It’s very easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of cafes and restaurants in a city like Rome, especially in the historic center. It’s easy to fall into one of the places that are frankly a bit of a tourist trap, serving average pastas for above average prices. This can get expensive when you’re out and about all day and want to grab a fortifying lunch then relax over a well-earned dinner.
One way to get around it is to have lunch alfresco – to buy something and take it to the Spanish Steps or the Borghese Gardens and just relax for a while without paying for the privilege of sitting down. (All over Italy, prices in cafes skyrocket if you actually sit to have your coffee or lunch which is why you see so many of the locals hovering at the bar while they throw down their shots of fueling caffeine.)
Don’t let exhaustion and confusion drive you into the nearest familiar chain restaurant–venture into a deli or alimentari. Here you’ll find glass display cases full of delicious fresh pastas, sliced meats, chargrilled or roasted vegetables, olives, tomatoes and a huge variety of cheeses. In nearly every one they will build you a sandwich with your choice of fillings. Choose your bread, point to your fillings and in a few minutes you have a low-cost, fresh, delicious lunch.
If you have cooking facilities where you’re staying, I recommend the fresh pastas and pestos – simple, delicious. For other fresh produce head to the markets in Campo dei Fiori and Piazza Testaccio – market shopping is theatrical as well as delicious in Rome. And definitely try little biscotti and pastries made with almonds. The Italians do this so well – especially dipping them in coffee. My favourite Italian dessert is Torta della Nonna (literally meaning “Grandma’s Cake”) which involves ricotta, pinenuts and lemon.