When in Rome, eat good gelato like Romans do

Posted on August 8, 2012


The foodie lesson that I most used after the Eating Italy Food Tours in Rome was how to spot a good gelateria in Rome. Our guide Domenico Scola saved the best for last and sat us down outside Gelateria Giolitti a Testaccio before we indulged. He made us understand that the gelato industry was big in Rome and now you find the good and the bad kind. He told us if we knew what to stay away from, every gelato experience should leave us really pacified and cooled down.

He then gave us some food for thought. Real pistachio nuts were earthy green weren’t they? Then it should follow that pistachio gelato should not be neon green. Second thing he pointed out was that banana-gelato should not be flourescent yellow but beigy-white just like any banana was. No one throws yellow banana peels into a gelato obviously. What makes fake gelatos yellow were color additives. Good gelato were made from natural ingredients and not powdered simulations of different flavors. He also let us in the secret that each little cup entitles everyone to two flavors and a dollop of whipped cream. He said that only in Rome can you get the high quality whipped cream for free as other gelateria in Italy like in Naples charge extra for the treat. All you have to do was to give them a big smile and say “con panna” and your choice would be topped with freshly whipped cream. They regalled us that the panna was whipped with the same machine that they were using since Giolitti’s started.

After that lecture he introduced us to one of the owners of Giolitti’s. The thing that was most remarkable though was that if he doesn’t think that the combination of two flavors work, he would veto it and not sell it. He would make suggestions and he also would give little spoons for tasting to help. I loved it that he cared that we get to enjoy his product the way it should be enjoyed. His partner was busy at the back churning more fresh gelato. Domenico told us that we could take a peek and we were laughingly herded out of the way as apparently it was most important to concentrate on making gelato to make sure that a good gelato makes the display case. He was that committed to get his gelato done perfectly. Gelato were made in small batches as they melt quickly if made without any preservatives nor additives. This made the real thing light and airy.

When it was then my turn to choose, I held my breath as I told the owner my choice of pistachio and wild berry. I didn’t get vetoed and I got what I wanted! After putting a dollop of whipped cream, he hands it to me and of course I do my round of photos. I must confess that I only had a few as I was excited to taste it and after I did, I did not even remember to take pictures of the restaurant interiors. I just sat in the table outside and was in heaven.

Eating Italy Food Tours in Rome also gave us a list of tried and tested restaurants in Rome outside of Testaccio and I specifically chose another gelateria. One of the best in Rome has a Hollywood connection. It was the brand of gelato that Julia Roberts was smiling about in the movie Eat, Pray and Love. This gelateria was Il Gelato Di San Crispino. They have several branches all around Rome but I specifically chose the one two blocks north of the Pantheon. At first I went going round and round looking for this gelateria and when I found it, I understood why I kept missing it. The façade doesn’t look like the gelaterias that were geared to capture a tourist’s eye. It was very much understated and looked like just another store. With them I tried the Sorbetto de Limone (lemon) and Sorbetto de lamponi (raspberry) flavors. I held back on the panna for this, not knowing whether it would be a good fit to the tartness of my choices. When I got my chance to taste it, I prolly have a silly smile in my face as I walked towards the Pantheon to finish my cup. I sat by one of the ledges and let my bare feet hang over the side as I took comfort of the shade of this majestic tourist magnet. It would be good to know that Il Gelato Di San Crispino also has a store inside the Fiumicino Airport at Terminal 1. Of course I had a second try after I saw the booth. :)

My last find was Venchi close to the Spanish Steps. Arriving the Spanish Steps a little after noon time, the sweltering heat can really make a toll on you. After sitting for a few minutes in the shade, I decided to test myself whether I can find another gelateria that would make Domenico proud. One easy way to spot a gelateria were the throngs of tourists walking by you holding a cone in their hand. Seeing this store, I read from the boards that they make their gelato the artisan way. Only fresh natural ingredients and made on site, I thought that passed all the requirements that a gelato should have. Despite their many flavors, I still went for the lemon and wild berry option. I am happy to say that I did find a good one. Tart and sweet, I loved that their flavors shine through and helped me cool down.

Now that I have tasted what made a good gelato, I’ll be sure be looking for a similar one in Toronto. I am crossing my fingers that there would be one as I know the experience is worth coming back for more :)