On our third day in Rome we woke up early and decided to go and join the queue at the Vatican. If you haven’t yet read about our previous two culinary adventures you may read them here http://eatsiprepeat.com/when-in-rome-i/ and here http://eatsiprepeat.com/when-in-rome-ii/ respectively. Enroute to the bus stop we grabbed another typical Italian breakfast of ‘cornetto’ and ‘caffe’. Thankfully, the queue was not a very long one and it seemed to be moving ahead at a relatively fast pace. The St. Mark’s Basilica was a bizarre mix of opulence and tranquillity abuzz with a constant humming sound that one comes to expect in a crowded place. After spending a good two hours looking around at various statues, crypts, sarcophagi, frescoes and tombs we were glad to exit the church to find a fountain gushing with cool and clear water. It was one of those moments when one realises the value of the smaller things of life. After quenching our thirst to our hearts’ desire we decided that the time was just right for a gelato.
When in Rome and if it’s the only thing you’ll eat, although why on Earth would anyone ever want to do that is beyond me, eat your weight in gelato. Most gelaterias have multiple options of cones to choose from but for us on most occasions the humble cup more than served our purpose. In Rome the gelaterias dole out really generous portions at a measly sum of €1. The cup was always so overfull that we could manage to squeeze it only after a relatively fair application of pressure. I could never have enough of the fruity flavours like watermelon, strawberry and fig but the best flavour according to me was definitely the lemon.
So after a couple of gelatos each we decided on paying a visit to the hallowed Pantheon. Two evenings prior to this we had chanced upon the Pantheon and it was a sight to behold but it was closed at that point of time. This time though, it was morning and the sun was beating down hard which made the Pantheon’s cool interiors a source of immense relief to us. It is the best preserved of Rome’s ancient buildings. We learned this was because the building had been under constant use and still continues to be used as a Catholic church for Sunday masses and rare weddings. The most impressive things about the Pantheon are the oculus at the dome’s apex which is its only source of light and the drainage system below the building that handles all the rain water which the oculus lets in. This architectural marvel speaks volumes of the engineers and architects of ancient Rome.
By now lunch time was approaching and it also seemed like a good opportunity to use our Roma Travel Pass to get to I Porchettoni. Another of Mr. Anthony Bourdain’s suggestions, this place was situated in one of Rome’s less touristic neighbourhoods which was a bit of a distance away from its ancient centre and famous for its porchetta, one of Italy’s culinary wonders. A deboned whole pig with skin and fat intact is slow roasted on a spit for over eight hours. The result is mind boggling. The owner upon hearing that I was a big fan of Tony Bourdain invited me to sit at the very table that he had taken when he visited I Porchettoni. Although he told me that he offered Tony’s table to all his fans unless it was occupied I was elated to share that very table with my wife. The restaurant was a casual and rustic family run joint and they had been serving the same porchetta recipe for three generations.
Naturally I ordered for a portion of the porchetta and my wife not being a fan of fatty cuts of meats went with a dish of pasta. I was told and remembered from Anthony Bourdain’s show that the porchetta had been roasted overnight and would be served at room temperature with a hunk of fresh and hearty Italian bread. I ordered a Peroni the famous Italian beer to go with my meal. When the plate was set in front of me what stood apart firstly was the aroma of fresh fennel, rosemary and oregano. The next thing that amazed me after I took a bite was the crunch of the skin. It was almost as if I had bitten into a thick piece of potato crisp. And finally the meat itself could not cease to impress me. It was aromatic, tender and most importantly moist. I realized that even though the beer paired really well with the meal it was not really necessary to order one to go with the meat. The friendly owner told me with Italian pride that he sourced all his pork from a particular farm in a village that was an hour’s drive from Rome. There the pigs were treated almost like pets or members of the family and sows and piglets were rarely killed for meat. His team supervised by him slow roasted the pigs in the spit overnight using an age old family recipe. As we finished another memorable meal at Rome and prepared to leave the restaurant he showed me his photograph with the great Tony himself.
Tony once said, “Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life.” I still wonder sometimes if sitting in a family run joint in a residential neighbourhood of Rome eating a wonderfully succculent pork dish while conversing with the passionate Italian owner made the porchetta taste even better.