or convenience foods and grandma and mom are in the kitchen morning to night making homemade big night meals for a loving 3 hour lunch and animated dinner”


    • Katie April 4, 2013 at 4:25 pm - Reply

      Youre right. One good Ethiopian place (and it is SOOO good) doesn’t disqualify the myth. But there are lots of other places see link in post and so many places for good non-Italian food all over town. Mesob was just one example!

  5. Joe April 4, 2013 at 7:30 pm - Reply

    You’re the best Katie! When I get to Rome I’ll be depending on your guidance for the best places to eat and visit. Thanks!

  6. Matt April 4, 2013 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    Wish someone could dispel the rumor that Dar Poeta serves decent pizza! One of the greatest perpetuated myths about food in Rome.

  7. Hounddogman April 4, 2013 at 7:34 pm - Reply

    A great coffee place with the same name as my favourite Italian writer! Must visit. And, given that the coffee Sciascias originally come from Agrigento, which is not far from Racalmuto birthplace of Leonardo S, I wonder if they are related.

  8. Carolina April 4, 2013 at 8:04 pm - Reply

    What about “The best tiramisu in Rome is Pompi’s”?

  9. Hounddogman April 4, 2013 at 8:09 pm - Reply

    When I first visited Rome back in 1999 my Italian friends, who lived in Trastevere then, took me to places like Da Augusto, Enoteca Corsi and La Vineria. I was knocked out: this is how one should live I thought. Now they’re just shadows of their former selves, overwhelmed by greed and their contempt for their undiscriminating tourist customers. If Da Ivo and Ai Marmi can maintain their standards (and largely they do) why don’t they?

    And what’s happened to Campo de’ Fiori is nothing short of a disgrace. Like you I only visit there for a good cry and an indignation upsurge, then stomp off to Il Vinaietto to drown my sorrows (if I’m in Trastevere when such a mood overtakes me I head for Bar San Callisto).

    My friends now live in San Lorenzo, which is rather more resistant to tourism (and, indeed, many other things) although even that place now has more mediocre eating and drinking places than one can shake a stick at, aimed at bobos intent on a bit of elegant slumming. Thank God, Da Marcello is still there but for how long?

  10. Peter April 4, 2013 at 8:41 pm - Reply

    I haven’t lived in Rome for twenty years, so I’m hopelessly out of date. Campo was my local market, and untouristed back then; the forno on the corner made a redoubtable olive bread and a mean pizza rossa. Giolitti was also a favorite back then, though I thought Vivoli in Florence kicked its ass.

    My bête noire back then was the pizzeria rustica on the main drag in Trastevere, a few blocks pasty the river on the way to Porta Portese. Their eggplant parmigiana pizza was wickedly decadent, but way overpriced, and the staff were all assholes who would cut you a slice at least two etti bigger than you asked for.

    My rule of thumb was to avoid any place that had a menu out front in English. That’s probably not so useful any more.

  11. AntonyM April 4, 2013 at 9:59 pm - Reply

    Katie… great & needed post. I discovered Settimio di Pellegrino because of you… yes, I had to knock, and when I asked if carciofi were on the menu (I had seen them that day all over mercato Campo d F) was told “they are no longer new enough” and would not be served. I knew in that moment I had found the right place to eat, and this is my long-overdue thank you. With your help and our attention, some of those old myths may actually die.

  12. Jennifer Wilkin Penick April 4, 2013 at 10:00 pm - Reply

    After 25 years in Rome, I am only guilty of propagating the “not much good ethnic food” accusation … and of still liking the coffee at Tazza d’Oro. For the rest, I’m with you.

  13. david April 4, 2013 at 8:41 pm - Reply

    no love for gelateria dei gracchi??

  14. Mary Jane Cryan April 4, 2013 at 10:45 pm - Reply

    glad I lived in Rome in the old days when you could get good food at decent prices even in Piazza Farnese area. Agree with you on the unfortunate upscaling/pricing of Corsi and the ickiness of Sora Margherita. Dont agree about Tazza d’Oro but Eustachio lost my business years ago.
    keep up the good work..

  15. david April 4, 2013 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    and how about the myth that the C metro line will one day be operational…

  16. Michael Housewright April 4, 2013 at 8:56 pm - Reply

    Across the board I love your post. I have frequently failed to find quality, charm, or amazement in most of the places your deride here. However, I still believe Tazz d”Oro makes a solid caffe’ and caffe’ macchiato. Eustachio always left me empty and the sticky description is so right on I had to re-read it just to laugh again at the imagery. I will absolutely run to Sciascia next time I am in town, but in over 100 Tazze d’oro I have consumed in my life, less than 5 have been sub-par. I am now more curious than ever to taste through all the great coffee spots of Rome. Join me?

  17. Katie April 5, 2013 at 12:26 am - Reply

    @Irene they are persistent because print media and amateur food writing, which unfortunately go hand in hand, are still alive and well

    @lindsey i want to read your paris post!

    @william it kills me to see things like that. places proudly wear their former accolades as though they count for anything. mah

    @Joe youre the best! grazie a te!!

    @ Hounddogman get on that! sciascia rules. haha imagine actually running into each other weeping in campo. that would be super awkward, i think, but also vindicating. san lorenzo is a weird case. it is such a budget-driven ‘hood and i like a couple of places there for certain dishes, but it seems so many spots get by cuz they are cheap. what is this da marcello you speak of?

    @carolina preach it! that place is AWFUL!!

    @david i sort of like that place but don’t love their use of glucose instead of sugar. they are building a metro C? i thought they put up those yellow barriers everywhere so they could glue reggae concert posters on them.

    @peter i would love to have your opinion on all these neo-bistros that have opened recently in rome. i swear i don’t recognize this city sometimes!

    @michael i stand by tazza d’oro being sticky. i go at 930-10 during the breakfast rush and it is so gross. but it seems i am in the minority here. we need to go to sciascia together

    @anthonym ah, mario and teresa…snarky as hell always.

    @jennifer i am certainly outnumbered on the tazza d’oro claim:)

    @maryjane cryan poor sora margherita. corsi was one of the worst meals of 2012:(

  18. Nathalie (@spacedlaw) April 5, 2013 at 10:23 am - Reply

    Excellent post, Katie.
    Would you know what is happening with Torce’s place on Piazza di monte d’oro? Did it close completely or is it just being revamped?

  19. Sarah May (@AntiquaTours) April 5, 2013 at 8:26 am - Reply

    Don’t forget another myth related to food: Italians are never fat.

  20. Hounddogman April 5, 2013 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    @Katie Da Marcello is on the piazetta at the intersection of Campani, Messapi and Equi (Via dei Campani 12, +39 06 4463311). It used to just have signs saying ‘Cucina’ and ‘Osteria’ but now has a sign ‘Da Marcello’. There’s a mention here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2012/sep/13/top-10-memorable-restaurants-meals-italy#show-all.

  21. Hounddogman April 5, 2013 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    PS At all costs avoid the place ‘Trattoria Genni’ opposite Marcello’s. I asked for veal and they gave me pork.

  22. Hounddogman April 5, 2013 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    Also it’s not a good idea to go to Marcello wearing Lazio colours. But then that applies to SLO as a whole. One good thing about that is that keeps Blackburn Rovers fans away.

  23. Christine April 5, 2013 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    Whenever I come back to Rome I always make sure to get my fix of Ethiopian (I like Kilimanjaro) and Indian (I forget the name but it’s the last one on Principe Amadeo).

    And I 100% agree with Giolitti. Fior di Luna FTW!

  24. Rick April 5, 2013 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    A much needed post by someone with an authoritative voice on the subject. Thanks Katie. I’ve always felt the same way about Giolitti, but I had never seen the ingredients list, which says it all. I also agree with you on the other so-called institutions such as Tazza d’Oro, ecc.

    My only departure is on the topic of ethnic food in Rome. I’ve never tried the Ethiopian restaurant they you’ve suggested, but I’ve been dragged to several Chinese, Japanese, Indian places by well-meaning friends. And all of those places were, without exception, horrible. Yes, I’ve been to a few mediocre Roman restaurants, but even those were passable.

    As far as house wine, yes, you get what you pay for. Sometimes it’s decent, but never memorable.

    Ciao, Rick

  25. OCDemon April 6, 2013 at 5:08 am - Reply

    This reminds me of the psychological “syndrome” that certain Japanese tourists get when visiting Paris. Apparently something like dozens of people per year must be repatriated to Japan because they become so wrought with depression when they find out Paris isn’t a magical fairyland of Hogwarts-like charm.

    Seems like Italy has that mystical reputation as well. But nobody ever gets butterflies in their stomach over Belgium. Poor Belgians!

  26. Frank April 6, 2013 at 4:16 pm - Reply

    Depressing reading, Katie. I left Rome nearly 8 years ago, but the writing was already on the wall. We lived close to Campo de’ fiori, which in the 10 years we lived in Rome we saw go from a quite (if already pricey and touristy) market to what it is today. Too sad…

  27. Nathalie ( @spacedlaw ) April 6, 2013 at 5:50 pm - Reply

    Ah. Another food myth (though more Italian than Roman): There is in general far less garlic in Italian food than foreigners tend to believe on the basis of what is sold as Italian food where they live.

  28. Renzo April 7, 2013 at 8:18 pm - Reply

    Another myth: Rome’s quality of life is great… in fact, living there is a pain in the ass 😀

  29. Leonardo April 8, 2013 at 10:38 am - Reply

    Hi everyone,my first comment!
    Caffè S. Eustacchio used to be “the place to go” and to be seen in the 80’when ” vitello tonnato” was the classy thing to order everywhere….another place to go was Pascucci between the Pantheon and piazza Argentina for a fresh frullato.I cringe thinking about the things we thought were cool

  30. Bropaul April 9, 2013 at 2:43 am - Reply

    Reading your post brought me back to my student days in Rome over 30 years ago. In those days, it was pretty hard to find bad food. Testaccio was my stomping grounds and it really was undiscovered back then. We frequented a whole array of Mom & Pop type places that are almost all gone – except for Il Cantinone, which has been seriously tarted up. I wonder, though, how much of those impressions were formed by the novelty of it all. Back then it was all new to me and every dining experience seemed like a discovery.That said, there is a lot more variety in Rome today.

  31. Lilly April 10, 2013 at 9:22 pm - Reply

    Signs all over Campo de’ Fiore tout – in English – that items are easy to carry-on your flight home, and meet airplane security standards. Clearly not aimed at locals. 🙁

  32. s April 11, 2013 at 4:41 am - Reply

    tee hee hee hee i laughed SO hard when i read this post (i woke my sleeping baby up!).

    “Romans don’t like / eat fast food. It is so “American” to eat fast food”. Erm, have you ever seen the line-up outside Spizzico on the Via del Corso on a Saturday afternoon? Or the throng of Roman kids coming out of McD’s near the Pantheon? I had a panino at Spizzico en route to Florence once. It was properly emetic.

    “They make amazing croissants / cornetti in Rome.” Have you ever hard the cardboard-like cornetti they serve in most of the bars in Rome? Not everyone knows how to make a cornetto like Cafe Linari or that pasticceria where they filmed Le Fate Ignoranti.

    I am sad to hear that Testaccio has become a touristic place – I guess I am thinking of the Testaccio I knew ten years ago…the restaurants were always packed, and there was a line-up, but it was mostly the Romans who were lining up.

    I am one of those people who feel nostalgic about Giolitti – I loved it before I knew about all the hydrogenated fats they use. Then I discovered Ciampini. Then I discovered the organic place in Monteverde (something ‘luna’), and so many others. I think if I found out that Mondi or Le Procope’s gelato has hydrogenated fat in it I would cry myself silly.

    Oh, I love this one – “the best place for brunch is ‘Gusto”. WHAT?

    And lastly, this isn’t a myth about Rome, but about Italy in general – “the best wines are Sassicaia, Brunello di Montalcino and blah, blah, blah.” People – please go out there and try the other luscious wines of Italy – Amarone, some gorgeous ones made in Lazio, the Aglianico grape is so delicious – the list goes on.

    Katie, I love your gutsiness – you’re an amazing lady – lots of integrity and honesty and above all, your posts are fun. Now, when are you finding me that package of phallic pasta? I mean, we all buy that, right? xo s

  33. […] the spirit of last week’s “Some Myth’s About Rome The Need To Die”, I present a post dedicated to revealing 21st century Roman food culture. This is loosely based on […]

  34. Dario April 16, 2013 at 6:10 pm - Reply

    I may agree with you on most of your post, but I wish you were a little gentler in the way you say things. I know you mean well, but sometimes you come of as being slightly rude.

  35. hounddogman April 16, 2013 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    And, of course, rudeness is just *so* unRoman.

  36. Bropaul April 17, 2013 at 2:46 am - Reply


  37. Valeria April 20, 2013 at 12:43 am - Reply

    Well, I did wander through Campo one morning on my trip but all I was looking for was the man who sells the puntarelle slicers and I did have a breakdown at the porchetta stand …
    I would guess the largely miserable state of American produce is what keeps people thinking Campo is wonderful?

  38. Katie April 20, 2013 at 1:13 am - Reply

    I think it is guidebooks and ignorant food guides who tout the place as authentic when it is so obviously not is what keeps people thinking it is wonderful. just a theory:)

  39. Nick May 1, 2013 at 9:46 am - Reply

    Love it Katie! Overall I have found that all of the big tourist cities of Italy are turning into Italian Disneylands of sorts. Locations have become checklists instead of true experiences. I am always happy to escape home here in Sicily, where they are still “keeping it real” for the most part. Hit me up on my site if you ever head down this way!

  40. Kavitha May 6, 2013 at 7:52 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this, your post and blog is so needed. Whenever friends mention they are going on their first trip to Rome and can’t wait for all the good food I just feel like telling them they might be better of in New York where you know what you are getting! When I was there visiting during my time studying abroad in Bologna a few years ago I felt like I could not find a decent cheap square meal! Everywhere we spontaneously decided go to was sub-par compared to all the other Italian cities I’d been to, and I almost broke down crying when I realized I had paid 5 euros for a pizza with MAYO on it. I literally sampled every gelato stand I passed and never bought a single one because they were all so gross (I am also very picky with gelato and Bologna spoiled me). Sigh, if only I had your guides back then! I got the impression that Rome really is a city where you can’t trust to stumble into any old place and get great quality food, you really need some insider tips.

  41. Michelle May 8, 2013 at 7:44 am - Reply

    Thanks for the article. Another myth that needs to be tackled:
    any food in Italy=mediterranean diet= healthy.

  42. Terry June 10, 2013 at 10:33 pm - Reply

    I don’t know any of the places you’re talking about really but you’re bang on the bollocks right in your general ideas. All the best cheap food is outside the centre and even that can be a drag to find if you’ve not got a mate with the right idea.

    I was lucky in that i met my now fiance after she’d been here for two years, and that she lived down the Tuscolana, so I learned early what made a decent place to eat here.

    Too often though I find the way people talk about nice places to eat is some sort of competition. And they will not take any criticism from foreigners, as per Dario upthread. People here think London is some sort of backwards food desert, and ‘what would I know about food anyway?’

  43. Rome the second time | We Write October 25, 2013 at 12:43 am - Reply

    […] buildings with hundreds of antennae! Maybe that’s a good thing? So I looked up the list of other gelaterie to try, and couldn’t really find those either. Maybe you’ll have better […]

  44. Nick July 4, 2014 at 1:32 am - Reply

    Hey Katie

    Good shit. I’ve just been in Rome myself. I tried to write something about my thoughts on Roman food but I felt whiney and unsubstantiated so I looked online for some other thoughts on the matter. Your post really inspired me.

    P.s. It’s nice to read some good food writing that’s not afraid to be critical – a very rare thing amongst the Aus food blog community,
    P.p.s this is what I wrote http://nicholasjordan88.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/112-and-113-rome/

  45. […] cynical Rome-based food writer once wrote of Campo de’ Fiori, central Rome’s most famous market, “Spend 10 minutes standing […]

  46. Coral (Curious Appetite) October 6, 2016 at 8:11 am - Reply

    Mega laughs thanks to “the only reason to go Campo these days is to have a good cry.” I think many of your points can be applied to Italy in general- I’d love to do a post like this on Florence (so over the assumption that all bistecca alla fiorentina comes from Chianina (and no one questions a steak that is 30eu a kilo at a restaurant) or all meat is from local, free-range happy animals. Grande- so glad there are whistle blowers out there and not just smoke blowers!

  47. Coral (Curious Appetite) October 6, 2016 at 8:12 am - Reply

    Mega laughs thanks to “the only reason to go Campo these days is to have a good cry.” I think many of your points can be applied to Italy in general- I’d love to do a post like this on Florence (so over the assumption that all bistecca alla fiorentina comes from Chianina (and no one questions a steak that is 30eu a kilo at a restaurant) or all meat is from local, free-range happy animals. Grande Katie- so glad there are whistle blowers out there and not just smoke blowers!

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