Thursday, October 21, 2010

The non-Italian on an Italian Diet

Here's the typical curve that non-Italians follow when they spend more than a week in Italy:

We start flying high...
1. Italian food is AMAZING, give me more pasta!
2. OMG it's sooo much better here than they make it at home!
3. I could LITERALLY eat pasta and pizza every day for the rest of my life!!

...technical difficulties...
4. Why do I feel myself wanting nachos? I'm in Italy for godssake the food here is DOPE.
5. OK, I mean one night of non-Italian food wouldn't hurt anyone. There's got to be some places that serve a good chicken salad.
6. Oh, there's basically nothing other than Italian food? Oh... that's ok... I'm in Italy after all, I should just enjoy it while I'm here.


I love a good amatriciana as much as anyone, yet those of us that have stayed here for an extended period of time know that, all stereotypes aside, the Italian diet is somewhat limited. In any American city, you can find anything from Vietnamese to Peruvian to fried chicken. I guess that's why they call it the melting pot.

But still, how is it possible that the choice of ethnic restaurants in Italy is so limited? Sure, there's your Middle-Eastern kebabs (love those), over-priced Argentinian steakhouses, and ubiquitous Chinese/Japanese places, but that's really where it ends. Don't go to any of Rome's Mexican joints if you expect anything resembling an authentic chalupa (or if you're on a tight budget for that matter).

The fact is that Italians just love their staples and don't really trust anything else. Of course I'm over-generalizing, but it's clear that there's very little demand for anything other than the traditional dishes. Tourists, who usually only make it through 1-3 of the curve, compound this demand.

Ask an Italian how they can eat pasta almost every day and you'll get "Ahh but there are many different ways to cook pasta!" every single time. The Chinese are not trusted in general, so it's no big surprise they are not lining up to eat their food (it's an urban myth that the cats of Largo Argentina are used in the restaurant next to it). Everything else is too expensive to eat with any regularity.

While I don't want to be the ball-breaking foreigner who rolls into another country and has the nerve to tell them to change their ways, a burrito joint here and there really wouldn't hurt anybody.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

New Parts of the Colosseum Open

Ever been to the Colosseum and said, "awww why can't we go all the way up to the third ring or down underneath where the floor used to be?" Well, now it's open to the public.

The underground corridors, as I'm sure everybody who took a tour of it (or saw Gladiator, for that matter) is well aware, is where the gladiators would prepare for the fight. Animals, slaves, and fighters were kept here and could be introduced into the middle of a fight by a series of lifts. Many say that this is the most interesting part of the Colosseum, showing off the Romans' architectural brilliance, as well as their flare for the dramatic.

Further, since these corridors were buried underground throughout much of history, they are much better preserved than the rest, which has been subject to thousands of years of the elements.

The third ring that has opened (previously you could only go to the first and second) would be where the lower class Romans (plebeians) sat for the fights (even if, I've always thought that they had it better than the rich patricians, who sat so close that they risked death by a stray arrow or javelin). However, aside from the better view of the inside, the third ring also offers great views of Rome itself.

Monday, October 11, 2010

36 Hours in Rome

In a new travel piece in the New York Times, 36 Hours in Rome, the newer, trendier aspects of Rome are explored instead of the classic tourist spots. It gives a list of (mostly) new things to do and places to go that likely won't be found in Rick Steves.

While I appreciate the desire to go off the beaten path, I can't help but feel that these are all expensive, ritzy places (located in the expensive, ritzy areas of Rome) made to seem as if they are hidden gems. It's like going to the upper East side of Manhattan and making a guide to the trendiest places in New York. Of course it's nice, but who can afford it?

I'd like to see a list of the countless not-so-glamorous, yet incredibly delicious restaurants, or the hidden treasures beneath Rome's surface that tourists often miss.