Tuesday, July 21, 2009

in the ghetto....

during my first stay a roma many years ago, i enjoyed a lovely, traditional roman-jewish meal in the ghetto. yes, "ghetto." the word actually has italian roots (hence the "h" after the "g"). "ghetto" either came from venetian slang "getto" or "gheto" which referred to the caustic by-product of purifying metal ore which was dumped in areas of jewish confinement or "borghetto," which translates more directly into "borough."

either way, rome's ghetto is not run down or dangerous, but it is the area where roman jews were once confined and locked in at night. rome's beautiful sinagoga anchors the neighborhood with it's tall, square dome (to differentiate it from round, christian cupole). today it is full of kasher (kosher) and non-kasher restaurants serving up crispy carciofi al giudia (jewish style 'chokes), salty fish of all varieties, and pasta. the fare is jewish, but also distinctly roman.

the previous day, i took M past the sinagoga and il portico d'ottavia (portico of octavia), which augustus built for his sister around 27 CE. over the years, the portico housed statues to jupiter, was part of a library/school/curia complex, was burned down and rebuilt, hosted a fish market, and more recently was integrated into the church of sant'angelo in pescheria (saint angelo in the fish market).

today it is the ancient neighbor of da giggetto al portico d'ottavia, my favorite roman-jewish restaurant.

their website is actually quite thorough, though complicated, in describing the neighborhood, history of the restaurant, traditions, style, and menu.

and the physical menu above depicts the portico d'ottavia!

oh, i almost forgot. da giggetto has a pretty extensive wine list organized by rosso (red), bianco (white), rose (blush), and sparkling. each category was then further broken down by region. it's my preference to drink the vino di casa (house wine) because they are quite often excellent, pair perfectly with the food, and are pretty much dirt cheap. we ordered a liter or the house white, and i think it set us back a cold 5 euro. we also drank acqua frizzante, which is light, naturally effervescent spring water. a bottiglia (bottle) of that averages about 1.50 euro with table service.

for antipasti, we ordered una fiore di zucchina, un carciofo al giudia, and baccala. the zucchini blossom was stuffed with fresh ricotta and acciughe (anchovies) then lightly fried. this was awesome; perfectly salty, fishy, and cheesy. the best aspect of roman cuisine in general is the total freshness of all products. mmm. jewish style artichokes are trimmed, leaves flayed out, then deep fried until crispy like potato chips. ours was a little over-fried, and was too crunchy, if you can believe it.

NB: roman style artichokes are trimmed very small, hollowed out, blanched, stuffed with herbs, then put in olive oil.

our baccala was fantastic, though! it was irresistibly light, crisp, juicy, salty, and meaty. i couldn't have asked for a better baccala experience!

M ordered some prawn dish, but they were out of that (we arrived around 1030/11, mind you), so the waiter suggested this dish. i can't remember what it was called, and it's not on their website. anyways, these whole shrimp were massive, juicy, briny, sweet, salty, buttery. i don't even know how to describe them other than "perfect." M agreed. i even sopped up some of the brainy juice from his dish with my fish.

i originally ordered the sole (one of my favorite, and M's least, fish), but they were out of that as well! so instead i got the whole dory. again, i have no idea what sort of voodoo they performed on this unlucky fish, but it was BANGIN. i mean, seriously. it seemed like they just classically seasoned it with salt, pepper, and oil. they slit the skin on both sides, then lightly pan fried it. holy wow did it taste like heaven! i love the practice of serving whole fish. it's always fun to dismantle it...reminding me of my days catching and cleaning fish in MN. also, the cheeks are the best part!

da giggetto was excellent, and we enjoyed a leisurely dinner al freso (as usual) in the ghetto. i wanted to cap off my meal with un caffe, but i feared not being able to sleep. mmm, a doppio does make the best digestivo, though.


Suge White said...

A truly great meal. Would have been nice if I wasn't sweaty the whole time!

tim robinson said...

very interesting post....a lil' history...a lil' food stuff...the bangin' prose.....

i'm wondering: is the unadorned plate (absence of garnish...spotlight on just the main player, etc.) common with all restaurants? also: how much was the bill?

last: love the coffee...but grappa is the best digestif!

TekkaDon Juan said...

thank you, TR! the unadorned plate is very common in rome...mostly because they pride themselves on "typical" food. roman cuisine is all about honoring the food that people grew up with and traditionally came from the home. they like to spotlight the freshest ingredients and the simplicity of preparation. i really enjoy this type of multi-coursed dining.

however, i also like complete plates which you find more often here.

i have to say, this place was a little pricey, but then i remember that we ate all seafood. i think the bill was 88euro, which is about $125. however, you don't have to tip there because most restaurants include a service charge. if you have an extra nice meal, it's pretty customary to leave the change and an extra euro or two.

TekkaDon Juan said...

oh, and ps, the bill included a liter of house white and sparkling water.

White Pepper said...

i tend to stay away from whole fish or prawns in general but this all sounds pretty tasty.