{Book Review} Eating Rome: Living the Good Life in the Eternal City

A street in Rome // FoodNouveau.com

A while back, an acquaintance asked me how I go about planning trips. This simple question actually required me to pause and figure out what is, in fact, my process. I love trip planning so much, it may be half the pleasure I gain from traveling. The research, the readings, the post-its, and the bookings: all these steps build the anticipation months before I step on a flight to a new adventure.

I typically begin with a couple of guidebooks, enabling me to map out a destination in my mind. Reading them cover to cover helps me build the itinerary and visualize the layout of the cities we will be visiting. After I complete a trip’s first draft, I dig deeper. I search for the less obvious destinations and attractions in newspapers, magazines, and online and read books that might not be guidebooks per se but that do provide priceless information on a destination, either through its history or through the food made by its people.

The Tiber River in Rome // FoodNouveau.com

Elizabeth Minchilli’s brand new book is one such resource. A 240+ page full-color tome, Eating Rome: Living the Good Life in the Eternal City is not your typical guidebook. Chapters are organized by themes that promise to reveal the secrets to live like a Roman, such as “Shopping in the Markets of Rome” and “Learning to Love Roman Pastries.” To the age-old saying, When in Rome . . . I say, learn how to behave like a local. The Italians do day-to-day activities in extremely specific ways, so a visitor trying to complete a simple task such as ordering coffee can quickly get lost in translation.

I should know: I once spent a half hour waiting for my order in a packed bakery in Rome, with local patrons and servers whizzing past and shooting me impatient looks. I simply could not understand why others were being served while I was not, despite that I had already paid for my order. Mercifully, a kind soul finally explained that after paying for my order, I had neglected to take a miniature piece of paper that I had assumed was a discardable receipt and give it to the woman who was tasked to put my order together. So I returned to the register, grabbed my receipt from the cashier—who had probably taken bets on just how long it would take for me to come back for it—and handed it to the pastry counter server, who, with eyebrows raised, gave me a heavy congrats-you-figured-it-out look. I received my order but continued to wait for the coffees.

Another good 10 minutes passed before the server, who probably couldn’t stand my bewildered stares any longer, gestured that I needed to cross the room to hand my mini-receipt, already half-torn to signify the pastries had been served, to the barista to get my drinks. When the coffees were served in ceramic cups, I tried to explain that I wanted them to go. The barista bestowed me with an eye roll, brusquely swept his hand sideways, and said “No take out.” After standing for so long in that pastry shop, I should have noticed that Italians were downing their espresso in a single gulp, right at the counter.

The adventure left me confused, embarrassed, and sweating, but I sure learned how to do things the right way. The next day, I returned and ordered like a pro. I was in and out of the shop in minutes.


Reading Minchilli’s knowledgeable advice will save you from such unfortunate situations and many more. An American who has lived in Rome most of her adult life, Minchilli explains the Italian way with the self-derision and delicious anecdotes of someone who learned the hard way. Through her experience as an expat married to an Italian, the reader quickly grasps what makes Rome so compellingly fascinating. Besides the memoir aspect of the book, Eating Rome is also part guidebook and part Roman recipe anthology. Each chapter features the author’s favorite addresses along with classic recipes that tie into the theme. The recipes are short and accessible, making it simple to enjoy a taste of Rome, wherever home is.

The Campo di Fiori market in Rome // FoodNouveau.com

All in all, Eating Rome is an entertaining read, whether or not you have plans to travel to the Italian capital (but after reading it, I guarantee you will.) Although some of the basic information presented might not be new to those who have already traveled to Italy, it comes intertwined with so much cultural insight that it becomes an essential read for all Italophiles. I am currently planning a spring trip to Italy that included only a few days in Rome; Minchilli’s book might just have turned my plans upside down.


Elizabeth Minchilli is the author of the blog Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome, which is currently nominated for a Saveur Blog Award. She is also the author of several other books on Italian architecture and lifestyle and of the Eat Italy app series.

More Inspiration for a Trip to Rome

Heartfelt thanks to St. Martin’s Press for sending me an advance copy of Eating Rome: Living the Good Life in the Eternal City.

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18 Responses to {Book Review} Eating Rome: Living the Good Life in the Eternal City

  1. I was in Rome in 1994 when I backpacked Europe. I would love to return. I remember being on the Spanish Steps and loving the atmosphere. There was an Italian with a Guitar playing Bon Jovi! We enjoyed a gelato ice cream near by. Wonderful time

  2. I was in Rome in 2008 on a massive European backpacking tour. After weeks of hostels of dubous cleanliness and pillows that smelled like feet I splurged a bit on a private room in a guesthouse (http://www.interno1.it/), located in a quiet, mostly residential neighbourhood close to the university. It turns out within a 2 minute walk I had an amazing pizzeria and gelateria with the most delicious food at non-tourist prices. I ate at them both every day during my 4 night stay. Later on a sailing tour in Croatia, I was explaining to some girls from Australia about these places, but being before the days of smartphones (for me at least) I couldn’t remember the street names, so instead I drew them a map of how to get there from the nearest metro station. I got a Facebook message a few weeks later letting me know that they had found the gelateria and showed the owner the hand-drawn map, and apparently the owner was so delighted that someone would go to the trouble that they slipped it in a frame and hung it on the wall! I’d love to get back there someday to see if it’s still there!

  3. My ” you can’t make this stuff up” Rome story .. a few years back I visited Rome with a couple of my girlfriends. We met a couple of locals who volunteered to show us around Rome. First on the agenda.. a quick drive across town to a place with the ” BEST” cornettos ( they were!) We pile back in the teeny tiny car.if you’ve ever driven in Rome you know traffic is crazy! The driver had to hit the brakes super fast to avoid a collision. When he did.. something came flying out from under my seat.. I looked down to see what hit my feet…it was a package of SPAGHETTI ! I couldn’t stop laughing. My post it notes are out and I’m planning my May trip now…

  4. As a flight attendant I have traveled to Rome many many times. My favorite experience there was outside of the city proper on the other side of the river. We went to a fellow crew-member’s family restaurant. We were taught how to peel artichokes, watched them roll pasta, and ate like kings! My only regret is expecting my memory to remember names forever, and now I cannot remember the name of the restaurant or the crew-member!

  5. I want to get one of the copies so I can have it to give away at a Combined Class Reunion in Wheeling, West Virginia as a door prize. When we visited Rome it was a once in a lifetime experience to get to actually see the leaning Tower of Pizza and the to get to go in the St. Peters Basilica and witness a wedding there and even though our visit to Rome was a brief one, it was very memorable.

  6. My first experience with tonnarelli cacio e pepe in Testaccio was unforgettable. So was being caught in a downpour in Piazza San Pietro (not on the same night, haha). I love reading and planning in advance for trips…that’s more than half the vacation right there. And it’s fun to live vicariously through the writing and photographs of women who are living the dream there now. :)

  7. I’m so looking forward to reading this book! I’ve haven’t made it to Rome yet (I’ve only been to Florence and Tuscany so far) but I am dying to go! I agree with you in that the planning is just as good as the actual travel. I live for reading guidebooks, making lists, and researching all of the possibilities before a trip. I’ve been known to starting planning trips years before I am able to actually take them…!

  8. How exciting! I love Rome, I love Elizabeth Minchilli, and I would love to win a copy of her book. Thanks, Marie — or perhaps I should say: Grazie!

  9. Italy has been at the top of my list of places to visit for a long time. I’m hoping this year will finally be the year. The book seems like it would be a great read (I love stories about people learning a new culture) as well as a guide.

  10. Such a fantastic review and your planning process echoes my own! I’ve only been to Rome once, in 2007, and I KNOW I explored in exactly the wrong ways. Which is to say, I didn’t follow my belly and the experience suffered as a result. I already have a handful of people I want to give this book to but would love a copy of my own :)

  11. I soooo wanna go back to Rome right now… Eating a cornetto late at night in the Testaccio. Gulping down a coffee in the morning. Arguing with Italians. Eating a gelato (or two!) in the afternoon. Good times!

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