When in Rome: Seven traditional Roman foods you have to try

There are many, many reasons to visit Rome, but one of the greatest attractions of all has to be the food. As the capital of the country that probably has the greatest cuisine in the world, Rome is a foodies’ mecca.

When in Rome: Seven traditional Roman foods you have to try
Photo credit: Mercato Centrale Roma

With so much to see and do in Rome, from museums to galleries, ancient ruins and the beautiful chaos of the city to get lost in, it can sometimes seem overwhelming when it comes to finding the right place to sample the traditional local fare. 

There are some things you just can’t miss when you’re visiting Rome and while you’re working through your checklist of sights and sounds, make sure you visit Mercato Centrale Roma where you can find all the best Roman delicacies in one place. 

While you’re there, make sure to try these traditional Roman dishes.

Cacio e Pepe

One of the most popular Roman dishes, it is the perfect example of how Italian cuisine can combine the simplest of ingredients in a kind of alchemy for your taste buds. Just three ingredients – pasta (usually tonnarelli), freshly ground black peppercorns and Pecorino Romano, a tangy, pungent sheep’s cheese. 

 Photo credit: Mercato Centrale Roma

If you haven’t tried it, it’s an absolute must when in Rome. It may sound overly simple to foreigners who are used to more ingredients, but cacio e pepe, once the ingredients are combined in the right way, is a gastronomical delight. Legend has it that it was developed for roaming Roman shepherds, who were able to easily carry the ingredients and could whip it up around their campfire at night. Whatever its origin, it is in some ways the essence of Roman cuisine – simple, hearty and delicious. Try cacio e pepe at Mercato Centrale Roma, where Egidio Michelis does one of the best in the Eternal City. 

Click here to start planning your Roman feast at Mercato Centrale Roma


Rome can lay claim to what many Italians believe to be the greatest of all pasta dishes; combining pancetta, pasta, eggs, black pepper and cheese. It is usually made with spaghetti, but you can also find fettuccine, bucatini and tagliatelle versions. Whatever pasta is used carbonara is without a doubt Italian gastronomical perfection. Ask Italians how they make carbonara and you will a different answer every time, but of course the best is always ‘Mama’s’. You can use Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano and the meat is either guanciale (pig’s cheeks) or pancetta. Some people use the whole egg, others, just the yolk, while others even add onion. Adding cream to carbonara is considered heresy and should never, ever be done. The name comes from the word ‘carbonaro’ for the city’s charcoal workers, once an important job that powered the city’s ovens, stoves and water heaters and it is thought that the hearty dish provided the workers with the energy they needed for the gruelling work. A trip to Rome without tasting a real carbonara would be like skipping the Colosseum so make sure you head to Mercato Centrale Roma to sample the best in Rome by Egidio Michelis.

Photo credit: Mercato Centrale Roma


Roman artichokes are world famous and it can’t be overstated how superior they are to any other artichokes you can find. There are two main artichoke dishes you simply must try while visiting Rome. The first is Carciofi alla Romana, or ‘Roman-style artichokes’. The artichoke is stuffed with parsley, lesser calamint and garlic, braised in white wine and seasoned liberally with salt and pepper. 

Photo credit: Mercato Centrale Roma

The second is Carciofi alla Giudia, which has its roots within the Roman Jewish community. The artichokes are deep fried in olive oil making them golden brown and giving them a crispy consistency. The fresh, slightly bitter taste of Carciofi Romanesco is a delight on the palate and they can be enjoyed as a side course, as part of a main, or as Roman street food while you’re on the go. For the best artichokes in Rome, go to Alessandro Conti and Gabriele La Rocca‘s shop in Mercato Centrale Roma. Alessandro Conti – owner of the historic fruit and vegetable shop that’s been in the market of Campo de’ Fiori for four generations – knows the best way to prepare the vegetable and they will be cooked right in front of you. 


Photo credit: Mercato Centrale Roma

The Roman version of the Sicilian arancini, is a ball of rice stuffed with cheese, coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. Part of the Roman tradition of street food, they are a firm locals’ favourite and are often served as antipasti. Perfect for filling the gap when you’ve worked up an appetite walking miles around Rome’s attractions. At Mercato Centrale Roma, Martino Bellincampi’s emporium of fried delights is the place to get your hands on these delicious delicacies. In fact, Bellincampi excels at the art of frying with a wide range of fried foods to tempt you. “You can fry everything as long as you find the right packaging,” says Martino.

Roman Focaccia

The ancient Etruscans are credited with creating the salty, soft, yeast-risen flat bread but the Romans perfected it and brought it throughout the known world. The plain version is excellent on its own or as an accompaniment to your drink, but there an uncountable amount of variations – with onions, olives, cheese, tomato. Gabriele Bonci at Mercato Centrale Roma is known as the ‘Michaelangelo of Pizza’ and he brings a high craftsmanship to his pizza, breads and, of course, focaccia. Using only specially-sourced flours and yeast, combined with his years of experience in some of Italy’s most renowned bakeries, this is the place to go. 

Photo credit: Mercato Centrale Roma

Discover all the food artisan at Mercato Centrale Roma


The origins of the classic Italian dessert are a little muddled. Most attribute the invention to Roberto Linguanotto, owner of “Le Beccherie” restaurant in Veneto in the 1960s. However some also claim that it comes from Siena. There are many, many different versions of the dessert but the classic of Mascarpone, ladyfingers, coffee, cream, eggs and cocoa is the most popular. The name translates to “pick me up” and that’s exactly what it does. As in the classic Italian recipes the ingredients are relatively simple, but rely on the expertise of the cook to blend them into something spectacular. That’s what master pastry chefs the De Bellis brothers do at Mercato Centrale Roma. Try their famous tiramisu or if you fancy something else, you’ll be spoilt for choice with their handcrafted creations.

Photo credit: Mercato Centrale Roma


The pizza-sandwich hybrid is crunchy on the outside and soft and delicious on the inside. Instead of the usual pizza toppings, the Trapizzino contains some of the best Roman dishes all packaged in a delicious crunchy casing and ready to eat in your hands. Created in Rome by Mercato Centrale Roma’s own Stefano Callegari the pizza pocket has also travelled to New York where they continue to cause a sensation. 

Photo credit: Mercato Centrale Roma

Try something a little different

All roads lead to Rome and the same is true for Mercato Centrale Roma. If you want to try something different you can choose Akira Yoshida’s famous ramen prepared with patience and craftsmanship by Rome’s master of the Japanese soup dish. Every day, Akira prepares Ramen Black Shoyu (with an intense flavour), Ramen White Shio (with a delicate flavour) and Ramen Red Spicy (with a spiced flavour), as well as edamame, all guaranteed to satisfy and restore.  

READ ALSO: A digestible guide to eating and drinking like an Italian  

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Mercato Centrale Roma.



‘Why I used to hate living in Rome as a foreigner – and why I changed my mind’

Yet another survey of Rome’s foreign residents has rated the Italian capital dismally for quality of life. Jessica Phelan explains why she too disliked the city when she first moved here, and what helped to change her mind.

A view over the city of Rome at sunset.
Life in Rome can take a while to get used to. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

If you’d told me four years ago that I’d be coming to Rome’s defence, I would have told you: Ma va’. Yeah right, get out of town. And I would have said I’d be long gone myself. 

And yet, as the latest InterNations survey of expats around the world puts Rome in last place for city life and work, here I am not only still living here but saying out loud: this place isn’t so bad.

It’s not that I don’t get where my unhappy fellow foreigners are coming from. I never dreamed of Rome before I moved here and found it far from dreamy once I arrived, in summer 2017. I’d grown up a short flight away (the UK) and lived in European capitals (Paris, Berlin) for several years, and after a stint further afield (Japan), I naively thought that moving to Rome would feel like coming home. 

Instead I found myself complaining to anyone who would listen about the same things that InterNations’ respondents listed as Rome’s downsides. The unreliable public transport. The scant public services. The politicians on the take. The provincialism. The rubbish – good grief, the rubbish. The inequality and lack of opportunities for young people – and lack of young people themselves, as it seemed in certain neighbourhoods. 

READ ALSO: Rome and Milan ranked ‘worst’ cities to live in by foreign residents – again

Sure, I liked the food and I couldn’t argue with the weather, but it felt frivolous to enjoy the small pleasures amid what I began to see as existential flaws. They spiralled for me into the impression of a city on the brink: the trash is piled shoulder-high because people here don’t care about anyone else, I told myself.

The fact everyone assumes I’m a tourist means they’re not used to anyone who doesn’t look or sound like them. I’m struggling to meet other young professionals – it must be a sign that the best and the brightest have all left. Because really, who’d choose to live here?

Photo: Andreas SOLARO/AFP

Partly it was because I didn’t feel I had chosen to live here. I had moved for my American partner’s teaching job, and nothing was more alienating than encountering people who were stubbornly, unaccountably, in love with the place – or an idea of it. An awkward pause would ensue as I contemplated whether to mumble something innocuous about gelato or take it upon myself to debunk their romantic notions and expose what I was convinced was the ‘real’ Rome – dirty, dysfunctional, doomed. 

It wasn’t all in my head. As the InterNations survey has shown for several years straight, many foreign transplants report deep dissatisfaction with the city. So do Romans as a whole: one survey in 2020 found that most residents said their quality of life had worsened in the past five years. Global studies have named Rome one of the unhealthiest cities in Europe, and its roads some of the most dangerous. When Italians compile the list of the ‘best places to live in Italy’, there’s a reason why Rome never comes close to the top ten. 

In fact, every time I lamented the city’s decline, I fitted in better than I realised: no one complains more about Rome than Romans themselves.

Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI/AFP

There was perverse comfort to be had in realising that people born and raised here saw the same things I did and found them just as galling. La grande monnezza, they call it: forget ‘the great beauty’ (la grande bellezza), it’s the great rubbish dump. Roma fa schifo, as a popular local blog has it. Rome is disgusting. 

Huh, I began to think I scrolled through photos of egregiously parked cars or smirked at another meme about the incompetents in city hall, maybe we can get on after all. It was a glimpse of a dark, deeply cynical humour that was one of the first things about Rome I had to admit I liked.


Gradually, other qualities forced their way into view. I moved from a stuffy neighbourhood in the west of the historic centre to outside the city walls in the east and discovered that yes, other people under 50 do live here, no, not every foreigner is a tourist or study-abroad student, and thank goodness, not every restaurant serves only Italian food. Our new apartment was bigger, and bigger by far than anything our relatively modest incomes would have got us in the capitals of our home countries.

In fact, I suspected I wasn’t living in a capital city at all. Milan is where most of the money and opportunities within Italy are to be found, which has long made it a more logical place to move to for Italians and foreigners alike. I envy Milan’s metamorphosing skyline and cosmopolitan population – things I associate with ‘real’ cities.

But what do you know: if Rome comes 57th in the InterNations survey, Milan comes 56th. The responses suggest that housing is more expensive and harder to find up there, and the cost of living higher. 

I’ll leave it to people who live there to say what it’s really like, but I wonder if there are other trade-offs: I’d take the people-watching and window-shopping in Milan over Rome any day, but would I have to wear the ‘right’ clothes to fit in? I might have more chances to get ahead, but would I be judged on my job title or salary, and would people be more competitive? For better or worse, these aren’t things I have to worry about in Rome.

OPINION: Why Milan is a much better city to live in than Rome

Lucky for me I can afford not to: I’m not one of the 41 percent of foreign residents in Rome who told InterNations their disposable household income is not enough to cover expenses. Salaries are low here, and the cost of living – not visiting – can be higher than you might think. I’m in the privileged position of working for international employers, who pay better than local ones, and of splitting the bills with someone else in the same boat. We’re comfortable, but Rome isn’t the place to make your fortune.

So it’s no economic powerhouse. But culturally it’s got more life than I first gave it credit for. The things I’d assumed were missing altogether – new music, interesting events, a mix of people and backgrounds – were all there, they were just on a smaller scale and correspondingly harder to find. (Places to start looking: mailing lists, venues’ Facebook or Instagram pages, Zero.)

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

In other cities I felt I’d made inroads by the end of the first year; in Rome, I was still at least another year away from meeting the friends who’d become my group here and, in turn, introduce me to people and places I wouldn’t have found on my own.

More than other cities, people say that Rome – the Rome that’s not in guidebooks, at least – is da scoprire, ‘to discover’ or even ‘unearth’. While you’re digging, having an ‘in’ can make all the difference. 

In some ways, Covid-19 also helped to rehabilitate Rome for me. The seriousness with which most people took the pandemic, and the camaraderie my neighbours showed throughout that first bewildering lockdown, proved that Romans were more than capable of caring for strangers. The months that followed, when we were confined to city or regional limits, taught me to appreciate the possibilities I might otherwise have ignored: travel might be impossible, but at least I had woods, lakes, mountains, waterfalls and the Mediterranean on my doorstep.

Other things I had to work around, or simply live with. I’m as convinced now as I was four years ago that Rome’s public transport system is woefully inadequate, but now I mainly avoid it: I walk or cycle as much as I can. In fact a whole alternative network of shared transport has sprung up in the time I’ve been here, from e-bikes to car shares and scooters, or monopattini.

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

I’m yet to see a fix for the city’s rubbish problem, but I no longer assume it’s all the residents’ fault. It’s the result of decades of misuse of public funds, graft and organized crime – hardly reassuring, but marginally less bleak than thinking that none of your neighbours give a damn.

Because always, of course, there are people trying to improve things – by protesting, by voting, by picking up litter, even by filling in potholes on the sly. (Remember that if you’re a citizen of another EU country living in Rome, you have the right to vote in city elections too.) Doing the work yourself doesn’t absolve the authorities of the responsibility to do it, but in the meantime, as one acquaintance put it, at least your sidewalk is clean.

And those small pleasures: I finally gave myself permission to enjoy them. I like cracker-thin Roman pizza, supposedly kept from rising by the city’s hard water. I like sun that dries my laundry even in December. I like the view of mountains on a clear day. I like the light that glows golden around half an hour before sunset and works a kind of magic on ochre walls and brick bell towers and crumbling aqueducts.

In my fifth year here, I know now that these things don’t blind me to Rome’s faults, nor do I have to pretend not to see them to prove I’m not just another tourist. I live here; sometimes it’s bad; and most days, at about 5pm, looking over the rooftops, it’s good.