Located on the west bank of the Tiber River and south of Vatican City, Trastevere has a spirited medieval old-town feel. Greenwich Village in New York came to mind as I slowly made my way through the tightly winding streets. Quaint, comfortable, charming, incredible nightlife….Trastevere is all of these and more. Read more →
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.
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 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.
A delightful ending to a perfect evening in Rome was not meant to be.
I would never have guessed that I would be lost, wandering those early morning streets that I thought I knew so well.
The evening had begun with lots of merrymaking surrounded by friends at a popular pizzeria in Trastevere. Night time was in full swing, and the winding cobbled streets were alive with activity. Street bands played in nooks along the way while outdoor tables filled to the brim with locals and tourists enjoying the warm summer atmosphere in Rome’s most sought after nightlife destination. Trastevere, that former “seedy, wrong side of the river” place that draws one back time and again.
After dinner, we made our way through the throngs of people littering the narrow streets, checking vendor’s tables and enjoying the atmosphere. It was getting late, so we made our plans to meet up in the morning before going our separate ways. I was given a map to find my way back on foot to my hotel. It seemed simple enough. I just needed to follow the Tiber River northward until I reached Castel Sant’Angelo, then turn westward down a street. There in lied the problem. No one could remember the name of the street. I was staying at the “new” Castel Sant’Angelo Inn which was only half a mile from Castel Sant’Angelo itself. I assured my friends that I would recognize the place when I saw it.
Oh what a night! I followed the Tiber up to Castel Sant’Angelo and found the first street heading westward. I stopped to examine the map again, noticing the huge patch of advertisement stamped over the names of the three possible streets. Since I didn’t have a name, what did it matter. I can find this place.
I started down the street a ways and turned northward after what I assumed was about a half mile. If my hotel was not here, it must be on the next street. And so it went until everything looked the same to me. I was convinced that I would recognize my hotel, but I could not find it. I kept admonishing myself that it was only a half mile away, that it had to be very close to me….but where?
I texted my friend for help and she said she would find the name of the street and text it back to me. I had opted for the no data plan for overseas phone options, so I could not look my hotel up. While I waited, I asked several locals, pub owners and couples out for a late night stroll, for help. They looked at the map and shook their heads when I mentioned the Castel Sant’Angelo Inn. Since it was a new hotel in an old-established building, they had not yet heard of it. My heart was sinking.
Before long I got a text with the correct street name. A flood of relief. I gave the address to a pub owner who took me outside and gave me directions consisting of turn this way and then that, etc. I followed what I thought he said but got lost again. Finally, after countless inquiries and attempts, I found a taxi parked on the side of the road. With unmasked desperation, I gave him the street address. He gave me directions about turn this way and that. I told him I would pay him to take me there. He said no, I could find it, then gave me a “move along now” motion with his hand.
I turned on my heel and quickly acted on his directions, forcing my mind to stay relaxed. To my great delight, I found it. Key in hand, I was inside the hotel in a flash and made a beeline straight to my room. I gazed at my alarm clock on the nightstand. It was two thirty in the morning.
As I lay in bed trying to get a few hours sleep before meeting up with my friends, I thought about my wanderings. Although I was frustrated, I never felt that I was in danger. People tried to be helpful but with such little information it was impossible. I was sure I would recognize my hotel, but I learned that after dark everything looks quite different and how very easy it is to get turned around. Needless to say, we all had a good laugh together later that morning after everyone got over the initial shock that I had actually “got lost.” So, from now on I will always have my own detailed map with me. I’ll just mark this one down to experience.
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 Pantheonis 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.
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.
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.
Sometimes it’s just fun to enjoy a simple gelato while walking the streets of Romeand taking in the sights. My quota is one, sometimes two gelati a day.The old Jewish Ghetto is one of my favorite landmarks to explore. Outdoor cafes offer kosher food, some with recipes used centuries ago. 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. Markets at Campo dei Fiori are a lot of fun to shop. Produce is bright and freshly picked. Outdoor cafes are everywhere in Rome. It’s obvious that food and socializing are very important to the Italian lifestyle. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Italy is like Santa’s bag full of all my favorite toys! It’s difficult to choose just one or two when I want to play with them all. While recently re-living my photos of Italy, I chose 5 places that were especially good memories. Each of these is worthy of a visit at least once.
While exploring Trastevere on a friday evening for the first time, I was surprised and impressed by the active nightlife. Caught up immediately by small street bands strumming guitars and singing while strolling past clusters of candlelit tables of outdoor diners, I was ready to join the throngs for a veritable feast. I stumbled onto Grazia & Graziella at the corner of Via della Paglia by chance. The ambience was irresistible and so I cubbied in with those already gathered around the tables.
Amid the lively chatter, I enjoyed a glass of delicious white wine. Soon the handsome dark waiter brought me a gourmet thin crust cheese pizza embellished with lemon slices and sprinkled herbs. Large slices of tenderly grilled eggplant traced the side of the plate. It was all delicious. My evening in Trastevere was a swirl of lamp lit cobblestones, smiling faces, exotic smells of grilled meats and basil, all encased in a spirit of romance.
San Martino is an attractive neighborhood above the old city of Naples. It has a monastery-museum and castle that I wanted to see, so I took a funicular up from the city below for the afternoon. After visiting a cameo shop along with the museum and castle fortress, I was encouraged by Giovanni from the cameo shop to take the stairs back down and enjoy the gorgeous views. I was not disappointed. Mt. Vesuvius stood in the background, it’s top contours blurred by the pinkish rays of the setting sun. The Bay of Naples joined the sea in a shimmering blue expanse. Old buildings and short leafy palms lined the stair. Apartment buildings with open windows let out the sounds of family activity. Fragrant smells of food preparation followed. So much life was happening behind these old walls, so much activity. But I was having a memorable moment in Naples all to myself.
Captain Verrazzano was born in this castle winery estate in 1485. A Florentine navigator who explored New York harbor and most of the east coast in the 1500’s, New York immortalized him by naming their double-decker suspension bridge the Verrazzano-Narrows in 1964.
The castle wine tour, lead by a playful young man by the name of Mateo, took us through a dungeon lined with cells. I discovered not only the Captains wine, but also hanging racks of prosciutto, small barrels of aging Balsamic vinegar, and large terracotta pots full of golden olive oil. The spirit of the Captain, who met his untimely death on an island of cannibalistic natives, was strongly felt. We all enjoyed an excellent tasting afterwards of delicious wines, thick balsamic vinegar and fragrant olive oil.
The Italian Riviera is famous for so many things from exotic yachts, famous people, gorgeous views and rich ambience. But it is always the promenade that attracts me. I love to walk along the ocean while simultaneously viewing the town. The promenade is a public walkway that is especially fun during the passeggiata, where throngs of people traditionally meet for an early evening stroll.
Rome has a maze of piazza’s and back streets that are so much fun to explore. Cozy outdoor restaurants and cafes bring a feeling of community that I love to get lost in. Sipping a glass of cold white wine while people watching at one of the tables is one of my favorite ways to spend an hour or two mid-afternoon or just before dinner, and a perfect way to relax.
There is no end to my list of favorites and great memories of Italy. Each time I visit, I wonder how I can bring a bit back home with me. The most effective way I know of is to keep the memories alive and safely tucked away to revisit over and over again. My photo collection has become my treasure box.