One of the many pleasures to be enjoyed while traveling through Italy is the local cuisine, and street food is no exception. Since recipes for cheap eats tend to get passed down from generation to generation, street food is one of the most enjoyable ways to connect with local culture and taste a bit of history.
In Italy, gelato is considered a right, and everyone from business folks in tailored suits to wide-eyed school children eat it freely and frequently in the streets. Though you’ll be hard pressed to find vanilla, cream is a scrumptious replacement and chocolate is ubiquitous. Other classic flavors include nuts such as pistachio and hazelnut or fruits like strawberry and lemon. Though gelato is sold on just about every street corner, be sure to sample the better quality (and tasting) variety by seeking out a proper gelateria where the creamy goodness is made on premises.
Granita is a sweet slushy-like dessert made from shaved ice that’s either ground until smooth or left course for texture. Though granite originated in Sicily, it can now be found all over the boot and is favorite afternoon snack during the summer months. Easily found at most gelaterias and cafès, flavors include almond, lemon, mint, and seasonal fruits, as well as coffee which is typically layered with fresh cream for an extra deliciousness.
Depending on the region you’re in, pizza varies from thin crust to deep dish and is made with careful attention to the preferences of the locals. In Rome, thin crust reigns supreme, but they are most celebrated for their pizza-by-the-slice, or pizza al taglio. Pizza al taglio shops can be found all over the city, and can be distinguished by their long rectangular pies. Toppings vary, but Roman favorites such as potato rosemary and spacy eggplant shouldn’t be missed. Note that ‘pepperoni’ in Italian means peppers, and that the hot meaty variety most American’s are accustomed to can only be found in very touristic restaurants, so opt for sausage instead. If you’re ordering multiple slices request to have your pizza cut into smaller squares to make sharing and sampling easier.
Supli are fried rice balls that are traditionally filled with mozzarella and bits of meat, and are Italy’s answer to the jalapeno popper and an evolutionary step beyond the generic mozzarella stick. Pull these two-bite balls apart to expose molten cheese nestled inside tender rice soaked in a rich meat sauce all tucked into a crunchy crust. These delectable little morsels can be ordered as an appetizer or on their own as a snack and are best when enjoyed with a cold Italian beer.
The trapizzino is a newcomer to the street food scene but has quickly been adopted by locals and tourists alike. These triangular pockets are made from pizza dough that’s been slowly leavened so they’re soft and chewy. These pillows of deliciousness are often filled with savory Roman favorites like slowly stewed oxtail, meatballs, tripe, and octopus. Make a point to have one or two of these little babies you won’t be disappointed.
Panini is essentially a sandwich, but you won’t find a turkey club or BLT on the menu. Roman’s looking for a quick lunch or one that travels well on say a train or bus, would undoubtedly pick up a Panini. For fillings, cured meats lead the pack and combinations such as prosciutto and mozzarella, mortadella (a bologna-like meat often flecked with pistachios), and bresaola (salted and cured beef), arugula, and stracchino (young, soft cheese). Simple mozzarella, tomato and basil paninis are also popular, as are mayonnaise rich salads like tuna and egg. More traditional shops will serve porchetta, a slow roasted herbed pork complete with caramelized skin, and is absolutely worth hunting down.
Döner kebab is certainly not Roman, but Italy and the Middle East have a long shared history so it’s not surprising that Döner kebab is popular with both foreigners and locals alike. Döner kebab is flavorful rotisserie meat tucked into soft pita bread and accompanied by fresh tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and delectable condiments. Since Middle Eastern chefs have long been masters of flatbread, most kebab shops have figured out how to diversify their menus (and their incomes) by capitalizing on Romans obsession with pizza, so don’t be surprised to find these two things together. Get your kebab with the works, find a marble bench, and watch the world go by.
Spotter Travel tip: If you are in the mood for the pizza al taglio, you should know that the price depends on the weight since normally the size of the pizza slice is not standardized. Therefore, you can opt for several little slices (striscia di pizza) in order to taste different toppings.