My trip to Rome with some friends and students combined education and fun, (overlapping frequently), and, one of the things I really looked forward to, was having lunch. It may seem a little pathetic to be in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with art and history at every turn, and to be thinking about my stomach, and what deliciousness I could fill it with!
It was hardly my fault as, on the train ride in from Cortona, and while touring as many Baroque churches as we could at lightening speed before they closed, Mario reminded me several times of the fabulous place he was going to secure us a table for our well-deserved repast.
When the announcement to break for lunch was made, Mario bolted through the crowded thoroughfare (that is Rome!) to snag a table. I walked behind with Danielle (our lovely art history expert, and fast friend) smiling in amusement at him zigzagging his way out of sight. Mario’s gusto was for nought however, as no end of charm doled out by him was enough to get us a table for at least 45 minutes. That would have been fine except we only had 75 minutes before we had to be back on our whirlwind baroque tour.
Plan B was put into action immediately. There was a quick gastronomic exchange between himself and Danielle, and off he went again! Our destination was Pizzeria La Montecarlo. It was a veritable madhouse, inside and out. There were people clammering for tables from every angle, and so it was a mystery to me as to how Mario was able to talk his way into getting our party of 5 a table almost instantly? Possibly something to do with the fact that Rome is as familiar to him as his backyard, and the waiter recognised him! Being in company such as his, in a place like this, certainly had it’s advantages (making note that the next time I go to Rome, he will be by my side).
I was finally having the restaurant experience I had dreamed of before I arrived in Italy. It was crowded to the point of exploding, waiters were loud, laughing and joking with customers, and in the same instance balking orders at each other, and all of this din was music to my ears. Getting to our table was a game of dodging and side stepping waiters carried enormous platters of pizza or glasses with carafes of vino della casa!
We squeezed into our table and had menus in our hands, and wine on the table in a flash. These waiters were like machines, but possessed that lovely Italian charm and relaxed easy demeanour of someone who had all the time in the world to stop and chat at their leisure. The energy in the room was intoxicating, and I was very happy to let it wash over me, and sweep me up in this celebration of people getting to sit down together and eat something splendid.
Danielle said we should try a platter of typical roman fried food to start, which we did, along with 5 pizzas. This was going to be a feast, and on looking around the room, everyone else appeared to have the same celebratory sense, with food teetering on the edges of tables.
The fried food was one of those things you could eat all day long (like when you open a bag of potato chips, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t stop eating until they are all gone!). We had fried mozzarella balls, covered in a cornmeal batter, along with rice balls, zucchini blossoms stuffed with cheese, and olives stuffed with anchovies. It was hard to leave room for my pizza, but I sat on my hands to stop me from completely filling up on these jewels of oily, battered goodness.
Our pizza arrived in a flurry and as we ate, I marvelled as waiters sailed by carrying tray upon tray of pizzas in Cirque de Soleil style! There was something so energizing about being in a place like pizzeria Montecarlo at the height of the lunch rush. It made me eat my food in a more frantic way, like it was my last meal, and each bite precious and memorable.
We all got swept up in a wonderful food moment. It was sunday in Rome and everyone was out and about savouring what they could of the beautiful day, and I glad to be among them.