The Jewish ghetto in Rome and its restaurants are extremely popular with locals and tourists alike.
The area of Rome known as the Jewish Ghetto has a long, fascinating and sometimes tragic history. Set up in 1555 by Pope Paul IV, for the next three-hundred and thirty-eight years, all Rome’s Jews were forced to live in this small area, crammed between downtown Rome’s historic ruins and the river Tiber. After 1888, when the walls enclosing it were finally torn down, it continued to be the center of the Jewish community and remains so.
In today’s happier times, the Jewish Ghetto in Rome and its restaurants, attract a wide range of people locals and tourists alike: Jews, who come to eat kosher food on the Sabbath and holidays, and non-Jews who come to sample specialties such as the famous Carciofi alla Giudia (Jewish-style artichokes).
Almost all the Jewish Ghetto in Rome restaurants can be found along the Via del Portico d’Ottavia, named for the colossal ancient ruin at one end. This structure, built in around 27BC by the Emperor Augustus in honor of his sister Octavia, is a good place to start your visit.
A visit to the Via del Portico d’Ottavia will present you with a large number of restaurants advertising cucina ebraico romana (roman jewish cuisine). Rome’s Jews are mostly sephardic, originating in Spain and then north-Africa, and the influence of both of these areas can be found in Roman Jewish food. Among the most important specialties are: the aforementioned Carciofi alla Giudia; stracotto, slow cooked beef with tomatoes; abbacchio alla Giudia, roast lamb with garlic and rosemary; coratella con carciofi, lamb offal with artichokes; hummus; falafel.
…and where to eat them
Navigating the Jewish Ghetto in Rome and its restaurants can be daunting. In peak periods, there will be waiters outside, accompanied by huge baskets of fresh artichokes, touting for your business. Our advice is to ignore them and hunt out the following:
Ba’ghetto, an established Ghetto institution, is a family-run restaurant serving high-quality versions of the local specialties. A few doors down is Ba’ghetto Milky serving Jewish-cuisine containing milk. This is due to the provision in kosher cuisine that milk and meat are strictly separated.
Su’ghetto is a cosy but stylish restaurant run by the same family as Ba’ghetto. It offers a romantic and modern atmosphere with the same great cooking.
Taverna del Ghetto
Taverna del Ghetto is full of the color of the Ghetto, with a large seating area in the street. There is often a pasta chef outside, making pasta in full view, an assurance that their pasta is home-made.
As well as the meals found in the Jewish Ghetto in Rome’s restaurants, the Via del Portico d’Ottavia also contains shops selling pastries and cakes traditional to the zone. These include pizza dolce ebraica, sometimes called berride, and crostata ricotta e visciole. The first is a crunchy cake, with a marzipan-like center, packed-full of nuts, candied peel, and cherries. The second is a sweet pastry pie with a ricotta cheese and sour cherry filling. Both of these, and more, can be found at the Forno Boccione. There is no sign outside, but you will recognize it by the cakes in the window and (at peak times) the line round the block.
Other kosher food
As well as Jewish cuisine, there are a few places offering kosher versions of other cuisines, within the Ghetto. These include Alice, a kosher branch of one of the city’s most popular pizza chains, and Fonzie, selling kosher gourmet burgers.
If you are a Jewish visitor, most of the restaurants in the Via del Portico d’Ottavia, including those above, serve a special Friday-night Shabbat meal. You should book in advance as places are limited.