Traditional Italian cooking and dining have much in common with Jewish culinary rituals. Families preserve cultural dishes, often passed down from one’s great-grandmother, to mark all manner of family dinners and holiday festivities. Italians, and Jews, no matter which region they hail from, express their passion for food by cooking, eating, and spending hours at the table with family and friends.
Italian cuisine, has also been strongly influenced by Jewish cuisine. Jews arrived in Rome around 161 B.C.E., when Jason ben Eleazar and Eupolemus ben Johanan were sent as envoys of Judah Maccabee. With limited resources in a foreign land, Jews cooked simple dishes using familiar ingredients like artichokes, which are mentioned in ancient rabbinic writings. Italian Jews prepared them by frying and spritzing them with lemon. The dish, an integral part of Roman cuisine, is still referred to as Carciofi Alla Giudia or Artichokes Jewish-Style. Other common Italian ingredients, such as eggplant and fennel, were at one time shunned in Italy’s markets as poor, Jewish foods. Nowadays, Italian cuisine frequently makes use of these affordable regional vegetables in countless famed pizza and pasta recipes.
Today, Rome hosts a diverse population of 15,000 Jews, comprising the Jewish community with the longest history in Europe. Moreover, plentiful kosher eating establishments allow travelers to experience firsthand la dolce vita (the sweet life) through food.
Best Restaurant (meat)
While enjoying homemade pasta and local wine at Ba”Ghetto Restaurant, it is easy to forget that the establishment is kosher. The menu of Italian and Mediterranean specialties may be savored alfresco on the cobblestone street, or in Ba”Ghetto’s low-lit interior. Rome’s most venerated vegetable, the artichoke, is outstandingly prepared alla Giudia (Jewish style) and must be ordered in the Jewish Ghetto where it originated.
Unforgettable pasta dishes include the tagliatelle in stewed meat sauce, spaghetti carbonara with dried meat and agnolotti with Bolognese sauce. Although each dish looks somewhat similar, their respective complex variations boldly introduce themselves to the palate. Main course offerings include indigenous dishes such as coratella all’antica con carciofi (sheep entrails with artichokes), fegato al miele (liver with honey) and cervello fritto con carciofi (fried brains with artichokes). Ba”Ghetto offers an assortment of dessert options, from tiramisù to baklava, but the sweet mint tea with steeped nuts modestly concludes a rich meal.
Ba”Ghetto - Address: Via del Portico d’Ottavia, 57 - Rome . Ph: +39.06.68892868
Best Restaurant (dairy)
Yotvata’s odd and dated lime green and peach themed décor fades into irrelevance after a few bites of its fare. Solid options include: the classic bruschetta caprese, a light and fresh appetizer of mozzarella, tomato and basil served on crusty Italian bread; doughy calzones stuffed with cheese, salmon or mushrooms; and, of course, a mouth watering selection of creamy pastas. Choosing between generous portions of parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant parmesan), lasagna pomodoro e mozzarella (lasagna with tomatoes and mozzarella) and ravioli burro e panna (ravioli with butter and cream) presents a pleasant challenge. An abundance of seafood options will please fish lovers, including salt-encrusted sea bass and grilled anchovies drizzled with olive oil. On the dessert menu, ricotta cheese and chocolate add creamy richness to sour cherry tarts, warm fondue cakes (tiny cakes with molten-chocolate centers) and vanilla with nougat ice cream.
Yotvata - Address: Piazza Cenci 70 - Rome. Ph: +39.06.68134481
A nondescript peeling and worn storefront on a corner of the Jewish ghetto houses tray upon tray of aromatic, freshly baked Italian specialties. Tiny Il Boccione has been packing in customers for more than 90 years. Three tough and world-weary women hold down the fort, churning out a limited selection of baked goods from an industrial oven in the back room and weighing and selling items, one by one. Try the pizza Ebraica (Jewish pizza), a one-of-a-kind sweet and crunchy thick biscuit, made with raisins, almonds and candied fruits. Large rich pies filled with combinations of ricotta, cherries, chocolate and almond cream often sell out before the afternoon, a testament to their popularity. Little almond macaroons are irresistible, and the savory almond biscotti, which literally means twice-baked, is dry enough to store for long periods if one can control the urge to devour them immediately.
Il Boccione - Address: Via Portico d’Ottavia, 1 - Rome. Ph:+39.06.6878637
A few short metro stops from the throngs of tourists mobbing the sights of central Rome, the locals who live around Piazza Bologna go about their everyday business. The neighborhood’s peaceful respite may not compel visitors to venture off the beaten track, but the pizza sold at Pane al Pane most certainly should. Along with its pizza offerings, it serves a large assortment of breads and pastries. Traditional Roman pizza consists of a cracker thin, crisp rectangular base, but it is soft and chewy when eaten. The standard, but perfectly-executed, tomato and cheese Margherita impresses, but for the most flavorful experience, try a slice that combines eggs, olives, mushrooms and cheese, as well as the pizza topped with anchovies, tomato and mozzarella. A glass of Cantina, an Italian kosher wine pairs nicely. Enjoy this repast at an outdoor table while watching the people pass by.
Pane al Pane - Address: Via Padova 78 - Rome. Ph: +39.06.44236816
In a city of ubiquitous gelato bars, deciding where to sample this legendary Italian treat can be daunting. Il Gelato di S. Crispino, a famous artisanal gelateria, makes its gelato from scratch, using only fresh ingredients and no artificial colors, flavors or thickeners. Thus, many of its flavors are kosher, as indicated on a placard in the back of the shop. At least 15 - 20 flavors rotate daily, including a velvety hazelnut, rum-infused cocoa, and a rich, dark chocolate. However, the signature flavor of cream with honey stands alone as the sweetest, most delicate gelato to taste. Do not overlook the sorbets; at S. Crispino they taste like real fruit, only creamier. A sample of the grapefruit may have one wishing portions weren’t so small and pricey, but finding yet another excuse to return to Rome has never been difficult.
Il Gelato di S. Crispino - Address: Via della Panetteria, 42 - Rome