Sunday, 19 June 2011

When in Rome, eat as the Romans eat

As I mentioned in my previous post, I've just gotten back from a short trip to Rome, and loved it. This was a country not afraid of fat or carbs, the villians according to modern day "healthy" diets. Well, too bad. They say, in Rome, do as the Romans do. So I did.

I have long been enlightened about the need for saturated fat in a healthy balanced diet, and easily devoured the proscuitto with their delicious white specks of fat, the full fat mozarella balls, the juicy crispy guanciale amidst the mound of noodles in my carbonara.

Yes, the mound of white spaghetti noodles. And pizza at that.

At home, I religiously soak my brown rice and bake with my sourdough starter. But outside, I have no qualms about eating white grains, rather than wholegrains which, although full of nutrients, are also full of anti-nutrients. And it's not just that. I believe health is about so much more than just what you put into your mouth. It is about enjoying and loving life, and striking a balance between being aware and concerned about your body and being a weirdo that isolates herself from good food and friends.

I see the Italians happily tearing pizzas apart,

Traditional wood-fired pizza with sausage and mushrooms. Perfectly charred crispy crust.

The Al Marmi chefs making and firing the pizzas

licking gelatos,

all-natural pisatchio and chocolate and mint gelato

and slurping pasta.

Fresh handmade perfectly al dente pasta needs nothing more than tomatoes and olive oil. This was so so good it made our eyes widen.

Yummy handmade raviolis with beef ragu, worth the grumpy waitress and long wait.

And far from being elephants, they looked fit and healthy. I'm no serious researcher, but I reckon what keeps them in such great shape is how they see food as something to be enjoyed, savoured, and lovingly prepared with proper real ingredients.

Italian old man we met at Trattoria di Augusto, an eatery that's rough and homely, overflowing with locals at lunchtime. This man knows and loves his food.

Map he drew for us to get to the "best pizza in Rome", which we dutifully hunted down.

It was a bit of a culture shock at first when we tried in vain to find a supermarket in Rome on the first day (Of course, we did find one in the end. They exist, just not every 100m away.) One day, we did as the Romans do. We visited a market, a local favourite called Camp0 di Fiori, picked up fresh fruit and vegetables,

freshly baked pizza ,

Pizza al taglio, baked in rectangles instead of traditional round shapes and cut up and sold by weight. The Italian idea of fast food style bakeries.

Famous pizza bianca at the bottom

cheese and ham,

I died and went to heaven

and enjoyed one of the best lazy mornings with an Italian picnic.

(anti-clockwise from bottom left) Pizza bianca- fantastic bread with olive oil and rosemary; Pizza rossa- with tomato sauce; buffalo mozarella; tuna; cherries; mortadella with olives; the sweetest cherry tomatoes I've had.

I have never bothered with calories, but in Rome, I learnt to really let go and simply appreciate food for what it is. Too often when we focus on healthy eating, we start to think too much and see food in terms of their nutritional exploitations. But food shouldn't be tiring. It should be simple and fun and intuitive.

I hope this post made you (salivate and) think a bit about the the way you look at food too. It's great to eat healthy, but I don't eat what I eat purely for the sake of health. I still will never stick a Mars Bars down my throat or guzzle a can of Coke, because those aren't food, those are just processed garbage trying to pass off as food. But I don't demonise any food groups; bring on the carbs, the proteins, the fats! I eat what my body wants to eat, I eat what tastes good. I read and listened to this researcher Matt Stone talk about intuitive eating a while ago, and how many people's health problems actually go away when they start to impose less diet restrictions on themselves because the body is freed of unnecessary stresses and mental interventions. I see that in the way the Italians eat, in the way they love good food and life.

What about you? Are you the kind of person who meticulously calculates the calorie content in her food, or who strictly follows a diet cutting out carbs or saturated fat or the latest criminal ingredient, or do you just eat and enjoy?

Best deep-fried eggplant parmesan. I know it's famous for being loaded with calories, but like I said, calories is a non-existent concept to me.

Here are some more good related reads, do take a look if you like:

And Italian (-style) recipes I've posted:


  1. Sooo jealous! We loved Rome and all there was to see ... we walked so much that calories didn't matter! And the food was fantastic ... simple and satisfying! Glad you had a great time too!

  2. I am so glad you liked my city!!
    It looks like you got to eat a lot of good food!! :)

  3. Woooaaaaaa.... I miss Rome so much. Looks like you had an amazing tour for the belly. And I love your open attitude in Rome. It's a definite way to travel.
    11 pm Dinner? Why not! Hahaha.

  4. Looks like you had a wonderful time in least food wise :) I love visiting the markets when in a foreign country. There is so much to see, smell, and taste.

  5. I love this, and I totally agree with you. Food is so much more than what you put in your mouth (esp nutrient-wise), and one of the biggest joys in life is good food... most particularly really good wood fired pizza. The pictures are awesome, except that I can't eat them RIGHT now!

  6. This is the BEST post ever, and my most favourite. You sound really enlightened... and it's ironic but true, that it's unhealthy having a fixation with healthy eating. So yes, bring on the carbs, and all the food that we love!

  7. Fantastic post, great read and beautiful photos!

  8. Those beautiful Borlotti beans caught my eye! You should definitely try a Pizza recipe, high heat is the key, make your oven as hot as possible.


  9. thanks!

    susan: haha nice one, i'll make sure i walk to the restaurant everytime i eat out then ;)

    biren: yes! the market's got to be the best part of a country. it makes me feel more...part of them if you get what i mean.

    pierre: yes, everyone's got to stop fretting and just enjoy!

    brandise: so happy you agree too! haha i'm sorry, usually i'd say "then go make it yourself now" because i love making things myself esp since i'm too broke to eat out usually, but, well wood fired pizza's another story...

    shuqi: yes, nom.

    luigi: yup, bookmarked your pizza recipe already! and the borlotti beans were gorgeous! much rather coo over those than pearls.