In Rome even the nuns eat ice cream. They sweep along the streets in their black robes with their gelatos, their faces shining with pleasure under their wimples. The ice cream in Rome can convert any non-believer but where to eat it amongst the thousands of gelataria? Since we were
spending 10 days in the Eternal City, we bravely accepted the challenge of licking our way through the good, bad and indifferent until we found the best scoop in town.
First up was a gelateria that purports to serve not only the best ice cream in Rome but in the world !! Hyperbole was the flavour del giorno. Down a side street near the Trevi fountain, it is situated in the centre of the tourist trap that plies the unwary with dodgy looking pizza and second rate pannini. We were immediately struck by the clinical professionalism of the interior space which is akin to a laboratory with the ice cream hidden inside silver, gleaming cylinders. Each was shut tight with a metallic lid so that the choice had to be made from reading the list of flavours.
This is a somewhat intellectual approach to making what, for children and adults alike, is an agonising decision. Unless of course you are a creatures of habit, like a relative of mine, who always orders one scoop of chocolate and one of lemon sorbet, the two flavours nestling demurely side by side rather than one astride the other.
This somewhat calculating approach left me rather dissatisfied. Surely the pleasure of the gelataria is row after row of impossibly voluptuous swirls, the dazzling array of colours and textures all seducing the eye and tantalising the taste buds. How vindicated one feels when tongue tastes what eye admired and the choice was good. How bitter the pique when the day’s ice cream has been wasted on a foolish selection, the eye tricked by the flirtatious tutti frutti.
The list considered and choices compared so no two members of our party replicated flavours, we placed our orders. The lids were lifted with due solemnity and cones distributed with care. We tasted honey, zabaglione which packed a marvellously alcoholic punch, apple that seemed freshly grated and a grapefruit that was both sweet and tart. The excellence of the gelato compensated for the rather antiseptic atmosphere and we agreed to return – for research purposes, of course. (Il Gelato di San Crispino, Via della Panetteria, 42).
The following day, staggering home after a visit to the Vatican museum, the children were encouraged by a promise of ice cream to walk all the way with minimal grumbling. Remarkably, not a single gelataria presented itself until we arrived on the Campo dei Fiori. There, downstairs from our apartment, the ice cream parlour miraculously appeared. The gelato was unashamedly lurid and brash, tubs filled with neon colours like a
rainbow on speed. The young members of the party were unconcerned with the inauthenticity of this offering and ordered happily. Great big scoops of the stuff were loaded onto giant cones and, despite their best efforts, the kids could not make much headway. Having reached home by now, they admitted defeat and consigned the remains to the freezer.
One morning, shortly after breakfast, we found ourselves outside Giolitti’s Gelataria (Via degli Uffici del Vicario, 40). As we passed by the shutters were still half closed, but we squeezed our way in with the hope of being the first customers of the day. In fact, such is the Roman appetite for gelato, we had to wait in line even at this early hour. This establishment also prides itself on being a contender for best gelato in Rome. It seemed an opportunity not to be missed. Our tummies filled with recently eaten cornetti, we restricted ourselves to a small selection. The berry sorbet was top notch, the tiramisu a pick me up as the name connotes. The kiwi, however, was a flavour too far and could happily be dropped from the repertoire. Why, one wonders, would the Italians want to make a kiwi ice cream any more than they would put pineapple on a pizza?
Soldiering bravely on our next conquest was Tre Scalini on Piazza Navona. We had just finished a most satisfying lunch at Caffe Bernini where we declined dessert so as to sample the offering at the neighbouring gelataria. Once again, its reputation went before it and failed, in our opinion, to live up to it. The tartuffo was supposedly the main attraction but we didn’t care too much for it. The coffee ice cream was good though but by now we were afficianados in search of the sublime.
As luck would have it we ran into some friends who were visiting Rome and swapped ice cream notes. They told us of a small gelataria and gave us vague directions. The street on which it is situated is so tiny that it did not appear on our road map yet we searched, alas in vain. Not easily defeated we purchased a larger map and, with the aid of a pair of reading glasses, eventually located the spot. Now hot on the trail, we still struggled to find it but we were well compensated when we finally came upon the Gelataria del Teatro (Via di S. Simona, 70).
The gelataria is situated in a tiny alley adjacent to an old theatre, which itself sits above a graceful staircase on which those fortunate enough to have found their way here, perch to enjoy the gelato. Flavours are displayed in all their splendour with combinations more adventurous than any we have ever discovered. Between us we tasted chocolate and wine, raspberry with sage, ricotta with figs and walnuts, apple and cinnamon, lemon cheesecake, pear and caramel and the evocatively named Ancient Rome which was a vanilla base with chunks of praline and fruit.
Over our last meal in Rome we hotly debated the point allocation for the best gelataria with careful consideration given to atmosphere, originality and flavour. Gelataria del Teatro had a comfortable win.
While in Rome my children showed little interest in learning to differentiate between a Doric and Corinthian column, but did they pick up the Italian for ice cream flavours! Who knew that ice cream could be so educational! To paraphrase Caesar: Veni, vidi, vici – the gelato is delici.
ALL PICTURES TAKEN BY MADELEINE MORROW
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