The ancient Romans called their city Romaaput Mundi: the capital of the world. And that’s still true today, at least where food is concerned. American bakeries rub shoulders with Persian taverns against a backdrop of hot spices, crackling wood stoves, and mystical aromas. Long gone are the days when Chinese restaurants and kebab shops offered the only ethnic food in Rome. From Arab to Vietnamese cuisine, the choice is now huge. And some locales stand out for the quality of the service, the authenticity of the dishes, and their ability to make you feel as though you are traveling around the world without ever getting up from the table. Come take a journey through the highlights of ethnic food in Rome.
When you think of the exotic, India is sure to be one of the first places that springs to mind. And if you want to sample Indian cuisine without leaving the center of Rome, why not stop by the Sitar, a small restaurant on Via Cavour. Ganesh welcomes you at the door with a smile, and inside, the sound of sitar music, the wooden fittings, and the copper serving dishes all combine to make for a truly authentic atmosphere. Try the biriyani, a rice dish not unlike pilau, but with chicken, vegetables, or lamb, and you will be spirited away among the colors and sounds of an Indian market place. If it’s something lighter you’re after, check out the intimate atmosphere of the Hamasei for an oasis of tranquility amid the hustle and bustle of the city center. This establishment is a branch of the Tokyo restaurant of the same name. Opened 40 years ago, it brought Japanese cuisine to Rome long before sushi ever became fashionable. And as anyone familiar with the Japanese culture of food presentation might expect, the beautifully arranged trays of sashimi are sure to satisfy your aesthetic tastes just as much as your palate. A short walk will take you from Japan to the rustic charms of Baires, in Corso del Rinascimento. As soon as you walk into this vibrant eatery, your mouth will water at the smells wafting from the grill. Typical Argentinian beef cuts are served with unusual vegetables, such as cassava and palm hearts, alongside dishes reflecting Argentina’s Italian heritage, the result of the mass emigration of bygone times.
Have you ever tried the cuisine of Eritrea, another country with historic ties to Italy? The Sahara brings the desert to the heart of the university quarter, and all of your senses will revel in the experience. The colors are bright, the flavors strong and spicy, the aromas intense, and even the sense of touch is tantalized by the injera, a thin flatbread which covers the plate, inviting you to put your cutlery to one side and eat with your hands. You may get food all over you, but you are guaranteed an evening of pure enjoyment. If, on the other hand, it’s the summer you’re dreaming of and you want to take a break from the chaotic atmosphere of the city, look for the blue and white lime walls of the Greek restaurant Ippokrates, which will transport you to the island of Kos, the owner’s birthplace. Oregano on the pita bread, fruity olive oil, and a waft of ouzo (a thirst-quenching, anise-flavored spirit) come together to create the simple, authentic atmosphere of a Greek taverna. Try the galaktoboureko, a typical dessert made from semolina custard—it’s just too good! It may leave you with icing sugar on your chin, but it will also put the broadest smile on your face.
This is just a small selection of the varied range of ethnic food in Rome today. Just as in ancient times, the city is still a place the whole world comes to with all the nuances of its culinary traditions, but today Rome has a decidedly cosmopolitan flavor.