Everyone has a fantasy about visiting Rome. For me, those fantasies are only complete with a prop in hand. A tasty one: gelato. Blame Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, the movie that celebrated freedom and la dolce vita. Luckily, my fantasy is easily recreated. In almost every neighborhood of the city, I can have a mind-blowing gelato. Here are the spots I recommend, complete with flavor recommendations.
This is the source of one of my first gelato memories. I first spotted GROM in the northern Italian city of Turin, where the gelateria’s first branch
is located. Its name stood out to me, sounding like something from a fairy tale. However, it’s very real. One of Italy’s most recognized gelato shops, with branches all over the Boot, including several in Rome, include the Piazza Navona and Roma Maddalena. GROM uses quality ingredients such as Venezuelan chocolate, fresh milk, cage-free eggs, and fruit from all over the world. Despite their many branches, they keep the quality consistent.
Flavor Recommendations: My favorite flavors include pistachio and their signature crema di GROM — pastry cream, chocolate chip, and GROM meliga biscuits.
Rome’s oldest gelateria, Palazzo del Freddo Giovanni Fassi (or the Frozen palace of Giovanni Fassi), opened in 1880 and has been at its current location since 1928. I love going to this palatial gelateria but truth be told, I feel like a bit of an interloper because it seems that Fassi is a local favorite where many ice cream-filled childhood memories were formed.
Flavor Recommendations: Today, Fassi churns out a thousand kilos of gelato every day, including my favorite, pistachio, and their signature “sampietrini” — little bites of chocolate-covered gelato named after the Roman term for cobblestones.
This gelateria was founded in 1890 making it one of the oldest still in existence in Rome and one of the most famous (thanks to Roman Holiday). It is also used to supply gelato to the Italian Royal Family. It still carries a sense of gravitas about it. Elderly men in white lab coats serve you. Giolitti is a Roman icon and draws a lot of tourists — that’s made it more pricey than more hidden gelateria gems. However, it’s worth a visit (or two) and worth the splurge for its quality ice cream and unique flavors.
Flavor Recommendations: Some of my Giolitti favorites include gelato allo zabaione (a traditional flavor made with egg yolk and Marsala wine) and their signature rice flavor. With so much on offer, I usually get three scoops they artfully arrange horizontally.
Otaleg is gelato spelled backward and the master gelatiere behind this little shop, Marco Radicioni, uses the highest quality ingredients (don’t just take my word for it — the gelato is made before your eyes at the shop in Piazza San Cosimato).
Flavor Recommendations: Traditional flavors such as pistachio, lemon, dark chocolate, and tiramisu are always on offer but you should also try some of his envelope-pushing flavors, such as almond dried fruit, nuts, and blood orange. I retain a sweet (and savory) memory of his pecorino with cherry jam flavor in a savory cone as well as the honey milk cream gelato. It was like cheese and crackers with jelly. These are grown-up gelati!
5. Come Il Latte
One of the newer gelaterias on the scene, Come il Latte, near Rome’s central train station, has been making fresh daily ultra-creamy gelato since 2011, but they’ve already established themselves as a city favorite. Come il Latte bumps up the cream content in their gelato, using 60 to 70 percent milk, which they combine with seasonal fruits, or chocolate and nuts. It’s topped with more dairy goodness — fresh whipped cream.
Flavor Recommendations: My favorite flavors here include ricotta with pistachio and orange, fig, or persimmon. When I want a square meal in gelato form, I go for the soft blue cheese, honey, and walnuts!
6. Il Gelato Di San Crispino
A coin toss from the Trevi Fountain, Il Gelato di San Crispino is another gelato icon whose fame spread beyond. This is where Julia Roberts got her gelato in Eat, Pray, Love, so it’s pretty popular. Watching the film, I saw there was a bit of artistic license in the ice cream scene: San Crispino refuses to sell gelato in cones. It’s only offered in cups as he doesn’t want to divert your taste buds from the taste of the gelato even one iota.
Günther Rohregger is a bit of an outsider who has shaken up the Roman gelato-verse. This gelato maestro comes from the Italian Alps and brought his small batch of organic ice cream to the capital in 2012. Some of Rohregger’s unique flavors include pino mugo made with pine needles, and he does a superb grand marnier with rich chocolate, liqueur, and candied orange peels and the same cream from micro-filtered organic milk he uses in all his ice creams. He also does an interesting savory caprese gelato. He will even do ice cream pairings. This spot is on every serious gelato connoisseur’s list.
8. Pica Alberto
This little snack bar/pastry shop/gelateria in the historic center looks a bit nondescript on the outside. Inside, polished wood walls, chandeliers, and velvet chairs (there’s patio seating outside) give a clue as to how seriously Alberto Pica, who might well be the one scooping your order, takes his craft.
Flavor Recommendations: Pica and his gelato have a following around town, and his rice-pudding-flavored gelato with real pieces of rice is a specialty here. More traditional flavors such as chocolate and coffee are also delicious.
Frigidarium is a gelateria on a cobblestone street (sampietrini) near Campo di Fiori. I like to come and sit and take in the charming surroundings while enjoying their treats, which include classic and inventive flavors like dark cherry and crema Fiorentina. Their signature Frigidarium, made with Pan di Stelle chocolate biscuits, is my favorite. Heavenly.
As its name suggests, this gelateria fancies itself a bit of a laboratory and the owners are super hands-on. However, though there is an experimental air to it, the ice cream made has a sure sense of traditional craftsmanship and I’ve found the prices are reasonable here.
10. Gelateria Del Teatro
This place is incredibly fancy. Their cones are made with olive oil. Need I say more? Yes? Okay, they use fine herbs and spices as well as quality chocolate and fresh fruits in their ultra-creamy gelato. The flavors? Ricotta cheese, fig, and almond are a silky sweet and texture-y treat.
Flavor Recommendation: My favorite is one of their specialties, not only for its delicious taste, but because it evokes old Rome. That’s its name: Vecchia Roma. It is a combination of ricotta cheese, sour cherries, and butter crumble. It is based on a traditional cake of the Jewish ghetto, one of the primary sources of Roman cuisine.
Gelato Pro Tips
Most gelaterias have a wide variety of flavors that range from seasonal fruits, like fig or cherry, to classics like stracciatella (chocolate chip). The best gelato has intense flavors. The pear gelato tastes like a pear! The chocolate is deeply rich and sensual, more than just sugar-loading!
Scoops of gelato are smaller than the ice cream we’re used to in the U.S. You don’t need to eat as much because, as a rule, gelato has less sugar and less air.
Roman gelato makers think of themselves and are considered by the local population as artisans, and as such, they are obsessed with quality and freshness. They are intensely proud and competitive about the quality of their product.
This isn’t to say all gelato is created equal. Some gelato makers lack integrity and use artificial colors and flavors. So, how do you find a good gelato place? To start, avoid anything where the gelato is piled high. While these all-too-common tricks tend to lure you in, more often than not it’s a sign that the gelato isn’t a great quality for the simple reason that real gelato is too dense to pile up. If the colors are so intense they look fake, there’s a good chance they are, to some extent.
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