It was a late afternoon of March when I entered a small Italian restaurant, tucked away in one of the countless narrow streets, near the Pantheon. Minutes after I checked into the hotel, I left my luggage and ventured out to fall in love. And as love goes through the stomach, I smiled and entered the first Don Giovanni restaurant I came across.
There was a predominant heavy scent of garlic, butter and aromatic spices. I was ready to eat like a local and enjoy my afternoon with a glass of red Italian wine. Things became complicated when I received the menu. Myriad pages containing sections which I had no idea what they stand for and delicious sounding Italian foods to try. I wasn't quite certain about how to eat and what. What are the Italian food courses? Why so many? Naturally, I began conversing with the waiter, a tall man, with dark hair and poor English accent. He was very keen to explain that in Italy, the family is everything, and a happy family comes together, cooks together and eats together. Furthermore, I learned this process can sometimes take hours, hence it is imperative there are several courses of food served throughout, to ensure everyone is well fed.
Intrigued, I wanted to enjoy my first meal in Rome as a true Italian, so I asked to be served a dish from each menu section, at the chef's recommendation. Not only I left the restaurant weighing a few pounds more, but I also understood why in Italy food means to love and love definitely means food.
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Antipasti is Italian for an appetizer. These are usually small dishes, which meant to set the tone for the rest of the meal. The chef sent out Carpaccio, which is a traditional dish originated from Venice. It consists of thinly sliced raw beef, served with an egg yolk based sauce.
Carpaccio was first created by Giuseppe Cipriani in 1961, at his restaurant called Harry's Bar in Venice.
Primi means starter. This is where things start getting delicious. I found it interesting that in the menu, primi consisted mainly of pasta. I learned that in Italy, people traditionally eat spaghetti as a starter, before digging into large portions of meat. This was the time when I started wondering how can Italian women eat so much and stay so slim. There was a serious air of jealousy in the air.
My primo was a decent sized portion of spaghetti and clams in white wine. It looked as if it jumped straight out of a recipe book. It smelled incredible, which definitely helped me forget how many calories I was about to intake.
By the time you start thinking of secondi, most of you will probably be full. Not in Italy, though! People know how to time their meals and eat, slowly, elegantly. The Secondo is the main meal and usually contains meat or fish. The chef sent me a large portion of pork braised in milk. The pork has to be marinated in dry white wine overnight, then cooked for about 4 hours in full-fat milk. The effort is totally worth it, as the result is the most tender piece of pork I've ever tasted in my life. I happily ordered another glass of wine and got ready for even more food.
Each Secondo comes with Contorno, which is a side dish. The options are infinite here, depending on the restaurant and the Italian region. To keep things focused on the braised pork, I received a small portion of roast potatoes with parsley and garlic. The whole meal was scrumptious.
Dolci stands for dessert and if your buttons are still holding your jeans in place, then you are good to order some. I was already struggling to finish my secondi, but I couldn't give up. I was only a few bites away from the dessert I've been dying to try. It was still a surprise, so I had no idea what was I getting, which perhaps made things all the more interesting. In the end, it was all worth it: the chef sent me a perfectly looking pannacotta, an Italian dessert made of cream, milk and rum, usually topped with different fruits or nuts, depending on the region.
A glass of wine and a very spicy bill later, I retraced my steps back to the hotel. It was already dark, but the weather was perfect, not too hot, nor too cold to need a jacket. I decided to spend some time strolling around, enjoying the Italian love during twilight. From street to street, I ended up in front of a "Gelateria Italiana". Of course, I couldn't resist the temptation. When in Rome...