How To Eat In Rome On The Cheap
Looking for something tasteful, cheap and accessible? Look no further! Rome features a veritable cornucopia of culinary options, and thankfully for us, the majority are both surprisingly cheap and tasty. Italy has never lost its love-affair with eating well, even with the sociological addition of a modern working schedule.
In this article I will do my best to outline what Rome has to offer the famished traveler, from the omni-present grill-rooms and "sliced-pizza" outlets (henceforth known as pizza-a-taglio) to notably cheap restaurants that will leave you muttering "where's the catch?".
Fast Food With A Twist
While we usually equate the phrase fast-food with an unhealthy, low cost solution, Rome's palate-conscious attitude has led to a city where chains such as McDonald's, Burger King, Subway and Starbucks are virtually non-existent.
I recall walking into a newly opened McDonald's in the center of Rome and having my study-abroad friend laugh at how it resembled "the Ritz", and was a far-cry from how McDonald's marketed themselves elsewhere across the globe. They even had a salad buffet!
Pizza-a-taglio - When it comes to eating on-the-fly, the first thing you'll notice is that every major road, piazza and residential area is littered with small sliced pizza outlets (not dissimilar from the one pictured to the right).
Ask any local where to find one in the area (Mi scusi, sa dove posso trovare una pizza a taglio?) and prepare to be met with a look of abject confusion. Not because they have no idea, but because they are attempting to decide which one they are willing to recommend.
The Good: Sliced pizza is as expensive as you want it to be. You decide how large the portion is (you actually have to tell the owner what shape and size to cut out for you). On average, I would say that a lunch-sized assortment (there are dozens of different styles to mix-and-match) will cost you no more than around $5.
- Burger King's Whopper - 760 calories
- McDonald's Double Quarter Pounder - 740 calories
- KFC's Double Down -540 calories
- Average serving of pizza a taglio - 340 calories
The Bad: Not all pizza-a-taglio is up to par when it comes to quality and taste. In order to gain the upper hand, most stores will proudly display an assortment of awards, testimonials and health certificates. Be wary of any store devoid of any such ornamental fluff, or you could in for a bad surprise (taste-wise). Some stores recycle ingredients and attempt to mask the decadent taste with far too much oil. Yuck!
Rosticcerie fill the fast food vacuum left vacant by the failure of multi-national brands to entice the Roman market. Both eat-in and take away variants are common, almost -- I daresay -- as common as pizza (but not quite).
While remaining relatively cheap, what attracts people to these omni-present outlets is the promise of fresh, high-quality meat, fruit and vegetables. Occasionally rosticcerie go above and beyond the call of duty and double as pizza or kebab outlets too. Prices are comparable to pizza, and you can generally have your fill for less than a handful of euro.
Forget The Ristoranti
Eating on the cheap in Rome without resorting to a small, take-away can be summarized by the word trattoria. Trattorie are essentially, cheaper, informal restaurants which serve simple, but yummy, typical Italian dishes. This family-inspired and low-cost variant of the notorious ristorante resonates loudly with the locals -- and has ensured that they remain brimming with customers. Sadly, tourists hardly ever gravitate towards these locales simply because they are often secluded and attract their visitors via word of mouth.
A full three course meal, literally an all-you-can-eat scenario, costs roughly twenty to twenty-five euro per person (about $28-$29). Quintessentially popular residential areas such as Trastevere and Testaccio contain a constellation of choice, but you're best bet is asking a local, since they are often well hidden.
On a personal note: For those looking for a truly unforgettable experience, don't forget to visit la parolaccia, an atypical trattoria where the staff insult you from start to finish!
Some Specific Ideas
- La Parolaccia - While not known for being cheap, it is undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I felt compelled to include it in this article. It is a real and uncensored look at Roman culture and tradition.
- Antica birreria Peroni (near piazza Venezia) - Despite the name, which is a reference to one of Italy's most famous beers, this is a cheap, popular trattoria well known for it's food (but mostly the atmosphere).
- Pizza Da Simone - ( Via Giacinto Carini 50 - in Monteverde) - The best sliced pizza you've ever had -- period! I go there everyday!
- Hostaria dell'angelo (Via Bettolo, 24) - Another very cheap trattoria that I often go to, features a very family-like setting, it is typically informal in an endearing Roman way. Roughly 15 euros per head!
Even Cheaper Still
I couldn't end this article without mentioning traditional pizzerie. Sitting in a restaurant and eating an amazing and filling pizza, along with a glass of red wine, usually costs less than $10 all included per person. When it comes to eating on the cheap, a planet-sized pizza is about as cost-effective as it gets -- although the daily pizza-overdose can get to you after awhile (especially your waist-line)!