WHEN IN ROME IV

With my wife I had in the previous three days seen a lot of ancient Rome’s history and architecture. Not just that, we had eaten our way through Rome thanks to the great Anthony Bourdain. All of our big meals were had in places situated far away from the touristic hubbub and frequented by locals. You can read more about them here: http://eatsiprepeat.com/when-in-rome-i/, http://eatsiprepeat.com/when-in-rome-ii/, http://eatsiprepeat.com/when-in-rome-iii/. But we had saved the best for the last.

On our fourth day we had another typical Italian breakfast of cornetto and caffe and a sweet bread of some sort and set out for the Foro Romano (Roman Forum). Thankfully, luck was on our side and it was a bright and sunny but relatively cool day. Since we were in a laid back state of mind the thirty minute walk from our hotel to the Forum got extended to a three hour stroll dotted with caffe and gelato breaks.

The sprawling ruins of the Foro Romano.

Entering the Forum and walking on the same surface as some of Rome’s high and mighty emperors like Julius Caesar and Nero was an experience that we cherish till this day. To have stood on those ancient cobblestone pathways and the same slabs of marble on which only time had left its mark feels surreal even today. The Forum being thousands and thousands of years old had rendered some parts inaccessible but many of the monuments, temples, shrines and other well preserved antiquities seemed timeless. Some of the artefacts and buildings drew gasps of awe from many a people. The Arch of Titus, the temple of Romolo and the church of Santa Maria were some of the ruins that existed in a much better condition than the others. We took our own sweet time in the vast sprawl of ruins and by the time we had walked up to the Pallatine Hill it was almost dusk. Like the rest of the day we took it easy and soaked in the amazing 360˚ views from the hilltop. We left the Foro Romano using Rome’s oldest thoroughfare the Via Sacra ending up right in front of the Arch of Constantine by the Coloseo.

The Arch of Titus.
The view from the Pallatine Hill.

Betto E Mary
After 70 minutes in public transports and a twenty odd minute walk we reached Betto E Mary. Our first impression from the outside brought us disappointment. The entire trattoria had a deserted look with the chairs upturned on the tables, not a soul around the place. Would it be the second Bourdain visited eatery that we would find closed? But on my wife’s insistence we stepped in to inquire and were relieved to be greeted in broken English by an all in one chef, maître d and usher clad in dishevelled attire and a stained apron with a pen and notepad in a makeshift pocket. We were taken all the way to the back of the trattoria into an open courtyard and seated at a rustic looking table with two benches on either side. I excitedly began looking forward to my meal while my wife expressed her apprehension about the same.

Most people think of pizza or pasta or both when they think of Italian food. While those maybe two of the most popular foods around the world Italian cuisine however, has much more to it. Gelatos, Panini sandwiches, fishes like anchovies, tuna and sardines, a huge variety of sausages and cured meats (think prosciutto), an equally huge variety of cheeses (Mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Fontina etc.), aromatic breads and even the popular risotto are just few of the easily available and widely consumed Italian foods. The story of my last meal in Rome though is of a food which has lost its popularity over the years but remains an integral part of Rome’s peasant style of food.

I discovered these pickled anchovies in one of the many trattorias in Rome.

The reason I write ‘my meal’ is because the wife had chosen not to go for what I had in mind. However, even I had no clue that I had a surprise in store for myself. When the friendly owner arrived and sat down by my side to explain their menu, they didn’t have a formal printed menu card, and how they cooked their dishes. I informed him clearly what I wanted to eat after hearing which he expressed surprise. I still remember him asking me, “My friend why do want to eat the tripes (the cow’s stomach) when I have better things on the menu?” When he saw that I was insistent he countered me with an even more heightened sense of insistence that he would bring me something better than tripes and that is when he surprised me by exclaiming he would get his signature Roma Mix, a platter which would contain not just tripes but also ox tail, veal tail, veal thyroid gland, lamb lungs, heart, liver, kidney, intestines and rectum. All of these he explained further would be grilled and then finished in herbs and sauces. Some of them would be cooked in fragrant rosemary and garlic sauce and some in a rich tomato sauce. And because I ordered the Roma Mix he said he would throw in a small jug of house red wine to go with my platter.

The adventure of the Roma Mix.

I am sure most of you are crunching up your nose in disgust and cringing as you read what I ate for dinner that night but I honestly enjoyed that meal as much as any other memorable meal that I have had in my life. Besides Tony Bourdain wrote in one of his books, “Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” The various textures of the offal and their respective flavours were nothing less than a ride in an amusement park. The tripes were chewy and rubbery having a floral aftertaste, the thyroid was a cross between a liver and a fleshy chunk of meat, the tails were like thin strips of meat on bone, the liver, lungs and kidney had their own distinct crumbly and mineral-y textures, the intestines were again chewy but unlike the tripes not rubbery and the rectum was soft and fleshy almost identical to the texture of a scallop. Only the heart was as close as it could get to being a piece of meat. The two sauces in which he finished the various meats were delicious to say the least.

As we finished our last meal in Rome and commenced our long journey back to our hotel we felt a twang of sorrow in our hearts. Our time in the eternal city of Rome that had given us memories and experiences to last a lifetime was finally over. Early next morning as we bought our cornettos and caffes and hopped on to the train that would take us to Napoli we concluded that Rome is where the heart is.

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