By the first morning we had started to get a feel of the eternal city. Having reached Rome the previous afternoon, my wife and I had dined that evening at Trattoria Cacio e Pepe, a household name in Rome famous for their Cacio e Pepe. Cacio e Pepe simply means pepper and cheese. It is one of the simplest of simple pasta dish which comprises of spaghetti, pecorino cheese from Rome and freshly cracked black pepper. You can read more about that experience here: http://eatsiprepeat.com/when-in-rome-i/.
History is to be discovered in every nook and corner of Rome. We had already been to the Spanish Steps and the mighty Pantheon the previous evening and it was all due to an aimless walk. Without a plan and destination in mind we had set about on foot, walking past many beautiful ancient buildings and simply happened to chance upon the Spanish Steps and then the Pantheon. On the first morning we had a rough idea of what we wanted to see on that day and of course what we wanted to eat. A typical Italian breakfast in Rome comprises of a cornetto which is the Italian cousin of the French croissant, only softer and probably less butter-y, a rusk like bread or variations of typical Italian sweet breads and a coffee. My wife not being a big fan of the espresso went with a cappuccino or caffè latte. I on the other hand had the caffè Italiano, a shot of espresso with just a bit of sugar stirred into it to cut the bitterness. That is one of the thing I absolutely love about Italy; simply walk into a cafe and ask for uno caffè (one coffee) and without asking the barista puts a shot of espresso in front of you usually served with a tiny glass of water and a bowl of sugar. After our breakfast we hopped on to a bus that would stop near St. Mark’s Basilica, the seat of the Pope.
Upon reaching Vatican City the snaking queue managed to convince us in no time at all that we had to leave it for another day. We soon learned that it being a Wednesday the Pope himself had made his weekly public appearance on the balcony of St. Mark’s and we had missed that by a whisker. However, we left with no regrets at having missed the Pope given the sheer number of people that had gathered at the square. It was mutually decided that we would perhaps come back another day and gladly made our way to the Vittoriano.
The Vittorianno is a monument dedicated to the first king of Italy, King Vittorio Emanuele II. This monument apart from being interesting also provided us with much needed shelter from the sweltering heat. By the time we stepped outdoors again the sun had become a bit more oppressive but the first sighting of the majestic Coloseo (Colosseum) made it all bearable.
We wasted no time and made our way towards it. The closer we got the more surreal the immense ancient structure appeared. Thankfully, there was a really short queue which was moving rather swiftly and in a matter of minutes we were inside the very structure where once a lot of blood had flown. The more we saw and heard on our electronic audio guide the more gooseflesh we got. Despite all the brutality and cruelty that had transpired within the confines of the Colosseum, in the end for me personally, it was a dream come true.
By now it was rather late in the afternoon and we were ravenous and I still had four more of Mr. Bourdain’s culinary shrines to tick off my list. So for a late lunch we decided to head over to Pizzarium Bonci. One of Italy’s best kept culinary secrets is its takeaway pizza slices. Pop in to a pizzeria that serves pizza slices, order a pizza you like and walk out with it. It’s as simple as that. In Rome however, they do pizza al taglio. The pizza is baked on large rectangular trays and then sold by weight in rectangular slices in a wide variety of toppings. We availed the same bus as the one that took us to the Vatican and after a breezy ride of about twenty minutes we stood right in front of Pizzarium Bonci.
It seemed like we were in pizza wonderland. They had pizza with anchovies, pizza with proscuitto, pizza margherita, pizza with eggplants, pizza with spinach and even pizza with truffles. It would have probably been easier to count the kinds of pizza toppings that they do not serve. The chef patron claimed to have invented over 1500 different pizzas but that is not all. The bacterial culture or starter that he uses in his pizza dough is from a strain that has been preserved with utmost care and is over 200 years old. We caught a glimpse of the man Bonci himself at the back of the open kitchen and he came across more as an artist than a chef.
Even at 16:00 odd hours in the afternoon which is way past the Italian lunch hour the pizzeria was brimming with people, not just tourists but locals as well. We managed to convey our order of a slice of pizza each with truffles, procuitto, anchovies and spinach. Our pizzas were sliced and weighed right in front of us and served on a parchment paper lined tray. No frills only pizza. While each topping added its own flavour and texture to the pizza the base remained consistently delicious. Crunchy on the exterior and really soft and airy inside but still had that chewy property that lets the base spend those extra few moments in the mouth not as something that is difficult to swallow but as something that makes you enjoy the process of chewing. It was unlike any pizza either of us had ever had anywhere. I could not decide whether I enjoyed the pizza with truffles more or the one with anchovies but in hindsight it seems that the pizza base was what Pizzarium Bonci was all about.
Later that night we made a trip towards a suburb of Rome for another Bourdain food quest but we were ten minutes too late. The place had closed down for the evening thus making it the only place that I could not tick off my list. Perhaps it was for the best. Perhaps the day belonged to Chef Bonci. Whether or not he uses a 200 year old strain I cannot say but the taste of the pizza there will remain with me for life.