Traditional Rome appetizers: the best appetisers to taste in Rome and recipe ideas to replicate them at home!
Eating out is one of the great pleasures of a visit to Rome. Rome food is filling and bursting with flavor and some of the dishes from the city were so successful, like carbonara, they are now famous across the world.
However, there is more to Rome than pasta (and pizza, and gelato…): some of the best foodie experiences in Rome happen before the main meal even starts, in the form of appetizers!
Rome appetizers are distinctive, varied and delicious and they are perfect for vegetarians and pescatarians too, something not always true for the city’s main fare.
These are the best appetizers to try in Rome.
The best appetizers in Rome are often the easiest to make
The appetizers in this list are typical from the city and all have pretty humble origins, like most of Rome’s cuisine.
This is clear in the choice of ingredient, mostly local, and in their uncomplicated preparations, which evoke simple meals in family homes: biting into them is like diving into the city’s long past!
All of these are now served in Rome pizzerias, usually with a reasonable price tag too, but can also be made at home.
For some, you will need a full recipe (I will link to them as soon as I make them!) but for others, quick pointers are enough for you to give it a shot at home!
I hope you enjoy them!
Bruschetta semplice or ‘al pomodoro’
Bruschetta is a staple in many restaurants in Italy and abroad and but it is originally from Rome.
The key is in the name: ‘bruschetta’ means ‘grilled’ (bruscare= grill or parch in Roman) which also tells you the star ingredient of this appetizer: grilled bread!
Roman style brushetta is super simple to make and flavorsome.
At its base, you have a slice of grilled bread, ideally from a loaf of ‘pane casereccio’, with toppings: the simplest and most traditional is garlic and olive oil, or you can have it with garlic olive oil fresh tomatoes and basil.
How to make bruschetta at home:
- Get hold of a nice loaf of bread with a crusty outside and a spongy dough
- Cut it in slices, about one finger thick
- Grill or BBQ
- Take a clove of garlic, cut it in half and pass it over the grilled bread to give it a subtle garlicky flavor
- Dress with salt and a generous amount of olive oil
- Add fresh tomatoes if desired
Suppli’ al telefono or Suppli’ (Fried rice balls)
Suppli’ is another Rome specialty, usually served in traditional pizzerias as a starter or as a take out food in ‘rosticcerie’ (take out pizza and roast chicken shops)
Suppli are fried balls of rice with a heart of mozzarella: as you bite into them, the hot mozzarella melts and creates long delicious strings of cheese, which are at the basis of the name of the dish: al telefono means ‘on the phone’ a name given a long time ago, when phones had cords!
They don’t look entirely dissimilar from Sicilian arancini however, they are smaller and the sauce used to dress the rice is different.
Arancini usually are made with ragu’, caciocavallo and peas or are white inside with cooked ham and mozzarella.
Suppli’ on the other hand, always have a tomato-based sauce and no peas: originally the sauce has a deeper flavor thanks to the addition of chicken livers but nowadays, it is pretty common for them to be plain or made with beef instead.
How to make suppli at home:
- Cook arborio rice and dress with a thick tomato-based sauce
- Roll the rice into balls, then flatten them slightly to give an oblong shape
- Cut mozzarella in small dices and push one dice of cheese in the center of each rice ball
- Pass the rice ball in beaten egg and then in breadcrumbs to create an even coating
- Pan fry in olive oil
- Serve hot so that the heart of mozzarella does it magic!
Fiori di zucca fritti -fried zucchini flowers
Another typical Rome appetizer are zucchini flowers, coated in batter and served fried.
The name ‘flowers’ makes this sound like a refined, pretty plate dressed with edible tiny flower heads but this is very much not it!
Zucchini flowers are big and floppy when cooked and they arrive on the table like big chunk of fried deliciousness!
How to make fried zucchini flowers at home:
- Make a light batter mixing flour, yeast, a pinch of sugar, water and a pinch of salt
- Dip each flower into the batter so that it gets completely covered and the fry each into a pan with a generous amount of olive oil
- Drain excess oil and serve very hot
You can find my easy to follow recipe for fried zucchini flowers Roman style here.
Alicette fritte – fried anchovies
Another fried specialty you find in Rome are friend anchovies, also served as starter.
The anchovies are tiny fish and, in this version, they come to the table whole (except for their heads), usually spread in half and deliciously coated with flour, then fried.
You eat them whole, holding them by the tail!
How to make friend anchovies at home.
- Get the anchovies, remove the head (not the tail) and wash well
- Open them in half so that the tail holds them together but they sit flat on the plate
- Coat with flour
- Fry in shallow, very hot olive oil
Filetti di Baccala’ (Fried baccala’ fillets)
By now, you probably have a clear picture of the love affairs between Romans and fried food and won’t be surprised by the next Roman appetizers: filetti di baccala’, fried cod (baccala‘ is salted cod).
Filetto di baccala’ is as simple as the name suggests: a tasty fillet of salted and dried cod, covered in a flour and water batter, then deep-fried! Super easy to make!
You can find baccala’ in any good pizzeria, however, if you want to taste this Rome appetizer in its very best form, the place to go is Er Filettaro, near Campo de’ Fiori, whose fillets are legendary!
Carciofi alla romana and Carciofi alla Giudia (Rome style artichokes)
Artichokes are one of the staples of Rome’s cuisine, when in season, and they are usually served in one of two guises: alla Romana (Roman style) or alla Giudia.
The Rome style artichokes are soft artichokes prepared in a stewing pot and served with herbs: they are most often presented whole and they have a typical artichoke color, between brown and sage green.
They are served as a starter but it is not unusual to also see them presented as a side dish. You can find my full recipe for Carciofi Alla Romana, Roman style artichokes here.
To make Carciofi alla Romana at home you need Roman artichokes, oil, mentuccia romana (a herb. You can substitute it with a mix of oregano and parsley) and garlic.
Jewish style artichokes, on the other hand, are fried and always presented whole, usually one of them sitting alone in the middle of the plate.
Jewish style artichokes look very impressive and stay true to the fact that an artichoke is a flower: the large Jewish artichoke is basically a huge fried flower bursting with artichoke-y flavor!
They are served as appetizers only and are pretty easy to make although you need the right type of artichoke for them, or they just don’t taste right. The artichoke of choice is the ‘Carciofo Romano’ or ‘Mammola’, aka a ‘globe artichoke’, big and round.
I hope you enjoyed this quick overview of the best appetizers to try in Rome and it whetted your appetite for your time in the Eternal city. Buon Appetito!