Fried Artichokes, Legacy of the Roman Jewish Ghetto

Jewish Fried Artichoke, Rome
Jewish Fried Artichoke

Jewish artichokes are a delicacy I was eager to try while in Rome. I’ve heard them described as delicate chrysanthemum-shaped with a crispy, salt-kissed taste. I knew I just had to try one given the opportunity.  They are a big attraction in the restaurants of the old Jewish Ghetto. Also known as cardiofi alla giudia,  artichokes were once a mainstay of the Roman Jews during times of scarcity and extreme hardship.

How could exquisite culinary delicacies evolve out of such extreme poverty and oppression?

Women of the Jewish Ghetto in Rome, established in 1555 by Pope Paul IV to sequester the Jews into one area, used what little they had to provide tasty meals for their families while also keeping them kosher. Artichokes, cheese, salt cod, and aubergines were cheap and used to create dishes that are considered gourmet cuisine today and served in fine dining restaurants throughout Rome.

Jewish Ghetto in Trastevere
Jewish Ghetto in Trastevere

The Jewish community began in Rome as early as 63 BC after the Romans invaded Judea and brought many of them back as slaves. Settling predominately on the east bank of the Tiber River, the walls (built in 1555) surrounding the ghetto kept them isolated for almost 300 years. The ghetto in Rome was one of the poorest in Italy. Desperately cramped, the Jews were forbidden to own property. They “were excluded from most professions except money-lending, dealing in old cloth and bric-a-brac, and selling food in the street. Many of them became friggitori-street vendors of deep-frying morsels, mainly of fish and vegetables for which they became famous,” describes Claudia Roden in her article “The Dishes of the Jews of Italy: A Historical Survey.”

The Great Fountain of the Ghetto that once provided the only fresh water in the ghetto.
The Great Fountain of the Ghetto that once provided the only fresh water available.

The Roman Jewish Ghetto today is a maze of narrow winding streets, interesting shops, and several cute Kosher restaurants emitting delicious smells.  Locals and tourists alike still flock to the old ghetto for carciofi alla guidia, Jewish style artichokes.

The Synagogue of Rome stands in the midst of the Jewish Ghetto where the original synagogue stood at one time. The ghetto is described as one of Rome’s most charming and eclectic neighborhoods, with restaurants serving up some of the best food in the city. The same little pieces of fried vegetables (artichokes, zucchini flowers, and salt cod), and fried fish chunks that are now served as fritto misto in the finest restaurants of Rome were sold centuries ago by the friggitori  for only a few coins.

Ironically, today’s Jewish Ghetto property, which during the ghetto oppression was considered very undesirable, is now some of the most expensive in Rome.

Have you visited the Jewish Ghetto in Rome and tasted acarciofi alla guidia? What were your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you so please feel free to leave a comment.

 

Rome’s Fountain of the Four Turtles

rome turtle fountain

The spritely “Fontana delle Tartarughe,” Fountain of the Turtles, is located in the Piazza Mattei in the Jewish Ghetto of Rome. Beautifully expressive while quite intriguing, the late Renaissance sculpture is one of the few fountains that were not built for a pope, but for a private patron. However, from the beginning, this particular little fountain also encountered a big problem.

Originally, the fountain had several dolphins around the base, some of which were designed to spew drinking water up and out toward the public and landing in a large basin. However, because the fountain’s water source, a reservoir near the Piazza Spagna, was not much higher than the fountain, the water pressure was insufficient. As a result, four of the dolphins were removed, leaving the figures of the adolescent boys with nothing for their upstretched hands to support. To correct this, four bronze tottering turtles, designed by Bernini, were placed on top of the vasque rim to balance the composition.

Rome Turtle Fountain

As you watch the altered fountain today, you will notice a single upward jet of water in the vasque that trickles down through the mouths of the cherubs and into a lower basin. From there, four small streams trickle through the dolphin’s mouths and into awaiting conch shells. It was from here that the surrounding neighborhood collected their drinking water. Originally, a Roman sarcophagus sat next to the fountain filled with water to discourage horses from drinking out of the fountain.

Interesting to note, you can catch a few glimpses of the fountain in the movie, The Talented Mr. Ripley. But I suggest that, next you find yourself in Rome, look up the fountain and watch the water trickle down through it’s many portals to the waiting conch shells. Dip your thermos into the clear pool of water and enjoy some of Rome’s very best.

If you are like me, you love the fountains of Rome. Which one is your favorite? And why?

Why Rome, You Ask ~ Come See For Yourself

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Amazing Rome. There is no one like you….Sounds like the beginnings of a song. But Rome demands its place as the Eternal City with all of its multi dimensional aspects of life over thousands of years. She has an old yet elegant presence about her that is difficult to ignore. And for those who are willing to let her take them on a journey through the depths of her soul and afterward rise up again to meet Rome of today, you will be in for an unforgettable experience.

Follow along as I introduce you to some of my favorites…

Fine dining from the rooftop of the Hotel Raphael near the Pantheon is an intoxicating experience. The terrace is multi-level and the views of Rome from all around are magnificent. I love watching the sun set over the city as I drink a glass of wine and see how many monuments I can recognize.

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The Italians know how to make delicious food, which is not a surprise. I love pasta and the way it is served with a special touch. It is never smothered in sauce but instead embellished with a delicate herbed olive oil or light wine sauce. This pasta below had chunks of white sea bass that was tender, mild and disappeared in no time.

I must also give the Italians my hearty approval on good pours of wine in the glass. The house wines in Rome are always very good. Most are locally produced. Frascati, grown in vineyards around Rome, is a common white wine that is served in Roman restaurants.

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Desserts don’t take a backseat to the main dishes. This pistachio gelato was a work of art. As a city known for its outstanding architectural designs and centuries old famous fresco paintings, this should be no surprise.
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Sometimes it’s just fun to enjoy a simple gelato while walking the streets of Rome and taking in the sights. My quota is one, sometimes two gelati a day.DSC00297The old Jewish Ghetto is one of my favorite landmarks to explore. Outdoor cafes offer kosher food, some with recipes used centuries ago.
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Carciofi alla giudia (Jewish style artichokes) are a specialty in the Jewish Ghetto. Deep fried and served in a crispy layer, they are delicious. The outer leaves taste like potato chips. Battered and fried pumpkin flowers are also very popular and, unlike the Carciofi, they are tender and delicate.
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Markets at Campo dei Fiori are a lot of fun to shop. Produce is bright and freshly picked.
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Outdoor cafes are everywhere in Rome. It’s obvious that food and socializing are very important to the Italian lifestyle.
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Ask anyone where to find good coffee and they will direct you to Sant’Eustachio il caffe. There you will generally see a line of people waiting. Established in 1938, it is only steps away from the Pantheon. This is the only coffee in Rome roasted by wood and not fossil fuel. All of the coffee is roasted on the premise. I was fortunate and found an outdoor table to seat myself while I sipped my coffee.
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The Protestant Cemetery (Cimitero dei Protestanti) is in the Testaccio neighborhood. I found this place to be immensely interesting. It is very green and well-kept, with sculptures and statues over graves. Here is a famous one called the Angel of Grief, sculpted in 1894 by William Story to be the gravestone for the artist and his wife.
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Trastevere is Rome’s nightlife central. It comes alive with cafes and street music, vendors and whirligigs that light up the night sky. Delicious smells of food coming from eateries as I pass by mixed with the lively chatter of people enjoying time together brings a festive feel to it all. I love to linger here and experience the charming ambience of this ancient part of Rome.

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Fountains are everywhere, from the old famous ones in Piazza Navona to small expressions outside of buildings. This one caught my attention in passing. Water trickled down from underneath while turtles balance along the edge, encouraged by the men below.

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Walking the back streets of Rome can bring many delightful surprises. As I rounded a corner, this is what I saw. Someone had an amazing green thumb. I couldn’t begin to imaging the amount of work and attention that went into keeping it all so green and healthy.DSC01550
As I put these photos together, I began to feel that old familiar tug again. Of course, it is Rome demanding my presence once more. There is so much more to see, so much that you could never imagine, she whispers to me. Will I succumb? Probably….in time.