Yummy and yuck in Rome

My food adventures in the Eternal City

Let me give you a good advice right from the start. Don’t go to Rome during Easter. If you don’t have some specific reason to go in this time, you will be glad to avoid the masses of people clogging the entire city. We made this mistake so I can tell you it is not very pleasant. All the good restaurants are full, the prices are sky high, and the streets are full of tourists.

We spent four days in Rome, walking through the busy streets, admiring the historic sights, and trying a new gelato each day. I love history and I love food so I had high hopes for this trip. Let me tell you how it all ended up.

First, let’s take a look at the food in Rome. This was my first trip to Italy and at home, I am quite a fan of the so-called “Italian cuisine”. However, what I got in Rome was not the food I am used to at home. I admit it was a bit disappointing.

We ate breakfast at our hotel Impero near the Termini station. The hotel was overall very pleasant and the location was really convenient even though it was a bit farther to the historic center. We had specifically chosen a hotel with breakfast buffet. Many hotels and hostels offer only a croissant and a coffee in the morning. Which would leave us hungry in like half an hour. So if you enjoy a nice full breakfast, look an accommodation with a buffet.

Our first diner was at the restaurant Alessio right across the street from our hotel. The restaurant had very good reviews on Trip Advisor, so we had high hopes. We arrived shortly before 6 pm and even though the door was open the waiter told us they are not open yet. But he allowed us to sit at a table and wait until six. After official opening the restaurant quickly filled with people. We ordered house wine which was very good and not too expensive (we always went with house wine, it’s tasty and cheap). I had lasagna bolognese and my boyfriend a pizza. Lasagna was good but the portion was a bit small. The pizza was quite different from what we were used to from home. Thin like paper with only a few ingredients on top. For the price which was not low it was quite the let down.

But we soon learned that this is the typical Italian pizza, or at least the Roman pizza. Next evening we visited the Pizzeria Da Baffetto. According to many internet reviews, one of the best pizzas in Rome. We arrived shortly after opening (most restaurants in Rome open around 6 or 7 pm.) and the downstairs rooms were completely full. So we had hoped to get a table upstairs. But as we found out you can sit there only with a reservation. So the waiter seated us at a small table with an older pair from UK. I could hardly fit in the chair so little space was between the table and the wall (and I am not exactly a bulky person). Behind us was sitting a group of overly noisy people and next to us a large family from China which was quite loud too. It was the most unpleasant experience during the whole trip. The pizza was underwhelming too. We both ordered Prosciutto Funghi. It was so thin I barely felt full after eating a whole pizza (at home I eat only a half of the regular size), there were a few mushrooms on top with three slices prosciutto and barely any cheese. That’s when I gave up on pizza in Rome. But please don’t let that discourage you from having a pizza. Maybe you will find a good one in Rome but I would definitely avoid Baffeto’s.

Disappointed we left Baffeto’s and noticed that in the meantime a long line has appeared before the entrance. We were just glad we did not stand an hour in a line to wait for that kind of dinner. Right next to the pizzeria was a gelateria called Frigidarium. There was a line in front of it too but much shorter. Still hungry I suggested to try it out. And this was the thing that saved the evening. Because it was the best gelato we had in Rome. I got a coconut gelato with white chocolate poured all over it. It tasted like a dream. If you are ever near Frigidarium, go there, choose a flavor, and let them bathe your gelato in chocolate. Best thing ever!

Other gelaterias we visited were San Crispino, Venchi, and La Romana. All were nice but Frigidarium was my personal favorite. In San Crispino you can get gelato only in a paper cup and I prefer a cone. In Venchi and La Romana I probably chose bad, overly sweet flavors. I don’t even remember the names of the flavors because I wanted to try something new and mysterious. Next time I should stick with the classics. They also had the melted chocolate there but they only poured it at the bottom of the cone which was not as great as when it was on top of the gelato.

I have a serious sweet tooth but gelato was not the only food that I enjoyed in Rome. What I really liked was Spaghetti Carbonara. In Slovakia it’s often mistaken for a creamy white sauce. But a real carbonara is only egg and bacon. And I must admit, this version was much tastier than the Slovak version. I am not a big fan of the traditional al dente pasta which seemed too firm to me, but the combination with egg and bacon was perfect. And the bonus, you can put so much parmesan on top as you like. And I love cheese.

The last evening I decided to try another version of spaghetti which I can’t get so easily at home. Cacio e Pepe is a pretty simple pasta with black pepper and pecorino cheese. The spicy pepper and flavorful pecorino gave it a nice full taste which I really enjoyed. Maybe not my favorite pasta but I would not mind eating it again. We finished the meal with a desert. A mini tiramisu served in a coffee cup for 6 euro. That was probably the most expensive dessert I ever ate (considering the size). But it was the last evening so we splurged a bit.

The flavors of Japan

Do you love the sushi and ramen in your local Japanese restaurant? It’s highly probable that it has less common with the typical Japanese food than you might expect. At least that’s my experience. Now let’s look at what you must try on your visit to the country of the rising sun.

The most iconic Japanese food is definitely sushi. There are a lot of restaurants to choose from. Some are cheap and you can get a pair of nigiri for so little as 100 yen. But there are also many fancier sushi bars where the price is accordingly higher.

In a typical sushi conveyor belt restaurant, you sit in front of the conveyor belt where the plates with sushi are doing their rounds. The color of the plate indicates the price of the sushi. But don’t just get stuffed on cheap 100 yen sushi. You won’t know what you will be missing out on. Try also some of the more expensive pieces to get the real taste of a fatty tuna or a delicious eel. Stack up the empty plaits on your table. When you are finished eating a waiter will count them to make up the bill.

What is the most typical food in Japan? It’s not sushi. It’s ramen. The various types of noodles in hot broth are the local favorite. The broth can be either clear or thick. I prefer the clear one. In a typical Japanese ramen,  there are only a few ingredients. Noodles, a few pieces of fatty meat (usually it’s pork) and scallions. Sometimes a boiled egg or bamboo is added. A hot ramen is a delicious meal after a long day of walking.

The Japanese love curry. It’s not the classic Indian curry as you probably know it. It’s the Japanese version of it which is a bit different. A popular curry house franchise restaurant is called Coco Ichibanya. You can find it basically in any larger city. Here you can choose curry with all possible ingredients, including a curry with a fried pork cutlet or a cheese filled hamburger. I tried a tomato-asparagus curry with hamburger meat and it was delicious. And what’s even better, it’s cheap.

Or you can get also various meal sets which are often quite convenient. Usually, it’s a rice bowl with meat on top and some noodles on the side (soba, udon, etc.). You can choose either cold noodles on a mat or hot noodles in a light broth. It seemed a bit strange to me to have noodles on a separate plate when you have already got rice with pork or chicken. But it will surely fill you up.

And also don’t forget to try tempura. I had it twice during our time in Japan and it was delicious both times. Not greasy at all but crispy and fresh.

There is also a large variety of street food. From sweet and savory crepes popular mainly in Tokyo, steamed meat buns, rice puff crackers to Takoyaki typical for Osaka. Each flavor was a new experience so don’t hesitate to taste whatever catches your eye.

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Tips for planning a trip to Japan

I was in Japan a year ago (gosh, the time flies), it was my first time visiting a country so far from home and without a travel agency. But in the end, everything was (almost) perfect. Here are a few tips how to make such a trip work and enjoy your holiday in Japan without complications. Some unexpected things can always happen, but don’t let it destroy your holiday.

Flight tickets

We traveled to Tokyo from Vienna via Aeroflot. We had a 3-hour layover in Moscow, which was just about right to not worry about our plane from Vienna being late and having enough time to eat lunch at the airport. The tickets cost about 550 euro. There were cheaper tickets available, but the flight was longer and not so convenient for us. Check the portals for cheap flights and you can definitely find a ticket for less than 500 euro from Europe to Japan.

The flight itself was pleasant without any problems. We had two meals on the Moscow-Tokyo flight which were pretty good. All flights had been on time including the return trip. Thankfully our baggage was not lost, but we were ready for such a scenario too. We packed all the important things like money, papers and some clothing into our hand luggage.

Prepaid SIM card

We ordered a prepaid SIM card with data from eConnect. We had it delivered to the post office in Narita Airport, Tokyo. We had no problem with picking it up, but that is the first difficulties started. The SIM cards did not work on our phones. My SIM card worked sometimes, but mostly the phone displayed no signal. My boyfriend could not get it to work at all. We contacted the support of eConnect and they replied as promptly. I must say they were really professional and tried to help us as best as they could. In the end, we agreed that they would send us a portable wifi router and we could insert the purchased SIM card inside it. That worked well and we had internet during the whole stay in Japan without any further problems.

JR Pass

JR Pass is a ticket for all the JR trains in Japan. You can purchase it through internet here. You print out the voucher and exchange it for the pass in the JR ticket offices. The offices are located at each airport and at some train stations. The JR Pass is especially useful if you plan to visit more places in Japan and not stay in one city only. It is valid for the Shinkansen trains too (not all of them, check the JR Pass site!). However, in Japan, there are more private train companies and the JR Pass is valid only for the JR trains. The busses are not included either. How does the pass work? When you approach the gates which open after inserting a ticket, you will use a side entrance. There should be a train station worker in a small cabin. You will show him the Pass and he will let you in.

Accommodation

As is commonly known Japan is not a cheap country. That does not mean you can’t find pretty good accommodation for a reasonable price. There are a lot of hotels and hostels in each city to choose from. Expect the rooms to be tiny with hardly enough space to open a bigger coffer. But you want to be outside most of the day anyway and explore, so I would not worry about the size of the room too much. I recommend checking out Airbnb too. We rented an apartment through Airbnb in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka and they were all nice and more spacious than the hotel rooms. However, the offer of accommodation on Airbnb in smaller cities is much more narrow. And definitely, don’t pass up on the chance to sleep a few nights in a traditional ryokan. It may cost a bit more, but the experience is worth it. We booked the ryokan Hodokaso Yamano Yori in Takayama. Here we also tried the traditional Japanese breakfast. It was probably the most expensive breakfast I ever had (came out to ca. 27 euro), but when will you ever have such an opportunity again?

Finally, if you are not sure about what to see in Japan or need any more practical information, visit Japan-guide. This site has all the information you need before visiting the country of Sakura and sake.