In our 3-day whirlwind tour of Rome, which hardly does any justice to the beautiful Eternal City, we had entirely packed days which did not take into account of a critical factor in our planning – The (In)Famous Italian Siesta.
Even though we chose to visit right before the real tourist crowds pour in (Late May – July) and had tons of sunlight hours (Sun sets at typically 8:30 pm), we had barely anytime for food. The day starts off with us typically leaving at around 8:30 am, and it was a mad rush to see key sights and grab a meal at the nearby cafeterias / restaurants.
Why the rush, you ask? Well…
In most parts of Italy that we have visited (Venice, Florence, Tuscany, Rome), there were several conditions to us having a good meal that played against the odds of a busy tourist.
The Famous Italian Siesta
First of all, the day you are traveling on matters – Sundays (most common), Mondays (also common), Tuesdays, Wednesdays and sometimes Saturdays (For Jewish Ghetto) are days when (good) restaurants are closed (!!)
Secondly, even if the restaurant is open on that day, you have to catch it at the right time, since, again, (good) restaurants typically close for the afternoon from around 2 pm onwards and reopens only at around 7-ish in the evening. Which means, if you had an ‘awesome’ time queuing to see a site, for e.g. the triple combo (e.g. Coloseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum) in the morning, you WILL miss a good lunch (cue sad sobs from a foodie). Which is why, many tourists like us, would pack a bag full of goodies (henceforth affectionately termed as my “干粮包”) which contains biscuits, cakes and everything nice. It’s like a ninja van in a bag concept – Totally awesome, and totally handy in desperate lunch times like these.
Bad Luck, or Lack of Research?
Before visiting Rome, the foodies in us had done some research on the options available in town, and I came across this perhaps overly harsh comment from a fellow traveler on TripAdvisor that if one came across a bad meal in Rome, he/she should reflect on his/her personal luck because most, if not all restaurants are great in Rome.
This, while painting a rosy picture about the culinary scene in Rome, is simply (and grossly) untrue. There are over 10,000 restaurants all over the Eternal City, and I can personally attest to the vastly varying standards, both in terms of service and food quality.
This glut of restaurants serves no practical purpose other than to depress us (i.e. you feel baffled as to why there are so many restaurants and yet you can’t get good food), and instead, juxtapositions a particularly painful, mutually exclusive dilemma for us – To either focus on good food, or to choose great sights. The decent restaurants in the Eternal City are typically fully booked, literally almost all of the time (except real late night slots like 9:30 pm onwards) – It is a double whammy, because we can’t confirm a restaurant reservation as we weren’t sure how long the sights-seeing will take (i.e. how long the snaking queues are could make a huge difference in the time taken to finish a site), and without a reservation, our options are limited and we end up having to eat something half-past six just because the restaurant is open at the time we finished our tour of the sights. Unless the idea of a good meal is a panini sandwich in the hand, it felt like we earned the great sights and historical leanings at the expense of the culinary wonders in Rome.
Our Suggestion (Just a Foodie’s Idea of Getting The Best of Both Worlds)
Judging by the top few restaurants in TripAdvisor, we quickly figured that fellow travelers suffered the same dilemma, because the top restaurants counts a gelateria (yeaps, Gelato is not proper food, guys) or a Panini Café that are near the tourist attractions, and horror stories of mediocre food at almost obscene prices near Vatican are aplenty.
So, in a maze of over 10,000 restaurants in Rome or any other amazing places in Italy, how do you pick out the decent ones for a great dining experience?
Get Help from Locals or Residents
With very limited time and stomach space that is too little to waste on bad food, why not get advice from the locals?
In Florence, we relied heavily on recommendations from this website (Girl In Florence – Yes the best single resource for eating out in Florence, she’s AWESOME!) and we actually mapped out all the restaurants we wanted to try in our map app. In addition, our Host in Florence was really sweet and offered insights on some hidden finds (yes, restaurants that are NOT listed in TripAdvisor, nor the ton of websites that we googled for food recommendations). Those are great advice you wouldn’t want to miss.
The Michelin Guide – Trust the Professionals
Yes, they are the professional eaters – It’s like a dream job. I have no idea what it takes to be a Michelin guide food reviewer, but I can easily imagine the perks of the job, where you are paid to review the best the world has to offer, one delicate bite at a time (ugh, so very jealous!).
The Michelin Guide is like a bible for eateries in Europe, the source code for every culinary delight you can possibly find in Europe, their forte – And best of all, they offer this to you their sagacious, preciously curated advice for FREE.
Yes, all you need to do is to have a working internet connection, and you can plug in immediately to identify all the great culinary masters like Professional X zeroes in on the mutants all around the world with Cerebro. And on their website, they even publish how far these restaurants are from you, the price range, the review, what the restaurant is particularly good for, etc. It is DA Best, hands down.
Now, before you think that we are talking about the Michelin-starred restaurants, which usually has a premium attached to their gastronomic fares, you might be delighted to know that the guide also features the rising potentials – i.e. the restaurants that have yet to attain a star, but are good enough to be in their radar of food glory. It is an excellent heuristic for you to quickly zero in on the good ones – Why duplicate the work when you can leave it to the professionals?
And many of the times, these restaurants are real gems – Excellent fare, at very affordable prices. You have to try them before they get adorned with stars!
Decal Stickers Snob
These restaurants would also be relatively easy to spot if you are walking around without a working internet connection – Just look out for stickers at their frontage, which would typically feature a bright red circle decal that says “Michelin Guide YYYY” – These restaurants would also collect an array of other stickers from other review sites, another boost to the credibility and gastronomic prowess of the place.
Still, this solution does not resolve the problem troubling us foodies who also wants to have a great tour of what the City have to offer in sights, but utilized wisely as a roadmap, you can easily make out where are the gastronomic wonders in the city and dedicate a specific time slot for it – You will not be disappointed. 🙂