The Roman Alimentari is a Gastrononomical Wonderland
Pizzicheria, salsamenteria,s alumeria gastronomia, emporio, alimentari, the Roman deli has many names, but at the end of the day, they are all alimentari- neighborhood keystones and local hangouts. In my opinion, there is nothing quite like an alimentari. The Italian equivalent of a deli and grocer, the alimentari is the Best Ofs Italian cheese, cured meat, fresh pasta and more. Its the perfect embodiment of Italian culture – defiantly provincial with its tavola calda (more on that later) yet urbanely Italian in its fathomless all-across-Italy offerings and knowledge of food culture.
Walk into alimentari, and you enter a brightly lit wonderland where white aproned (and often white hatted) men and women ask you what you need. The counters and filled with delicious ood products like local and regional cheese, fresh pasta, and cured meat, hard to find olives and oddly local coppiette. For the forgetful or always running out, the alimentari provides is the shop for the basics like flour, bread, olive oil, butter, prosciutto and it’s where you browse to find something you’ve been dying to try whether fresh Roman ricotta, homemade tortellini, or a particular and hard to find bresaola. The alimentari is where you grab or customise sandwiches, and where you can hand pick a full meal of daily made delicacies (this is what we call tavola calda) to serve at home just as if you made it yourself.
My uncle has been faithfully visiting the same corner alimentari since 1938 for milk, one etto of prosciutto and a never ending conversation on Roman politics. Hands down the alimentari is the best resource in any Italian city. Living or visiting Rome, it’s time to get out your black books for my favourite five delicatessens where you can shop and eat.
The top 5 delis and alimentari in Rome
Ercoli tops my list even though it is not my local alimentari (Ercoli is a 10-minute walk from my house while my local Ruggieri is only five minutes by foot). No, Ercoli is in the number one spot because it has become more far more where I pick up prosciutto. A quick backstory: Ercoli is one of Rome’s centurions, opening as an emporio in the Trionfale neighborhood in 1928, followed by a location Parioli in 2016, and now a 700-square-meter alimentari/bakery/restaurant/bar in Trastevere.
Located in what was once the cabaret theatre Puff, this new Ercoli is amazing. A labyrinth of rooms lined with everything delicious imaginable, Ercoli feels a bit like an indoor market or grocery wunderkammer. There are counters with pastries, prosciutto and preserves, walls stocked with pasta, a coffee bar, and an enchanting spice corner, a quiet room with a yesteryear vibe where the walls are shelved with glass jars filled with spices, herbs and teas.
Let’s talk about eating. Ercoli is both take out alimentari – you can pick up pastries, sandwiches, prepared dishes, and you can sit down. There are three dining areas including a plateau bar in the former cabaret room. Banking in nearly 100 years, Ercoli is known for sourcing and stocking some of the most celebrated and hard to find food products, which is continued by chef Luigi Ubertini, executive chef Andrea Di Raimo and team who vigilantly work to create dishes that celebrate Roman gastronomic heritage through incredible sourced, top quality materials like the carbonara made with Cinta Senese, and Pecorino Romano DOP. It is a a food fest.
Last up is the bar which I casually mentioned earlier. The cocktail area is the former cabaret theatre, a showmanship vibe to which Ercoli stays true. Center stage is the bar, under mixologist Federico Tomaselli, who curates a tini focus, as in Martini, or in my case, a signature tequila tini. For wine drinkers, there are over 400 labels from bubbles to wine, with a lovely listing of naturals.
Ruggieri is the historic and beloved corner grocer in Campo de’ Fiori. Family-owned since opening its doors in 1919, Ruggieri is the centurion and just happens to be my local alimentari. I am here at least once a week to buy prosciutto, olives and stracciatella (the creamy inside of burrata), and chat with owner Riccardo, sister Rita, and 4th-generation Luca and Daniele about baccalà recipes (only on Fridays!), AS Roma and parmigiana made with milk from red cows. And I am constantly taking photos of its gorgeous and original neon lettering. In fact, my photo of Ruggieri ended up being the cover Claudia Roden’s Feast of Italy!
What makes Ruggieri great is the family. Riccardo and sons are charming, offer great suggestions and have no problem telling you what they like or don’t like. Aside from my weekly visits, Ruggieri is where I go to plan and select for Christmas and Easter lunches and dinners. They have an excellent selection of fresh, hand-made pasta, smoked fish and prepared dishes. (Everyone in the neighborhood loves their insalata russa).
Ruggieri’s prime Campo location means that lines go out the door and in the piazza by midday, with tourists and working queuing for a sandwich. My tip is follow the nonni who know the best time to stop by is early morning or late afternoon. And my second tip is walk into their backroom where they hold tastings and you can discover their history as it doubles as a tiny museum dedicated to Ruggieri and Campo de’ Fiori in the early 1920s.
A big shout out to Gargani, an alimentari and wine bar, and my secret weapon. Located on Via Lombardi – a side street from the famous Via Veneto – Gargani has been part of La Dolce Vita history and heritage since its 1953 opening. Unfortunately, today’s Via Veneto neighborhood is a bit of a Bermuda triangle bore. Primarily a business and hotel zone, the area doesn’t have any great food shops . . . except for Gargani.
Every day, the Gargani family opens up its tiny boutique. Its two small counters are filled with typical alimentari fare, and its wine bar is lined with hundreds of bottles representing all the wine territories of Italy. But it’s superpower is lunch and its tavola calda, by bout 11 am, owner Valerio begins to bring out hot dishes like lasagne al forno, ciccoria and other tasty home specialities. Gargani is also a great boutique for Christmas delicacies.
La Tradizione (Trionfale)
La Tradizione as long been one of my vices, and I am lucky it’s not in my neighborhood. Located in Trionfale (Prati and Vatican adjacent), La Tradition is self-explanatory – an alimentari filled with delicious traditions and delicacies. To be honest, La Trazioni is almost overwhelming. It’s long counter is crowded with everything in the gastronomic imagination, likewise the rest of the space. In fact, La Tradizione’s cheese selection is so vastly replete and intense- representing every region in Italy as well as other areas – that La Tradizione ranks as one of the top cheese shops in the world. And that’s the tip of the iceberg.
La Tradizione has hundreds of wine and beer labels, a vast amount of prosciutto and other salumi, and of course a tavola calda, so you don’t have to cook. I tend to come here once a year just before Christmas to pick out things I cannot find any where else like tiella, Gaeta’s savoury pie.
For a detour, Just down the street is Secondo Tradizione, the alimentari’s gastro-bistro with the vibe of a Roman osteria from yesteryear. Chalkboard menus hang on the walls listing I Classici (the classics) like carbonara and saltimbocca, and a Banco (counter) with specialty cured meats and cheeses.
My friend Alexandra is an old school Volpetti customer. She has been coming here for years, and whenever she visits me , her first stop is Volpetti where she can customize her own personal sandwich, meticulously choosing from Volpetti’s selection of meats and cheese.
For me, Volpetti is Testaccio’s alimentari, a forty-year-old institution that provides quality products from salumi and cheese to wine, and then some. For example, once I found a bunch of pacifier-shaped cheese which the counter man insisted was perfect for my teething daughter. (He was right). But my favourite serendipitous discovery are their events, occasional food focused tastings where the staff presents a line up of prosciutto, or cheese or wine, or anything they want to share.
Bonus points to Taverna Volpetti, their tiny around-the-corner casual bistrot of gastronomical delights.