Roman cooking is traditionally dominated by the earthy cuisine of the working classes, with a little influence from the city’s centuries-old Jewish population thrown in. Although you’ll find all sorts of pasta served in Roman restaurants, spaghetti is common, as is the local speciality of bucatini or thick-cut hollow spaghetti (sometimes called tonarelli), served cacio e pepe (with pecorino and ground black pepper), alla carbonara (with beaten eggs, cubes of pan-fried guanciale – cured pork cheek, similar to bacon – and pecorino or parmesan), alla gricia (with pecorino and guanciale), all’amatriciana (with guanciale, tomato and bacon).
Fish features most frequently in Rome as salt cod – baccalà – best eaten Jewish-style, deep-fried. Offal is also key, and although it has been ousted from many of the more refined city-centre restaurants, you’ll still find it on the menus of more traditional places, especially those in Testaccio. Most favoured is pajata, the intestines of an unweaned calf. Look out, too, for coda alla vaccinara, oxtail stewed in a rich sauce of tomato and celery; abbacchio, milk-fed lamb roasted to melting tenderness with rosemary, sage and garlic; abbacchio alla scottadito, grilled lamb chops eaten with the fingers; and saltimbocca alla romana, thin slices of veal cooked with a slice of prosciutto and sage on top. Artichokes (carciofi) are the quintessential Roman vegetable, served alla romana (stuffed with garlic and mint and stewed) and in all their unadulterated glory as alla giudea – flattened and deep-fried in olive oil. Another not-to-be-missed side dish is fiori di zucca – batter-fried courgette blossom, stuffed with mozzarella and a sliver of marinated anchovy. Roman pizza has a thin crust and is best when baked in a wood-fired oven (forno a legna), but you can also find lots of great pizza by the slice (pizza al taglio). Lazio’s wine is enjoying a bit of a resurgence and is often better than most people think. Nonetheless you’ll still mostly find wines from the Castelli Romani (most famously Frascati) to the south, and from around Montefiascone (Est! Est! Est!) in the north – both excellent, straightforward whites, great for sunny lunchtimes or as an evening aperitivo – but in the city’s better and more contemporary restaurants you’ll find wines from other regions and newer producers.