The Best of Piazza Vittorio – 3 food tips for a great stay near Termini Station

Piazza Vittorio, south of Rome’s main train station, Stazione Termini, is an area that is often scoffed at by Romans and regarded as dangerous by tourists.  The area has been called Rome’s Chinatown, and reviewed on travel forums and in guidebooks as the “seedy and dangerous” side of the city.  In our opinion, these views are oversimplifications.  True, many of the streets are gritty — especially via Giolitti as you head toward Santa Maria Maggiore from Termini and via Gioberti which runs parallel to the station, but apart from some bruttezza (ugliness), nothing threatening.  Yes, there are many Chinese, Indian and other Asian and African immigrants in the area — Rome needed a break-up to its homogeneity.  On the flip side, and not as noticed by visitors, are residents in the area such as musicians like the amazing Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio and many Italian yuppies: professional architects, designers and artists.  Piazza Vittorio is a convenient area for tourists with a subway stop on the red line/Line A metro, close proximity to Termini station and with lots of accommodation options – most of which are easier on the budget than the historic center.  As with anywhere, if you know where to look, there are gems.  Here are a few well-known food gems that are guaranteed to improve your perception of the area.

The original Roscioli bakery dates back to at least 1824 (cited by a census conducted by the Vatican) on via dei Chiavari, 34 near Campo dei Fiori and is still within the Roscioli family. In the center they have a few other locations — a restaurant and a salumeria. There is another Roscioli on via Buonarotti, 48, just south of piazza Vittorio heading toward via Merulana. I’ve heard it’s no longer owned by the Roscioli family anymore, but whatever connection they had to the original has made its mark.  They make amazing bread and pizza, have a coffee bar, and a cafeteria-style food bar.  The staff is super nice and friendly.

Located just off piazza Vittorio on via Principe Eugenio, 65, is one of the oldest gelaterie in Rome, the Palazzo del Freddo Giovanni Fassi.  Founded by Giacomo Fassi in 1880 as a little kiosk that sold ice and beer, it was turned into a gelateria by his son Giovanni in the 1920s and is no longer run by his children, instead having grown into a kind of franchise with their famous “san pietrini”.  www.palazzodelfreddo.it

One of our favorite restaurants in Rome is Trattoria Monti, owned and run by the Camerucci family from Le Marche and brothers Daniele and Enrico can often be found in the front room as the head waiters.  A small, intimate place located on via di San Vito, 13 between piazza Vittorio and piazza Santa Maria Maggiore.  You will find them in just about every reputable guide or blog ever published on Rome.

With a modern, contemporary feel to it, it’s enough to make it a special night out, but not too pricey to break the bank.  They have a great wine list, and will make spot-on suggestions for you if need be. They always have seasonal specials off the menu, and in the years we’ve been going there we’ve never had a bad meal.  This place is always full so you’ll definitely need to reserve for both lunch and dinner times.  Make sure to order one of the flan/tortino antipasti to start, and end with the amaretto semifreddo for dessert.   Tel. 064466573.

by Steven Brenner

Rome food apps

There’s no shortage of good food in Rome, but it’s also possible to strike out too, especially in the historic center.  It used to be that Rome’s center was chock full of “antica trattoria” places with bright lights and no frills, but good, inexpensive food.  More and more these are being taken over by swanky, design-driven, overpriced restaurants and the real McCoys are harder and harder to find.  Being armed with a smartphone with a wealth of information at your fingertips should make this a problem of the past, but with connectivity issues, and a cluttered app store, it can be difficult for the power of technology to save you from a bad food experience.

As a foodie myself, I often have a hard time following the suggestions of others who have made food their business.  I’m critical and difficult to please, and am skeptical of suggestions that make good, healthy food only available for The Elite.  I don’t like elaborate, expensive food — or at least, I don’t appreciate the experience of paying for elaborate, expensive food, and since I know how to cook virtually everything I like to eat, the dining out experience isn’t always that pleasurable for me.  As part of a family of 5, it’s also painful paying full price for the untouched dishes of a few of my picky eaters.  There’s a glut of food apps out there, but many of them are written by researchers who don’t live here, or are just writing about the same places that have been in many of the same books for decades.

Recently, I had an experience with one of Rome’s food apps that gave me the satisfaction of having a great food app on hand.   I found myself in the center around lunch time, and was about to meet a friend who was getting in a cab.  She was low on cell phone credit, and needed a name, any name, to give to the cab driver of a place to meet.  I quickly looked into the Rome for Foodies app by Katie Parla based on where I was and told my friend, “Settimio al Pellegrino on Via del Pellegrino, 117″.

Since Katie’s description said that they were often packed and scrutinized those who wanted in, I decided to go straight there and see if I needed to book a table before my friend arrived.  It was just nearing lunch time and they were in the process of cleaning and prepping, so I buzzed and the older woman who owns the place came to the door.  I asked her if I needed to reserve for lunch and she said no.  I told her I’d be back in 15 minutes and to remember me and she said, “with blue eyes like yours, how could I forget?”.

Fortified with that boost to my ego that only a compliment from a woman in her 70s can bring, I was back there on time and told my friend that Katie’s app already had my full approval, even before I’d seen the menu.  And this from a place that was supposed to be picky about who they served – I felt like a star!

Settimio also stood up to the good/cheap/non-pretentious test.  We had a soup of rice and bieta, essentially a dish that an Italian grandmother makes the day after eating risotto and there’s leftover rice.  We then had a mix of vegetables and my friend had some meatballs.  All extremely simple, with only oil and salt to flavor it, and yet very tasty.  I felt a sweep of nostalgia for my earlier “lira” days in Rome when homemade food could be simple, good, memorable and reasonably priced.

Here’s a few apps I own, use, and recommend:

Rome for Foodies was created by Katie Parla, a journalist and food blogger with a BA in art history from Yale, a degree in Gastronomic Culture from Rome, AND she’s a certified sommelier.  In other words, she knows her sh*t!.  She’s written for guidebooks, contributed to major newspapers, does food tours, and now has this mobile app of her personal recommendations.

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Eat Rome was created by another highly respected food author, Elizabeth Minchilli, who also has an Eat Florence app.  Elizabeth also has a background in art history and is a Rome local of many years, when not at her Umbrian farmhouse.  She’s written numerous books on Italy and has appeared on television shows as a food, travel and style expert for Italy.

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For those who can read Italian, or would enjoy trying, there’s 2Spaghi, an app of food recommendations with user feedback ratings.  As it’s made by Italians, for Italians, the criticisms can be ruthless and the expectations, and thus the quality of places reviewed, can be quite high.  Since the app is ‘gratis’ (free!), you might download it just for the free language lesson.

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Another freebie that’s worth downloading is Aroundme.  Everything in the app is aggregated from totally impersonal sites, so nothing is a personal recommendation, nor is there feedback.  If food quality doesn’t really matter to you, or there’s nothing around you that the others apps can suggest and your main criteria is that you just find something, anything, near you, then this one can be helpful.

by Steven Brenner

Turkish Coffee

by Selma Sevkli

A good turkish coffee by Maria Rosaria Sannino

My favorite break at work on a busy afternoon involves a nice cup of strong Turkish coffee. One of my colleagues asks if we would like some, and it is rare that anybody refuses. We take turns and volunteer to make it for everyone. When it is not in the office but at a friend’s house or a cafe, we take our time and read each other’s fortunes from the coffee cup. This coffee cup reading involves inspiration and creativity, as well as experience. We do not completely believe what is said but we do not completely ignore it either.  As the traditional saying suggests: “Don’t believe the cup but do not ignore it”.  There are some fortune tellers who could be professional readers in a cafe.  Or it could be a friend’s grandma, who is exceptionally successful at it. In any case, they really can tell something about you without knowing you at all, and predict some of the future.

Turkish coffee was introduced to Istanbul in the 15th century during the Ottoman period. The Turks discovered a new method of making the coffee in a special coffee pot called a “cezve”. It was welcomed by the society very quickly and became popular. Soon after, coffee houses opened all over the country where poetry was read, chess and backgammon were played, and discussions about politics and literature were held. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Turkish coffee shaped the social life along with tea since those times.

It is not drunk early in the morning, but after breakfast. Its importance is even reflected in the language: We call breakfast “kahvalti” which means “before coffee”.  So we eat our delicious breakfast simply to avoid drinking the coffee on an empty stomach!

So many aspects of social life are still related to Turkish coffee. It is the most important component of the “kiz isteme” ritual in which a boy’s family visits a girl’s family to get permission for their wedding. Salt is added to groom’s coffee instead of sugar to see his reaction. The groom should not complain or make faces in order to get the father’s permission to marry. Half serious, half joke, this ritual still continues in most parts of Turkey.

As the coffee has an important role in the culture, the way it is brewed and served are critically important. The fanciest way to serve it is in a porcelain coffee cup instilled in a copper holder, with water in a small clear glass and a piece of Turkish delight on a nice tray.

Image byy Tema (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)

It is said that Turkish coffee tastes best when cooked in a copper cezve.

Image by Fmucar via Wikipedia creative commons

Making it is pretty simple and practical but requires serious attention to details for the best results.

Here are the proper steps:

1- Put a teaspoon full of Turkish ground coffee in a coffee pot (cezve).
2- Pour one Turkish coffee cup of water in it.
3- Add sugar according to taste. It could be plain, one sugar cube for mild or two cubes for sweet.
4- Put the coffee pot on the lowest flame possible and stir every 30 seconds until it starts rising.
5- Turn off the fire and do not let it boil as that would kill the foam. (You can tell by the thickness of the foam if the coffee is good or not.)
6- Pour the coffee very slowly into the coffee cup to save the foam.
7- Enjoy with a friend’s company and try to read the fortune afterwards.

For fortunetelling from the coffee cup, the cup should be placed upside down on the plate. A ring could be put on to relate the person and to cool it quickly. One should wait until it is completely cold which takes about 10 minutes.

Turkish coffee is the only coffee in the world that you can tell the fortune from as it is the only one served with the grounds at the bottom.

Image by Jeff Kubina via Wikipedia commons

If you want to buy some to take back home, Mehmet Efendi is the best brand around for more than a century that can be found in any store.

Do not forget to specify that you want Turkish coffee when ordering, as even we locals call it Turkish coffee instead of just coffee.

Afiyet Olsun! (Bon appetit)

Selma Sevkli is a cultural orientation trainer for refugees and a freelance writer living in Istanbul.  We met Selma through Couch Surfing and hosted her and a friend in Bali, Indonesia.  Besides writing, she is also inspecting, photographing and recruiting apartments for us.  

A Guide to Turkish Hammam and its Rituals

Lebarbier Bagno turco

by Selma Sevkli

I spent a lot of time in hammams when I was a kid. Since my grandmother’s best friend ran the hammam (Kosklu Hamam, Kumkapi) next door, we would go there every day after breakfast at summertime. It was pretty and and peaceful. We were not going there just to take baths but also to socialize. Women would come and chat all day long as well as washing up and relaxing. I never questioned why people take baths together or why it was hot inside or why there were only women. I just took everything for granted and enjoyed myself.

Years passed and I grew up; not many locals go to hammams anymore, not as often anyway. It became almost like a special occasion for us that we do only a few times a year. I still love it and I appreciate it more. Going to a hammam with friends; having cold drinks; chatting while being washed; relaxing while hearing the echo in the hammam, and watching the light coming through little holes in the roof make the experience so unique.  It takes you away from the daily life with all its stress.

Hammams have been significant for Turkish culture for centuries as they held many social occasions. Previously, women would go to the hammam to check the single girls out and then tell their sons. Similarly, single girls would go to hammams with their mothers and hang out with their potential mother-in laws. All the women would bring traditional cuisine there to enjoy and that would serve as a test for the brides-to-be.

After the marriage was decided then it was time for the “bride hammam”.  The bride’s friends and relatives would come together with musicians and food, dance and eat in the hammam. The bride would be washed three times in the middle to purify before the wedding ceremony. It was also common to take newborn babies to the hammam after 40 days to be washed in the middle. Likewise, many people would go to the hammam when a wish was fulfilled, or when a promise was kept.

Typical setting of Turkish Bath or Hammam in Cairo

Here’s how it works:

The body and skin are cleaned and purified from toxins, the blood circulation increases, the immune system is stimulated so that the physical and mental systems are supported by the hammam. Going to hammam has its own rituals; knowing what to do saves energy and makes the experience more worthwhile. (Many hammams that tourists go to have both men’s and women’s sides open during the day and evening. Some local hammams serve women during the day and men in the evening.)

Feel free to take your own shampoo, soap, towel, etc. to the hammam. If you do not have those, they will be given to you. When you get to the hammam, you decide if you want to get a traditional Turkish bath in which someone washes you a bit harshly (kind of like a massage with a lot of foam), a “self-wash”  or some kind of ‘modern’ massage that are becoming popular in  fancy hammams. You will get your kese (a small pouch type of cloth to wash), a pestemal (traditional cotton body wrap) and soap if you like.

Then you go to the dressing room area where you take off your clothes and wrap your body with the pestemal. Now you are ready to get into the hot area which has a heated marble platform in the middle. This area is called “sicaklik” (heat) and has many “kurna”s (bathing basins) and halves (private bathing cubicles).

The first thing to do is to let your body perspire. Lay down on the hot marble and start watching light coming in from the holes of the hammam’s dome. When you get too hot (more than half an hour could be too long as it would be 35-45 degrees centigrade), you could go to one of the basins and pour some water on yourself. If you chose to be washed by a “tellak”, she/he (same sex as you) comes and tells you to lay down. He/she will give you an exfoliating scrub which at the end surprises many people by the amount of dead skin and dirt coming out of the body. It is truly purifying. After the bath another attendant will wash you by the one of the basins, including hair wash if you like.

After the washing session, you may wish to stay and relax while enjoying a cold drink as many people do. And leave whenever you want, there is no time limit in hammams. In some hammams there is a “sogukluk” section at the end where they give you the dry pestemal and you cool off. After you leave the bathing section you could still spend time in the dressing area where some people chat and have drinks. After 2-3 hours you are as good as new, clean and relaxed.

Typical setting of Turkish Bath or Hammam in Cairo

Here are a few options for hammams in Istanbul.  Note that most of the great hammams were built by the architect Sinan:

Cemberlitas Hammami: My favorite hammam in Istanbul, was built by the architect Sinan in 1584.  Dressing area is covered with 18-meter-wide domes.  ”Sicaklik” (the hot room) has a cornered formation consisting of 12 columns. There are domed cubicle spaces on the corners. These cubicle spaces have been separated by couplet-written marble separators. The marble-covered floor has been decorated with colored stones. It is one of the best, cleanest and most well-maintained Hammams of Istanbul. English-speaking staff. Discount applied to tourists with international student ID. Credit cards accepted.

Phone: 0090 212 520 18 50 / 0090 212 520 15 33
Web: www.cemberlitashamami.com.tr
E-mail: contact@cemberlitashamami.com.tr
Hours:  between 6:00 a.m and 12:00 p.m and has sections for both men and women.

Suleymaniye Hammami: Built in 1577 by Mimar Sinan. It attracts attention with its beauty and width. Mimar Sinan used to take baths in Suleymaniye Hammam often, which was very close to his house. The cubicle spaces that were used by him are still protected. The hammam was inaugurated by Sultan Suleiman (Suleiman the Magnificent). After the ceremony, Suleiman entered the hammam for bathing.

Phone: 0090 212 520 34 10
Web: 
www.suleymaniyehamami.com.tr
E-mail: 
contact@suleymaniyehamami.com.tr

Cagaloglu Hammami: Built in 1741, the entrance has a marble door. The men’s section has a Baroque-style fountain pool, and the dressing area is spacious and bright.  Above the entrance door, there is an original inscription with a verse from the Quran. You enter through the marble door to the building (with a different style from early Ottoman hammams). The staff speaks  English. There is a restaurant-bar at the entrance of the men’s section. Reservation required for dinner. Credit cards accepted.

Phone: 0090 212 522 24 24/ 0090 212 512 85 53
Web: 
www.cagalogluhamami.com.tr
E-mail: 
contact@cagalogluhamami.com.tr
Hours: For women between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m..  For men between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.

Galatasaray Hammami: Built in 1715 in Beyoglu. In 1965, the women’s section was added to the hammam, and the renovation work led to changes in the original style. This well-maintained and beautiful Turkish bath is located in Beyoglu District. It is adjacent to the Sultan’s School Galatasaray Lice (Lycée de Galatasaray). The hammam had been used by school students for many years. A long time ago it was a hammam that locals would go to to get rid of their hangovers after drinking in Beyoglu; now it is mostly visited by tourists.

Phone: 0090 212 252 42 42
Web: 
www.galatasarayhamami.com
Hours: For women between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m..  For men between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.

Buyuk Hamam (The Grand Hammam): Built by Mimar Sinan in 1533. It is located in Kasimpasa where tourists usually do not visit. This hammam has more local attendees compared to the  others. It was built in 1533 by Mimar Sinan together with the mosque that is located just next to the hammam. There are spacious and bright changing places in both the women’s and men’s sections. There is a large and modern swimming pool in the hammam. This pool is only for men and requiresan  extra fee.

Phone: 0090 212 253 42 29
Hours: For women between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. For men between 6:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m.

Cinili Hamam (the Tiled Hammam): Built in 1548 by Mimar Sinan in Üsküdar (Asian side). The hammam has maintained its original structure until today. Both men’s and women’s sections of the hammam have the same architectural style. The hammam’s entrance is spacious and there is a bright, domed changing section. The dome height of the men’s section is 18.5 meters. There is a fountain pool in this section. This pool is made of a single piece of marble and thought to be a present given by the King of Iran. There are hexagonal tiles on the doors of the cubicle spaces and there are two lines of inscriptions under each tile.

Phone: 0090 212 631 88 83
Hours: For women between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. For men between 6:30 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.

The Aga Hammami: Located on Beyoglu Istiklal Street. It was built by Yakup Aga in 1562 (with the aim of bringing revenue to the lighthouse in Anatolian Side’s Fenerbahce district). The hammam has been through a lot of renovations and lost the original structure yet it’s still beautiful. It is one of the few hammams of Istanbul that is open 24 hours. For this reason, it is a haunt for well-known persons of Istanbul’s night life.

Phone: 0090 212 249 50 27
Hours: For men 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. For women between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. (every day except Sundays)

Selma Sevkli is a cultural orientation trainer for refugees and a freelance writer living in Istanbul.  We met Selma through Couch Surfing and hosted her and a friend in Bali, Indonesia.  Besides writing, she is also inspecting, photographing and recruiting apartments for us.  As an Istanbul native and resident, she has a great eye for finding the best apartments.

Insider view on London’s Chelsea neighborhood

by Marina Camilletti

Chelsea may currently be better known for housing slick European bankers and their über-coiffed wives, but at its heart it remains one of London’s most beautiful neighbourhoods, steeped in history. You can eat anything from high-end alfresco Italian (Manicomio, Duke of York’s Square), to mid-priced Lebanese (Al Dar, corner of Lincoln Street), to the classic “Full English Breakfast” for under five pounds (Mona Lisa cafe – cheap, a little grotty, but one hundred percent authentic).

Sylvia Pankhurst's house, Cheyne Walk - geograph.org.uk - 263337

There are a few boutiques amongst the mid- to high-end shops: Austique specializes in hand-picked accessories, and French Sole, founded in a Chelsea basement, originated the ongoing trend for ballet flats. But the more adventurous shoppers are to be found stalking the cluster of charity shops (thrift stores) at the World’s End, for the best rich-lady castoffs in town.

Parallel to the Kings Road, the embankment to the River Thames houses hidden delights, most especially for those with a penchant for architecture and juxtaposition. From outside Chelsea Old Church, which dates from the twelfth century, one can directly gaze at one of Norman Foster’s modern international headquarters, one of the first glass buildings of its kind in London. Farther toward Sloane Square, past the hidden gem that is the Chelsea Physic Garden, Christopher Wren’s magnificent Chelsea Hospital (home to old war veterans, whom you’ll see walking about proudly in their traditional red uniforms) stands opposite Richard Rogers’ house on Royal Avenue – a perfect Georgian facade which the architect himself gutted and refurbished.

Chelsea Old Church, Cheyne Walk - geograph.org.uk - 1569945

The Kings Walk Mall, directly opposite on the bustling Kings Road, has the perfect drop-in manicure bar and speedy hairdressers. Yoga classes can be found at Triyoga (corner of Beaufort Street).  And for a quick burst of nightlife, The Pheasantry houses a rather recherche’ jazz club in its basement music room, beneath its pretty decent pizza restaurant.

WhitelandsHouseShops

For a little taste of Chelsea life at its most typical, one of its original 1960s denizens, Dina Wheatley, houses paying guests in her charming period house on Smith Terrace.