You’re about to profit from years of experience and intense study…
Well, at first I thought that my readers didn’t deserve this post because no one (but my dear Mom) answered my request for comments about favorite fountains. But on second thought, this post might be more torture than a reward… bwah ha ha! : )
I must say, this post fun had the most fun prep work than any other post this semester…
So what is the best gelateria in Rome? I really think I probably don’t know the best one… since they’re all over Rome, the best one is probably tucked down some alley. They’re like churches– you couldn’t go to every gelaterie in Rome if you went to multiple ones every day for a year!
Everyone has their own opinion on “the best place.” It really depends on what you’re looking for in a gelateria. What is the best gelato?
In my humble opinion, good gelati has two components: Texture + Flavor.
In this post, I will cover some of the popular gelaterie and some of the not-so-famous. But first, let’s talk about the stuff in general.
One of my general rules is that I don’t eat gelati in cones. Part of me just doesn’t like the way the cone tastes, especially since the gelati generally sits on top of the cone, not inside of it, so by the time you finish your gelato, you just have an empty cone by itself. The another reason I don’t eat cones is that I’m a slob and usually manage to drip it all over myself. Cups are easier for me to manage. Some gelaterie don’t have cones at all– San Crispino claims they interfere with the pureness of their gelati; Fior di Luna says they don’t use cones because it’s harder to control the quality of the raw ingredients (I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds nice).
The biggest reason I don’t like cones is because when you lick your gelato, it all mixes together and tastes the same. So you just have a big glob of chocolate/pistachio/hazelnut/straciatella instead of individual flavors. (You can eat your cone with a spoon, of course, to prevent this from happening.)
The other general rule I have about gelati is that I don’t want my gelati to taste like ice cream. Because it’s not ice cream. If you have gelati that tastes like ice cream… well, there’s nothing wrong with it objectively (I like ice cream), but for pete’s sake, you can have gelato. So eat gelato.
What’s the difference? Well, gelato is a lot creamier and denser, I’d say. Gelato actually has less fat (WOO HOO!) because it has less cream and more milk. It also has NO AIR, which accounts for the density. The tricky thing about gelato is that it has a low “overrun,” to use a technical ice-cream word, which basically means that it is served at a lower temperature (because of its density) and thus melts a lot faster (hence the cup over the cone!)
But that’s all nice and good technical stuff.. what does it mean for my tastebuds?It’s sort of hard to describe in written words how they’re different. You know how when you lick an McDonald’s soft serve cone (the cheapest ice cream out there– I like it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s objectively the cheapest ice cream because it’s all air!) you don’t have to do anything? It just sort of disappears in your mouth? Well, gelato isn’t like that. I don’t want to say you have to chew it, because that sounds weird. And I don’t want to say it sits in your mouth like pudding, because that’s not right either. It just has this dense wonderfulness. And chocolate gelato is SOOO chocolately…. it’s so dark, unlike our light brown chocolate ice cream. I don’t prefer chocolate ice cream at all, but chocolate gelato? Mmm, mmm!
Another Joannie-rule-of-thumb is that I usually don’t take whipped cream. Not all places offer it (San Crispino definitely doesn’t– if they don’t serve cones because of purity issues, they’re definitely not slapping some cream on top!!) I just don’t like it because it dilutes the taste of the gelato. Plus, you waste your tastebuds and your appetite on it.
One tip: Turn the spoon upside down when you eat, so you taste the gelati and not the back of the spoon.
My usual flavors are cioccolato (chocolate), nocciola (hazelnut), and pistachio. It’s kind of funny, because I’m not a nut person. But nocciola and pistachio are usually very, very good. And they’re so typical Italian, which I also like. When I’m going somewhere for the first time, I either get a combination of these OR a flavor that they’re known for (if I know that ahead of time). Continually getting chocolate, hazelnut, and pistachio allows me to compare place to place.
My other rule is that I try to avoid chains… namely, Blue Ice. I used to live near a Blue Ice and thought it was fine. Their quality isn’t the best, but it’s still gelato… But now, Blue Ice is everywhere. It’s like Starbucks in New York City. There’s one on Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, right across from the Basilica, even! There’s one down the street from St Peters. There are TWO within a block of each other on the same street near Campo di Fiori. When I saw that, I knew something needed to be done. And I decided then and there that I wouldn’t go to Blue Ice. Again, it’s not horrible… but there are so many places that are so much better. Blue Ice doesn’t deserve to be so prevalent!
Blue Ice woos you in with displays like this:
But my friend Trena told me that you actually don’t want your gelato piled up high– it shows that it has too many artificial ingredients to be able to do that. And I think she has something with that… because other places, the gelati looks a lot less impressive:
But it’s so darn good!
Notice the use of the spatula-thing, rather than a scoop. And in my pictures, you’ll notice that the spoons are small. Serving sizes are much smaller than our ice cream in the States (unless we’re at Old Bridge!), which is good– the gelati is so rich, all you need is a little bit! And the little spoon is perfect for savoring the experience.
Okay, enough talking. Let’s go to a few different places.
We’ll start near the Vatican. This is a great place to stop while you’re in the area– partly because everything around St Peter’s is so overpriced and touristy, and Old Bridge is a good cheap snack. Quality? Not the best. Their pistachio is some of the best in Rome, flavor-wise. But is their gelato the best in Rome? No.
Quantity is where Old Bridge has it won. ESPECIALLY if you get a cone. These guys pile the stuff on– I’ve known several people to not even be able to finish a 2 euro cone.
If you’re in the St Peter’s area, go here. (Please, please, please go here instead of Blue Ice on Via Ottaviano)
just down the street from the Pantheon
This place is pretty talked-about by tourists. If you’re discussing gelaterie, this one always comes up. It’s not high on my list. Like Old Bridge, it’s not discussed for it’s quality. In della Palma’s case, it’s in the conversation because of the number of flavors offered. There are probably about 100, no exaggeration. In my opinion, the quality suffers heavily for this. They have elaborate displays of gelati mounds, with different items perched on top (like a Kinder Bueno bar on the Kinder Bueno gelato), but the stuff just doesn’t live up to the show. It’s always crowded with tourists, too. In my opinion, bop in to see the impressive display, then head on to another location. Like….
Via Ufficio del Vicario, 40
This place has a nice “ice cream parlor” atmosphere, and you can sit down for free. It’s usually pretty hopping with tourists, and their prices are on the high side. I’m usually okay with paying more if I feel like the quality is reciprocal, but I think this is a tad overpriced. There are lots of flavors — not as many as della Palma– but you’ll find much better quality here. I’m not sold that it’s the best ever. My last visit, I had chocolate and cannella (cinnamon), and I found both rather grainy. I can see cinnamon being grainy, but chocolate? I would go back, but again, it’s not my all-time favorite. One journalist said that Pope John Paul II was a frequent customer, and I just had to laugh out loud at that. I have heard that they delivered large quantities of chesnut gelati to him, however, which was supposedly his favorite?
Piazza della Scala
I already mentioned this place in my post about Piazza della Scala. I really like this place; their cannella and pannacotta are both quite nice, although I wouldn’t recommend them together for the optimal eating experience (they’re almost too similar). The staff (Roberto and his dad. Well, an older man I assume is his dad) are super friendly, and it’s almost worth going there just to see them!
Piazza Lorenzo in Lucina (near the Corso)
My friend Marisa told me that she had great gelato near San Lorenzo. When I heard someone else rave about Ciampini, I wondered if it was the same place. I haven’t confirmed with her yet, but after tasting it, I’d venture to bet this was the stuff she had. Excellent quality– fantastic texture. A little on the more expensive side, but worth it. I was very happy with both chocolate and hazelnut!
north side of Piazza Torre Argentina, just a block to the left of the bookstore Feltrinelli’s
This place was recommended to me by my philosophy professor, Dr. Flippen. They’re known for their tartufo flavor– chocolate rum. It’s very, very dark chocolate… and very, very good. A few days ago I had their nocciola for the first time– and it’s definitely one of the best I’ve ever tasted.
Via della Panetteria, 42
Most people and journalists and gelato critics will say this is the best gelato in Rome. I’ve always heard about it, but hadn’t gone before this year. People say “it’s right near the Trevi” and I never bothered to really look for it– but it’s nice, because it’s down the street and around the corner from the Trevi– just far enough away that tourists don’t stumble upon it. If you find it, you’ve probably searched for it. And I like that.
Again, it’s expensive, the most expensive place I’m reviewing today. But I think it’s worth it for a special treat. They have some pretty exotic flavors, like their signature flavor, San Crispino, which is made with honey. They also have flavors like vanilla rum or apple. They’re known for their pistachio, but it has a lot of chunks of pistachio in it, so be prepared for that. The apple tasted like applesauce, which was nice in a bite… but not so nice in half a cup. The thing I wasn’t expecting was the subtly of their flavors. I could barely make out the vanilla rum. I like to be kicked in the head with the flavor sometime, so maybe that’s why I didn’t think this place was THE BEST. Very good, but THE BEST? It’s hard to say. My favorite flavor here is the straciatella. Straciatella (the best thing to compare it to is chocolate chip) is usually bright white with black chunks of chocolate… but their straciatella is much nicer– the chocolate has a nice taste and the gelato overall is a browner color– which you would expect if you mixed chocolate chunks into a cream, right? So I think overall it’s a much more natural straciatella, and I like it very much.
straciatella and pistachio
Fior di Luna
Via Lungaretta, 96
I found this place through a blogroll called “Tour del Gelato.” (You can find the Tour del Gelato blogroll here.) It’s all-natural, and the gelati is made in smaller batches. I went there for the first time today and liked it a lot. I got chocolate and hazelnut, and was pretty impressed with both. The hazelnut almost gave Tartufo a run for its money, but not quite. This is very high on my list… perhaps third or second place.
chocolate and hazelnut
Via della Seggiola, 12
I had heard that this place was “award-winning” and convinced everyone to try it tonight (don’t try to guess how many places I went to today…). It was a nice hole-in-the-wall place– definitely NOT a tourist stop! Their quality was good, but I wouldn’t rank it at the top. Their specialty is riso… rice. Yes, rice. I actually got “riso alla cannella (cinnamon)” and was pleasantly surprised. It was unique, but paired with chocolate, it tasted really good. Of course, you can’t mind having little chewy rice bits in your gelati….
chocolate and riso alla cannella
Via Governo Vecchio, 112
This was my thought when I took my first bite of gelato from here today (I told you, stop counting…) “Why am I just now here!?” My friend Katy told me about it today on the bus, and I thought I’d give it a go. This might win the top spot in my book. My chocolate and pistachio were amazing.
chocolate and pistachio. The fact that the pistachio isn’t an unnatural bright green color won points in my book.
This brings us to the end of our tour! I hope your mouth is watering! I suppose I should have done this earlier in the semester… maybe it would have gotten my Dad over to visit me! : )
And still the question is unanswered. What is the best gelateria in Rome? I’m not going to say… but I am going to say- I’m going back to Frigidarium tomorrow to try their nocciola…