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.

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. 


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.


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



OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

Michelin-starred food has its merits but it doesn't fit with the Italian tradition of cuisine, argues Silvia Marchetti and some frustrated Italian chefs. There's nothing better than a plate of steaming lasagne, she says.

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

I’ve never been a great fan of sophisticated dishes, twisted recipes and extravagant concoctions that leave you wondering what is it you’re actually eating. T-bone steak with melted dark chocolate as topping, burrata cheese with apples, spaghetti with blueberry sauce aren’t my thing.

Hence, I never eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, and it’s not because of the exorbitant bill – paying €200 for a salad simply because it was grown in the private garden of a chef which he personally sprinkles with mountain water each morning, is a bit over the top.

I just don’t think such fancy food has anything to do with the real Italian tradition.

The ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as the name suggests, was invented in France by chef Paul Bocuse. And it’s ‘nouvelle’ – new – not anchored to past traditions.

The philosophy of serving small morsels of chic food on humongous plates as if they were works of art is the exact opposite of what Italian culinary tradition is all about.

We love to indulge in platefuls of pasta or gnocchi (and often go for a second round), and there are normally three courses (first, second, side dish, dessert and/or coffee), never a 9 or 12-course menu as served at Michelin establishments (unless, perhaps, it’s a wedding).

Too many bites of too many foods messes with flavours and numbs palates, and at the end of a long meal during which you’ve tasted so many creative twists you can hardly remember one, I always leave still feeling hungry and unsatisfied. 

So back home, I often prepare myself a dishful of spaghetti because Michelin pasta servings often consist in just one fork portion artistically curled and laid on the dish. In fact, in my view Michelin starred cuisine feeds more the eye than the stomach.

The way plates are composed, with so much attention to detail, colour, and their visual impact, seems as if they’re made to show-off how great a chef is, than as succulent meals to devour. I used to look at my dish flabbergasted, trying to make out what those de-constructed ingredients were and are now meant to be, and then perplexed,

I look at the chef, and feel as if I’m talking to an eclectic painter who has created a ‘masterpiece’ with my dinner. I’m not saying Michelin starred food is not good, there are some great chefs in Italy who have heightened a revisited Italian cuisine to the Olympus of food, but I just don’t like it nor understand it.

There’s nothing greater than seeing a plate of steaming lasagne being brought to the table and knowing beforehand that my taste buds will also recognise it as such, and enjoy it, rather than finding out it’s actually a sweet pudding instead.

More than once, after a 4-hour Michelin meal with a 20-minute presentation of each dish by the chef, the elaborate food tasted has given me a few digestion problems which lasted all night long.

Michelin-starred food has started to raise eyebrows in Italy among traditional chefs, and is now the focus of a controversy on whether it embodies the authentic Italian culinary experience. 

A Milanese born and bred, Cesare Battisti is the owner of restaurant Ratanà, considered the ‘temple’ of the real risotto alla Milanese.

He has launched a crusade to defend traditional Milanese recipes from what he deems the extravagance and “contamination” of Michelin-starred cuisine. “Michelin-starred experiments are mere culinary pornography. Those chefs see their own ego reflected in their dishes. Their cooking is a narcissistic, snob act meant to confuse, intimidate and disorientate eaters”. 

Arrigo Cipriani, food expert and owner of historical trattoria Harry’s Bar in Venice, says Michelin-starred cuisine is destroying Italy’s real food tradition, the one served inside the many trattorias and historical osterias scattered across the boot where old recipes, and cooking techniques, survive.

“Tasting menus are made so that clients are forced to eat what the chef wants, and reflect the narcissistic nature of such chefs. Italian Michelin-starred cuisine is just a bad copy cat of the French one”, says Cipriani.

I believe we should leave French-style cuisine to the French, who are great at this, and stick to how our grannies cook and have taught us to prepare simple, abundant dishes. At least, you’ll never feel hungry after dinner.