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Thank you, Castroni: Rome's remedy for culinary nostalgia PDF Print E-mail
Nov 29, 2012 at 10:36 PM

I imagine that most of you back home think that those of us who live abroad do not celebrate (or care about) Thanksgiving. Not true. Most of the Americans I know over here in Europe do celebrate it (or feel badly when they can't) because most of us agree that Thanksgiving is the best hoiday ever: non-denominational, non-commercial, as easily celebrated by a newly arrived immigrant as by a member of the DAR. So we do our best to keep up the tradition, even if most of us celebrate on the weekend AFTER Thankgiving since clearly the third Thursday in November is not a holiday here and most people, unless they are Americans working at the embassy, have jobs to go to during the week.

This year I had 12 people at a rollicking Saturday evening sit.down dinner, with five Americans, one Brit, one Aussie, on Spaniard, one Slovene and three Italians present.(if you like, see the pix on my Facbook page). And no, we did not eat spaghetti carbonara. We had roast turkey with Pepperidge Farm stuffing, two kinds of sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, corn pudding, succotash, brussel sprouts and the pumpkin, apple and pecan pie.

Now how did we manage all that? Well, a large part of the credit goes to one of my favorite food stores in Rome, Castroni, in Via Cola di Rienzo in the heart of Rome's residential Prati district. Castroni, which was invented by papà Marcello between the two wars when he started catering to embassy folk, sells imported condiments and canned goods from most parts of the world, including sushi and caviar, cookies and biscuits, crackers, teas, patès, sauces, rice (or rather rices), pasta, nuts, candies and coffee (there is a flourishing espresso bar inside AND a corner dedicated to torrefazione, freshly-ground, as you like it, coffee beans from a variety of sources). Before Thanksgiving,not to mention Christmas and other major foreign holidays, special tables are set up for specialty products that the various groups of foreigners feel they simply cannot do without.


Visitors to Rome or other parts of Italy often come here primarily to eat this country's wonderful Italian food. But when you've lived in Italy for a long time, it often happens that you don't want coffee and cornetti for breakfast you want pancakes with maple syrup. You crave herring in cream sauce and not spaghetti carbonara for lunch. You want French country paté or tortilla chips with guacamole sauce and not osso buco or saltimbocca alla romana. You want an Indian curry or Japanese noodles even if it means a prepared meal you heat up in the microwave. After all, it can happen that instead of Nutella you find yourself dreaming of Skippy's creaming peanut butter.


And if tiramisu is deliciously mind-blowing, what if you need a fix of dulce de leche or fig newtons, oatmeal cookies or, I am ashamed to admit it, a chocolate cake made from a Betty Crocker mix?


When you get these cravings, if you live in downtown Rome you go straight to Castroni where, almost anything is possible. A few years ago when I was on a diet and desperately wanted a non-caloric dessert substitute such as sugar-free Jello, I wondered if perhaps Castroni might have something similar? It sounded far-fetched but I jumped on my motorbike and scooted over to Via Cola di Rienzo 196-198 to have a look. Not only did I find American Jello, but there was a second, British variety made by Rowntrees, and even a sugar-free version by a company called Hartley's. I was lucky because, as Roberto Castroni told me, it was only recently that they'd only been stocking Jello among the store's nearly 2000 imported products.


The Castronis - papà Marcello, sons Roberto and Fabrizio and brother-in-law Massimo - rely on a long-standing supplier in London to advise them about British and American products, and others in France, Germany, Scandinavia, Russia, the Philippines, and China - some of the roughly 20 countries from which they import.


There are several other Castronis in Rome, run by other branches of the family, but this is the biggest and the most central and the best stocked. The store exists since back in 1932 when it was a normal grocery. But in the 1960's Marcello Castroni had that brilliant idea which turned out to be more than foresighted. He decided to stock his store- to satisfy Rome's diplomatic community. Little did he know that starting in the 1980's, Italy would see an unprecedented influx of foreigners from all parts of the globe. Fresh ethnic produce is available in and around the Piazza Vittorio market on the other side of town where many Africans and Asians shop. But those who live or work downtown, or have a bit more disposable income, know that most of those homesick cravings are best satisfied right here.



Tomato Galore PDF Print E-mail
Oct 16, 2011 at 06:11 PM


Italian tomatoes are among the best in the world (although Turkish tomatoes – I just got back from Turkey – seem to me to be running a close second) and as we all know play a very important role in Italian cuisine.

The ancient Romans,  of course,  hadn’t the vaguest idea what a tomato was since, like the potato, it is native to South and  Central America and only arrived on these foreign shores in the late 1500’s thanks to those then evil colonizers, the Spanish.

So one can just imagine if a resident of ancient Rome, unloading his amphorae of wine or oil at the river port in what is known today as Testaccio, were to happen on Carmelo D’Agostino’s  amazingly  colourful tomato stand in that neighborhood’s well-known food market. Wonder how they say “Wow” in Latin?  Me, I would stick to “wow” or, in Roman dialect to “Ammazza ahò” or “Anvedi ahò”, all of which accurately describe the amazement one feels at viewing this undulating sea of red.

Summer cocktails Italian style? Hardly. PDF Print E-mail
Jul 01, 2009 at 02:20 PM

The Bellini
Recently, the internet site of the Italian daily newspaper, Repubblica, carried a piece entitled cocktail dell'estate, summer cocktails, and I had myself a laugh. Of the 10 cocktails, listed, exactly one was Italian and the others were all old faithfuls back where we come from. Anyone wanting to see the original piece (and the recipes) can click here. Anyone, wanting a simple snicker can look at the list below. And anyone wanting to drink something Italian can look at the story I did some time ago on this country's aperitivi.

The Bellini is an Italian cocktain and was invested in the 1930's by Giuseppe Cipriani dell'Harry's Bar di Venezia, father of today's Arrigo. It is the classic Italian long drink - said to have been a favorite of writer Ernest Hemingway - and is made from Prosecco and white peach pulp. Legend has it that because of its rosy color, Cipriani named it after the gown of a saint depicted in a painting by Bellini. But who knows? The others named in the piece are all well-known international cocktails, none of which are Italian in origin. They are:



SIPPING AND SUPPING: Piazza di Spagna PDF Print E-mail
May 15, 2009 at 03:58 PM

ImagePublished first in Wanted in Rome.
 Babington’s Tea Room dates back to 1893 when it was founded by two English ladies at a time when  tea could only be found in pharmacies. In its present location at the bottom of the Spanish Steps (to the left of the staircase) where it has been since 1896, you can get brunch, tea and high tea here, enjoying one of the tearoom’s dozens of blends and enjoying  more or less traditional fare such as sggs Benedict, pancakes, Scottish scones and hot buttered crumpets, sandwiches and hot dishes such as chicken curry.


                 Babington’s is not cheap but the food is tasty and the "different" atmosphere a welcome change.
Babington’s English Tea Room, Piazza di Spagna 23, tel. 06 6786027. Sun.closed  


ImageJust a block away in Via dei Condotti is another place known for its atmosphere,  the Antico Caffè Greco, which, founded in 1760 by a Greek named Nicola della Maddalena, may be the city’s oldest surviving coffee house. Situated in the heart of what was once called the English quarter (see the piece on Piazza di Spagna), its client list grew through the 19th century to include famous world-famous literati, intellectuals  and musicians. You name them, they’ve been here.
Many habitués donated paints or sculptures to the ornately-decorated café and in 1953 the Italian Education Ministry made it a "protected center of artistic life". 


 Excellent coffee, tea and hot chocolate, drinks, cakes and candies.

Caffé Greco, Via dei Condotti 86, tel. O66791700. Sun. closed. 


Two streets over on Via Frattina is Palatium, an appealing winebar (at street level) and restaurant (upstairs)  founded - and funded - by, of all things, the Lazio Region’s  Department of Agriculture.  But the region didn’t do it alone; it had help from the well-known Roman restaurateur Antonello Colonna, and the result is a great place for an aperitivo with friends or even a light meal if you’re downtown and want to take a break from shopping.

ImageThe enoteca features Lazio’s increasingly better wines and  features Roman and Italian dishes. With your aperitivo you can sample all sorts of goodies, from bruschette made with bread from nerby Genzano (my favorite pane casareccio) with olive oil, pachini tomatoes, and ricotta, beans and ceci, prosciutto, organic vegetables and torte rustiche, a sort of Italian meat or vegetable pie.

Palatium. Via Frattina 94, tel. 0669202132 Sun closed. 


The resurrected luxury Hotel de Russie boasts a  quiet, terraced, oasis-like garden in the center of bustling Rome that has become a much-appreciated spot to meet a friend for an aperitivo or even, in the sunny months,  for an expensive lunch on the raised, al fresco patio. Location, location, location, that’s what this terrace  - the outside portion of the Bar Stravinskij – has going for it. The minimalist wrought iron tables and simple white Roman umbrellas are a contrast to the luxuriant garden, juniper, cypress, palms and vines and give another dimension to the simple act of sipping a Campari or an ice-cold Prosecco.

Bar Stravinskij
Hotel de Russie, Via del Babuino 9, tel. Tel: 06328881.   

The founder of the Rome Wine Accademy, opened in 2002 around the corner from Piazza di Spagna is Roberto Wirth, owner of the Hassler Hotel and the  newerIl Palazzetto Restaurant & Wine Bar, the latter sharing space with the academy. Activities revolve around wine and gastronomy with wine courses, wine tastings and wine tours as well as “Meet the wine-maker” and “Great Chefs” dinners, in which a winemakers or chefs are invited to the evening and present their wines or culinary creations.

International Wine Academy of Roma
Vicolo del Bottino, Tel. +39 06 6990878

May 09, 2009 at 09:17 PM

Piazza del Popolo
As has already been said, nowadays the Piazza di Spagna-Tridente area - stretching from Piazza del Popolo to Via del Tritone - is not the major neighborhood destination to which Romans flock when they go out to eat at night. But that doesn't mean that there aren't some fine eating places here where one might want to go before or after an evening movie or before or after a day of vigourous shopping. This article includes a series of reviews which will be published this week in Wanted in Rome.

                                      But keep checking back as, from time to time, others will be added.

More Testaccio Treats PDF Print E-mail
Mar 19, 2009 at 04:25 PM


The story goes that Giuseppe and Bernardina Giolitti creamery in Rome's Salita del Grillo was so successful that Mrs. Giolitti decided each of her eight children should have a creamery of his or her own. One of these is the long famous Giolitti gelateria downtown in Via del Vicario, down the street from the Chamber of Deputies. Another was Giolitti in Testaccio's Via Amerigo Vespucci which looks more or less as it did decades ago and still produces homemade ice cream that is lusciously creamy with flavours ranging from marron glacè coffee and hazelnut to malaga and the mouthwatering zabaione. Giolitti, via Amerigo Vespucci 35 (tel.06.5746006). Open 7a.m. to midnight.

OR you can stop by the Cafe" du Parc in the small park to the left of Porta San Paolo and taste one of their delicious "cermolatte"s, a sort of milk shake, which cime in various flavours, especially lots of delicious fruits.


By now most tourists know about Volpetti, the smallish, crowded and amazingly stocked delicatessen on Via Marmorata where you can find cheeses from every part of the world, a profusion of sausages and salamis that is almost overwhelming, antipasti of every type, from olives and pickles to smoked fish and cheese spreads as well as homemade breads of many shapes and sizes, torte rustiche that can be made to order, crostate and cakes, wines and spirits, specialty jams, honeys, vinegars and olive oils. Claudio and Emilio Volpetti have created a wonderland of gastronomic delight that will leave the visitor gasping. One word of caution. Volpetti staff (the rumour is they work on commission) use a soft, hard-sell technique (taste this, taste that!) which more often than not finds you taking home much more than you'd planned and spending (this place is NOT cheap) a small fortune.,
Volpetti. Via Marmorata 47, tel. 06 5742352 : Open daily (except Sundays) from 8 to 14 and 17 to 20


Volpetti Più
Be aware that Volpetti also does catering (see the Piatti Pronti section on their website, and that since 1996 it has a cafeteria-style tavola calda around the corner on Via Alessandro Volta. Here you can eat excellent pasta or second courses, contorni and pizzas for lunch or dinner as well as do takeaway for a meal at home. Prices here are pretty much in scale with other takeaways but the food is definitely a cut above. Volpetti Più, Via Alessandro Volta 8, tel. 06 5742352 is open six days a week from 10,30 to15,30 and from 17,30 alle 21,30. In August it closes for the day at 15:30.

00100 Pizza

This pizzeria has taken pizza one step further than most. Located in the heart of Testaccio, just a half a block away from piazza Santa Maria Liberatrice and the church of the same name, this deceptively anonymous hole in the wall sells filled pizza triangles it calls "trapizzini" (the word comes from a combo of pizza e tramezzini) where the fillings take their inspiration from the local cuisine and include coda alla vaccinara, tripe meatballs and coratella, seppie e piselli and chicken with bell peppers. Yikes!. There are of course "normal" pizzas ans also arancini and supplì galore, not to mention an exceptional selection of beers for the now-desperately thirsty to guzzle.
00100 Pizza, Via Giovanni Branca 88, tel. 0643419624. Open 12 to 22. Closed Sundays.

Eating Out: TESTACCIO PDF Print E-mail
Mar 18, 2009 at 04:10 PM

Image First published in WANTED IN ROME  Today, it's hard to imagine. Along the Tiber was Rome's major commercial port, the bustling Emporium, where triremes docked to discharge the cargoes of goods needed to feed Ancient Rome and, even more, to slake its unquenchable thirst - for wine and olive oil. Blocks of imported marble were carried up what is now called Via Marmorata to Porta San Paolo where they were shipped to their final destination. Thus, the muddy streets trembled under the constant rumble of wagons and the hooves of the heavily-laden mules that freedmen and slaves used to bring the arriving produce further inland.

And how do we know all this? Yes, there are writings but above all there is Monte Testaccio, the artificial hill some 50 metres high, and about a kilometre around, in the Rome neighbourhood of the same name. Made up of layer after layer of shards of the lettered amphorae used for wine and, to an even greater extent, olive oil (various estimates say the mound may contain the remains of from 50 to 80 million amphorae - imported mostly (but not only) from Spain and understandably is now considered an invaluable archive of the trade of yore.

But Testaccio has other, more recent, claims to fame. There is the Protestant Cemetery, where poets Keats and Shelley are buried, the Pyramid built between 18 and 12 B.C.c as a tomb for Gaius Cestius, a high-ranking Roman official. And then there was Accattone, Pier Paolo Pasolini's anti-here in the movie of the same name. "Ah. Mo' sto bene!" (Ah, at last I'm feeling good!), said Accattone, propped up in the sun on Ponte Testaccio, shortly before dying from a motorcycle accident while fleeing police. The old-time residents of Testaccio no doubt would have shared his latterly mood, happy to live in a neighbourhood that was pretty much left to itself, without foreign tourists, and proud of its tradition of fiaschetterie (old-style wine-drinking places) and of Campo Testaccio, the all-wood, original red and yellow stadium built in 1927 for the AS ROMA, one of Rome's two home soccer teams.

And then there was the Mattatoio, or slaughterhouse. In 1872, town planners named Testaccio as the city's industrial and commercial center, and eventually decided that the meat packing complex should be moved there from behind Piazza del Popolo. For decades then (from 1890 until 1975 when a more modern structure was built in Tiburtina) the vast, partly covered area was the centre of the Testaccio economy. Miserably paid workers "quartered" the cattle, but were allowed to take home the innards and less desirable cuts such as tongue and tail - the so-called fifth quarter or quinto quarto - as part of their retribution and which, at the start, they took to the local osterie to be cooked for them for lunch.

Eating out: TRASTEVERE PDF Print E-mail
Feb 21, 2009 at 11:15 AM


First published in Wanted in Rome.

The reasons are not all that clear, but Rome's Trastevere - in modern times a sort of Greenwich Village or Soho inhabited by artists, students, intellectuals and foreign expats - has long been known as the place to go in the evenings to eat and, more recently alas, to drink, hang out, and drink some more. The result? A plethora of restaurants (and, alas, bars) that long ago put the area on the city's culinary map. Trastevere's eating places range from the excellent, the tried and true to the mediocre. It's hard to get a bad meal. But with an increasing number of eateries now catering to tourists, it's not so easy to get a great one either. Below find a small selection of places I think most people will enjoy .

The return of the aperitivo PDF Print E-mail
Nov 17, 2008 at 04:51 PM

First published by Momondo.
Even though her studio is only three blocks away, I haven't seen my friend Gloria Argelés in ages. I don't really feel like going out to dinner (for most locals the 30 euro per person minimum you end up spending in a restaurant has gotten to be a turn-off) So what to do? Increasingly, I do as the Italians do. I call Gloria, an Argentine sculptress, and invite her to meet me for an aperitivo at Ombre Rosse, the nearby café where, as elsewhere in Rome, the aperitivo, a long-standing Italian tradition which for a time had sort of gone into eclipse, is back in swing, with the welcom addition of lots and lots of free food (you pay only for your drinks).

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