When I first came to this romantic Lazio region, food was on my mind. After all, it is a known fact that Rome is able to graciously quench one's hunger with its generous helping of pasta, pizza and tiramisu.
It was no wonder that on my first day, after meeting my fellow roommates and getting acquainted with my new cozy bed through a most satisfying siesta, food was all I could think about. My growling stomach quickly voiced its agreement. I looked around with sadness knowing there was nothing much to eat in this apartment; I barely even had the time to settle in, let alone pick up food on the way.
Earlier today, I had been running around in circles with my heavy luggage in tow and my bulky carry-on hefted over one shoulder in an attempt to find my apartment. Yep, Google Map decided that the city was a labyrinth with a circular path, and it lead the way accordingly. I was convinced that my back was slightly crooked as a result, and I was determined not to re-enact such situation. My legs were already dragging me back to bed at the mere thought of it. Oh, what a pain it was to get lost, but I needed to head back out.
As if on cue, the sound of a knock on the Door reverberated throughout the room. I hurried towards the door and swung it open. Help was delivered to me in the form of my tall, blue-eyed roommate, who was donning a black jacket.
"Hey, do you want to head out? I could show you around the city!"
I broke into a smile. My new favourite roommate happened to be a mind reader.
Taking in the entire city at night at once was overwhelming. From the roaring of the cars zooming past me to the loud private Italian conversations, rushing by the small bright shops that lit up the night. I wasn't sure where exactly to focus my attention.
"These streets are always very busy at this time of the day. Social life starts after work, and it's now almost seven thirty. That's the Piazza Bologna (a square at the Bologna metro station that is often full of students), straight ahead," he said pleasantly, blending in so well in the city.
Rome was lively, vibrant and pleasantly loud at night; it had personality.
He navigated the streets with ease and walked past the square and onto the main street, disregarding the traffic light that indicated not to cross the street, which I later learned was not really considered an instruction but rather a suggestion. As a matter of fact, I quickly discovered that if the light was red (and if a car isn't trying to run me over), rather than stand there and wait for Halley's Comet to hit me,I had to cross the street at a brisk pace.
He laughed and said, "You'll get used to this after a day or two." I fell into step beside him.
The smell of food wafted from a row of small local shops before us, which was hard to ignore.
"This coffee shop is rather good, but the best one is a bit further down the street. Their caffè con zucchero is simply unbeatable and inexpensive too. So good with a cornetto. Oh, and this bakery is absolutely the best in town. Their arancini is fantastic, you should definitely try it."
Although I admittedly didn't understand half of the foreign words that were pouring out of his lips, I was sold by the adjectives he used. I guess he was already soaked in Italian culture since he was talking so fondly of food. If family was the first silent F in Rome, Food was undeniably its second.
In fact, pranzo ("lunch") is a big deal in Italy; it is so important that children leave school at noon, shops close their doors and adults leave work to take a long 2 to 4-hour break, so that they can enjoy the biggest meal of the day followed by a siesta. Might as well proclaim that almost the entire country is shut down.
On the other hand, cena ("dinner"), which was what I was hunting for, is considered to be a lighter affair. Dinner was a very light meal (salad or soup, etc…).
"Let's go in then!" I exclaimed.
He nodded and followed. Upon entrance, the bakery offered a most tempting display of pastries, cookies and unique dishes. Colours, textures and smell hit me all at once.
"Those are the arancini I was talking about," he said, pointing at the little stuffed rice balls that were coated with breadcrumbs and deep-fried.
Arancini are crisp on the outside and simply rich and creamy on the inside. It allegedly originated from Sicily, but the Roman cuisine also has a similar version by the name of supplì. The difference lies in the filling: melted cheese.
I was slowly inching into the dessert section while mentally taking note of everything I wanted to eat, which was pretty much everything I could lay my eyes on.
"Mmmm, they have cannoli," I said.
"Their cannoli is heavenly," he agreed with a toothy smile.
It seemed as though food heaven was a real place after all.