In the centre of Rome, there are shops where you can buy all manner of Italian foodstuffs to take home with you as a souvenir of your holiday. From pastas to pasta sauces, biscotti to wines, olive oils to truffles – there are shops that can sell you whatever typically Italian food item you want to take home with you. However – that’s not where the Italians shop.
If you want to shop where local Romans shop for high-quality gourmet Italian-made food products, you need to visit Eataly, a high-end multi-level grocery store boasting a wide range of products and multiple restaurants inside. They have branches all over Italy, as well as one in New York and several in Japan, but the one in Rome is the largest in the world. You can very easily spend hours in there exploring and checking out all the products on the shelves.
We stayed in an apartment not far from Eataly during our time in Rome, and dropped in on Easter Monday for lunch given that almost everything else was closed in the city!
They have a number of different restaurants in Eataly, highlighting different types of cuisine – from pasta and pizza, to a meat restaurant, a fish restaurant, a vegetarian, a training restaurant for young chefs, a patisserie and more.
The main problem however is that there’s no central ordering system – you can’t for instance, sit in the pizza restaurant and order a steak from the meat restaurant. That means if you’re dining with a group of people, you have to agree what you all want to eat beforehand. The other downside is that if you want to go to a few different restaurants and sample the different food as we did, you end up paying the service charge (1 Euro per person) multiple times…this starts to add up a bit!
We started off at the pizza and pasta restaurant, and ordered a Bismark Pizza to share as our starter. At 11.50 Euro for a few small bits of sausage and a single egg, it’s definitely on the pricey side. However, the execution is so well done that it’s hard to begrudge the price. With a crispy base with a good amount of chew, a thin layer of tomato paste and a perfectly soft-boiled egg with a wonderfully runny yolk, it’s a simple pizza that satisfies.
Our next stop was at their Street Food stall, which specialises in serving deep-fried Italian goodies such as panzerotti – essentially a small calzone. It’s interesting how similar fried foods exist in other cultures – it’s not dissimilar to a curry puff for example!
I think the main point of difference is in the pastry used – where curry puffs can be a little too doughy, a good panzerotto is wonderfully thin and crispy. The pastry in this version of a Panzerotto with Mozzarella and Tomato Sauce was even a little bit sweet, reminiscent of the flavours of a fried doughnut. With the oodles of hot melted cheese inside, this little doughnut-esque panzerotto really hit that balance between savoury and sweet. One I would definitely order again!
Our next stop was the vegetarian restaurant. A warning note to vegetarians – while all the dishes are technically vegetarian, it’s not a great place to visit if you have other dietary requirements. With only about half a dozen mains on the menu, most of which aren’t gluten-free or vegan (one dish is just a cheese board with four Italian cheeses!), it may not be the best place to go if you have certain dietary requirements.
We started off by sharing a juice – the waitress described that day’s special juice as being a carrot, lemon and apple blended juice. I think it would be more accurate to call this a Carrot, Blood Orange and Apple Juice – there was no tart note to the juice at all, but there was a slightly bitter note at the start of each sip which I always associate with the more bitter blood orange. A little bit pricey (5 Euro) for the tiny glass that it came in.
I ordered the Kuma Whole Cous Cous, a beautifully presented dish of well-balanced flavours and textures. The beetroot added sweetness and colour, the crisp Granny Smith apples added much needed texture and a slight tangy bite, and the strong goats cheese added depth of flavour. A deceptively simple dish executed flawlessly – one worth replicating at home for future meals!
K ordered the Orzotto Risottato, a barley risotto of a porridge-like consistency. Did you know that some people choose to use barley over a more conventional risotto grain like arborio rice because of the health benefits of using wholegrains? I might have to give it a try – the barley gave this risotto a particularly nice ‘chew’ and texture. I’ll try using other ingredients though for more distinct and memorable flavours – this one was a little bit bland with a generic ‘vegetable stock’ flavour.
Our last stop in Eataly was up to the top floor to this little display table where you can order freshly-filled cannoli. We hadn’t had cannoli at all during our stay in Rome up to that point, so that was as good a reason as any to get some!
K and I got one Ricotta Filled Cannoli each. I got mine dipped in dark chocolate chips and pistachio crumbs, and he got candied orange peel in his. Of course we each preferred our own to the others’ – but I honestly think the chocolate chips were the best choice as they were dark and rich without that powdery mouth-feel that you often get with substandard chocolate chips. The ricotta filling was particularly creamy and sweet, and the cannoli was crispy. Freshly-filled cannoli is definitely the way to go, I’ll never buy pre-made cannoli again!
Eataly is the place to go if you want to get authentic Italian gourmet food products – don’t get sucked in by those tourist-oriented gourmet shops in the centre of town! Make sure to stop by some of their restaurants when you visit as well – the panzerotto and the cannoli are a must.
Hopefully in the future, Eataly will consider implementing a central dining area where customers can order off the menus of all the different restaurants rather than being restricted to a single menu with only a half dozen items on it…hope springs eternal in the beautiful city of Rome!
Eataly Rome is located on Piazzale XII Ottobre in Rome, Italy, near the Piramide metro stop, or Rome Ostiense train station.