A digestible guide to eating and drinking like an Italian

If all roads lead to Rome, then all paths lead to Mercato Centrale Roma in Rome’s Termini train station, where you’ll find an entire panoply of Roman cuisine, all in one place.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Published: 9 August 2018 08:42 CEST
A digestible guide to eating and drinking like an Italian
Photo: Mercato Centrale Roma
There are so many reasons to visit the Eternal City: the history, the architecture, the art, the orchestral chaos of Italy’s capital, a modern city built on top of and around the remains of Empirical Rome.

Photo: Mercato Centrale Roma

Many tourists are often surprised to see the city bring its shutters down on the heat of the middle of the day, when the locals retire to their cool cantinas to eat a lunch of antipasto, primo, secondo, contorno, dolce, frutta e formaggio and caffè. Nothing happens in this city until Rome is fed and to fully experience the best of Rome, you must eat like a Roman.

The Mercato Centrale Roma opened in 2016 with over 500 seats and 18 open food shops, it is dedicated to the tradition and the excellence of Italian cuisine and you can find everything you might need to enjoy every aspect of Italian food.

Photo: Mercato Centrale Roma

Here’s how you can enjoy Italian food at Mercato Centrale, whether shopping for your own ingredients to prepare yourself, or sampling the unparalleled excellence of Rome’s chefs.


When the offices close at 6.30, and the bars and enoteche fill up with stunning looking professionals, you’ll know it’s aperitivo time in Rome.

Typically, between 6 and 8pm, the aperitivo is a light snack of olives, focaccia, prosciutto, salumi and much more, washed down with a glass of wine, Aperol spritz or Negroni, depending where you are in Italy. While the tables seem to creak under the weight of the food on offer, the trick with aperitivo is to not overdo it, or risk looking unsophisticated in front of the super cool Romans.

Photo: Mercato Centrale Roma

Find out more about Mercato Centrale Roma

At the Mercato Centrale you can find lI Vino al bicchiere, by Luca Boccoli. With more than 100 bottles of wine that can be bought and tasted and over 40 labels that can be sold by the glass: a very balanced selection that includes Champagne, Borgogna and Barolo, you’ll find the exact right glass for your aperitivo.

Photo: Mercato Centrale Roma

Aperitivo is increasingly enjoyed with beer these days and makes a welcome refreshment after sightseeing under the Roman sun. The worldwide craft beer revolution can be found in Italy too and at La Birreria at Mercato Centrale by the Luigi Moretti brewery (1859), you can choose from light, amber, white, dark, full-bodied or slimline beers, by the glass or by the pint.


The first course of the Italian meal, the antipasto, (which is not the opposite of pasta!), is generally a selection of hand carved meats and salamis, seafood, vegetables in oil and breads. It is an appetiser and a first rung on the ladder of your Roman feast.

Photo: Mercato Centrale Roma

At I Carciofi e i funghi (Artichoke and Mushrooms) Alessandro Conti e Gabriele La Rocca create incredible traditional dishes with raw and cooked artichokes and mushrooms, and seasonal specialties like the ‘puntarelle’ with garlic pesto and anchovies.

Il Tartufo by Cristiano Savini specialises in the precious truffle, sourced in the wild forests of Tuscany and presented on your plate in the most delicious expressions of this most treasured of Italian delicacies.

Fausto Savigni and his family offer the best of Italian meats at La carne e i salumi, whether it’s raw, cold cuts, cured or salumi, the care and attention to every detail from farm to fork is evident in the quality of these fine 100 percent Italian meats.

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Photo: Mercato Centrale Roma

The primo piatto is typically pasta or rice, it is the moment to experience the very essence of Italian cuisine. Developed in the Italian regions over the centuries so that rural communities could eke out their meat and fish, the primo varies from region to region and from village to village. Indeed, every family will hold fast their own slight variation as it is part of their inheritance.

At La Pasta fresca, Egidio Michelis’ family has been creating Bronze-cut durum wheat pasta, fresh handmade stuffed pasta, and sauces since 1919. Every product is made combining old homemade recipes and traditional recipes to guarantee rich and unique flavours.

Visit Mercato Centrale Roma on your next trip to Rome


The main course in Italy is usually meat or fish. In Rome, you’ll be served typical dishes like saltimbocca, abbacchio à scottaditto, involtini, bocconcini di vitello. Il secondo is the main event and if there is any small chance of you leaving the table unsatisfied, the main course ensures your hunger is absolutely sated.

Il Fritto by Martino Bellincampi serves fried everything from savoury, vegetables, dolce and so much more, the Italian skill at frying almost anything is on show here.

Photo: Mercato Centrale Roma

L’Hamburger di Chianina in Mercato Centrale is where Enrico Lagorio serves up burgers made exclusively from the famed Chianina breed of cattle from the central region of Italy. They’ll make a hearty and delicious main course that you’ll remember long after your trip to Rome ends.

Photo: Mercato Centrale Roma

While the Italians tend to shun cuisine from other countries, (they rightly look at their own cucina as sheer perfection), they have welcomed with open arms Japanese cuisine. To see Il Ramen by Akira Yoshida and Il Sushi, by Donato Scardi among all the Italian vendors in Mercato Centrale is no surprise. Italians appreciate the Japanese emphasis on quality of ingredients and simplicity of seasoning. The even refer to noodles as a type of spaghetti.

Photo: Mercato Centrale Roma


Contorni are the side dishes in an Italian meal. Typically, the vegetables are kept separate from the meat of your secondo, so the side is usually insalata or vegetables. The Italians like to keep their vegetables relatively simple, relying on the quality of the produce and its freshness do the talking.

Photo: Mercato Centrale Roma

However, if you’re looking for the best vegetables in Rome and for vegetarian and vegan delicacies look no further than Il Vegetariano e Vegano. Here Marcella Bianchi sells organic and locally-produced vegetables, fruits, dried fruit, mushrooms and much, much more.


The dessert in Italy is elevated to an art form with their traditional excellence evident in every detail. From the different kinds of pastries, ices, tarts and cakes, filled with creamy, rich ricotta and other delectable treats, there’s so much to get excited about when it comes to dessert in Rome. Even if you don’t have an especially sweet tooth, there’s something for everyone with bitter and tart options just as satisfying.

Photo: Mercato Centrale Roma

At Le Specialità siciliane, Carmelo Pannocchietti takes you on a culinary odyssey of Sicily, not only will you find a tempting array of sweet treats form the island famed for its pastry chefs, but a lot more besides, reflecting the richness and diversity of Sicilian culture and history itself.

Frutta e formagio

Photo: Mercato Centrale Roma

There is a seemingly endless amount of cheeses in Italy, each offering their own expression of the terroirs of the region. From strong and hard sheep’s cheeses to creamy gorgonzola and mozzarella di bufala, you’ll find them all at Il Formaggi, courtesy of Beppe Giovale. Fruit in Italy grows larger and sweeter than anywhere else on earth and has to be tasted to be believed.

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Photo: Mercato Centrale Roma

Finish your Roman feast with an espresso at La Caffetteria which prides itself on preparing Italian coffee as it should be. Just don’t ask for a cappuccino after 11 am.

Street food

Photo: Mercato Centrale Roma

Apart from the meals of the sit-down variety, Italy has a long tradition of street food which offers its own unique way to sample the specialities of each region. Il Trapizzino, by Stefano Callegari, at Mercato Centrale serves Trapizzino®, a kind of pizza pocket that is a delicious and fun way to enjoy Italian food on the go.

Eat like a Roman at Mercato Centrale Roma


Photo: Mercato Centrale Roma

Pizza deserves its own category, well, because it’s pizza, it can fit into a five course Italian meal, be served on its own, or act as street food. La Pizza at Mercato Centrale is where Pier Daniele Seu bakes pizza that has been perfected over many years of experimentation and dedication to his craft.

The whole shebang

Photo: Mercato Centrale Roma

At award-winning chef Oliver Glowig’s restaurant La Tavola, il vino e la dispensa (The Table, the Wine and the Pantry), you’ll find a top-notch dining experience where you can enjoy every stage of the Italian feat in one place.


Photo: Mercato Centrale Roma

Gelato is gelato and whether it’s your dolce at the end of a meal or enjoyed on its own at Il Gelato in Mercato Centrale you can sample the myriad of flavours hand-crafted by Luca Veralli. With a cone in hand take a stroll on the streets of Rome after sunset as the stars begin to twinkle over the Mediterranean pines and the sound of the vespas fill the hot air of the Roman night.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Mercato Centrale Roma

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TRAVEL: Nine tips for making the most of a Rome city break
Planning a trip to the Eternal City? Here, The Local’s reporter in Rome shares some pointers on making the most of your stay.

Published: 7 April 2022 15:58 CEST
TRAVEL: Nine tips for making the most of a Rome city break
Familiarise yourself with the concept of aperitivo

If the aperitivo originated in Milan, it’s been wholeheartedly embraced in Rome.

For those unfamiliar with the custom, aperitivo is a kind of Italian happy hour – except instead of discounted or two-for-one cocktails, you get food along with your drink.

This can be anything from a small plate of crisps or bowl of peanuts to bites of sandwiches and pizzette to a full-blown all-you-can-eat buffet (in which case it’s more likely to be referred to as an apericena), ideal for travellers looking to fill up on a budget.

Some of the popular Rome bars that used to serve buffets ended the practice for good during the pandemic, but a number of others have now started up again.

Regardless of whether or not you want to substitute an apericena for an actual dinner, sitting down for an aperitivo can be a good way to keep your energy levels up if you’re planning on waiting till 9pm to eat like an Italian.

People enjoy an aperitivo in downtown Rome.

People enjoy an aperitivo in downtown Rome. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP.
On weekends, book in advance for restaurants

After several years of living in Rome, this one still catches me out: most popular restaurants will be fully booked on Friday and Saturday evenings and for Sunday lunch.

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You’ll always eventually find somewhere that will take you in – but if you want to avoid being snorted at derisively and turned away from multiple establishments, it’s wise to book in advance, especially if you have somewhere well known on your list.

People eat a lunch in a restaurant in Campo dei Fiori square in downtown Rome.

People eat a lunch in a restaurant in Campo dei Fiori square in downtown Rome. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP.
…And museums

Foreign visitors have started returning to Rome en masse, but some Covid restrictions are still in place: meaning that now more than ever, it’s important to book visits to the major attractions and museums in advance to avoid being disappointed.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about travel to Italy this spring

This has always been true for the Vatican Museums, where you can expect to queue for hours if you’ve not booked ahead of time (even if you have booked, you can still expect to wait in line for staff to check tickets and conduct security checks).

A tourist walks outside the Capitoline Museums in central Rome.

A tourist walks outside the Capitoline Museums in central Rome. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP.
If you’ve left it too late to secure a time slot for the most famous attractions, don’t assume your trip’s a write off – Rome is packed with numerous lesser-known museums and churches that are still worth visiting.

Pick your gelato wisely

There are a lot of great gelaterias in Rome – and a few mediocre ones.

The first time I visited the city, such distinctions were meaningless to me, and I was irritable with an Italian who tried to instruct me otherwise: ice cream is ice cream, and if I want to get one from somewhere right next to the Trevi Fountain, why shouldn’t I?

I maintain that food preferences are a matter of inviolable personal taste, and if bright blue bubblegum flavoured gelato is what you like best in the world, then you do you.

READ ALSO: How to spot good quality gelato in Italy – and how to suss out the fakes

When eating gelato in Rome, it’s worth seeking out a quality gelateria.
When eating gelato in Rome, it’s worth seeking out a quality gelateria. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP.
But after consuming many, many gelati, my tastes have regrettably and against my will become more refined than they once were.

If you want a good quality gelato that a Roman would eat, avoid bright artificial colours, places where the ice cream is piled high without melting (it means the gelato is high in vegetable fats and emulsifiers), and shops that are really going out of their way to advertise themselves with a lot of garish signposting.

Do your research on where to eat

In a similar vein, it can be tempting to assume that every restaurant in Rome serves good food just because it’s here.

The one time I was persuaded to eat at a place without indulging my neurotic compulsion to first check its ratings on various review platforms, it was bad.

When we looked afterwards, my suspicions were confirmed: it was poorly reviewed online.

READ ALSO: How to spot the Italian restaurants to avoid

People eat at a restaurant by the Pantheon in downtown Rome.

People eat at a restaurant by the Pantheon in downtown Rome. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP.
This might not happen to you; but if you’re only here for a few days on holiday, why risk not checking that the place where you’re about to eat has at least decent reviews?

Restaurants accredited by the Slow Food Association (which was founded in Rome) are a good start: they use only local, seasonal ingredients, so the food tends to be very fresh and flavourful.


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