Restaurant: ★★★ | Pasta: ★★ | Pepper: ★★ | Cheese: ★★★ | Guanciale (‘pork cheek’): ★★★★ | OVERALL: 2.5/5 Colosseums
San Lorenzo is the student heartland of Rome. Off the well-worn tourist track, this staunchly anti-fascist neighbourhood lies just to the east of Termini station. In the day you see political graffiti on every wall; at night you hear revellers drinking and singing on every street. At least, until recently. Last month, the mayor of Rome imposed a 9pm curfew on outdoor drinking in San Lorenzo after a teenage girl was murdered in the area. The subsequent arrest of three immigrants immediately politicised the event and when Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini tried to visit the area, protesters initially denied him entry, accusing him of capitalising on the tragedy for political gain.
I know what you’re thinking: “Rory I’m sure your in-depth knowledge of a country you’ve only lived in for two months totally qualifies you to write about this tragic event, but I thought this was a blog about gricia?” You’re right. If you want to read up about how San Lorenzo as a community has reacted, I suggest here. If, after that, you want to distract yourself from the horrors of the world by thinking about pasta, then it’s Gricia O’Clock below.
According to TripAdvisor, Osteria Pesce Fritto is the 428th best restaurant in Rome. We were sat outside on an ivy-laden back street. If that sounds overly romantic and idealised, rest assured there was also a massive rat on the street that kept running past our table.
The waiter emerged and told us that his own mother was the chef and made all the pasta by hand. I knew what I was here for obviously, but as I took a cursory glance at the menu to check the price, I spotted that the English translation of ‘guanciale’ was not ‘pork cheek’, but ‘bacon’. Bacon?! This is not traditional. In case you haven’t memorised my first blog, Gricia is Pecorino Romano, Pork Cheek, and Black Pepper. Various social media memes devoted to ‘Italians Mad At Food’ have taught us that no variation is acceptable.
I asked the waiter in bad Italian: “The Gricia is made with guanciale right? Not bacon?” He looked at me like I’d suggested putting Pineapple on a Pizza. Or Garlic into a Ragù. Or non – “Protected Designation of Origin” Parmesan into anything.
The waiter made the universal Italian hand gesture for “Of course it’s guanciale, what the fuck else would it be?”
“Then why have you put ‘bacon’?”
“It’s so tourists understand. Americans.”
I nodded wisely. He nodded respectfully. He sensed that he was looking at the foremost Gricia blogger in the world. He knew that once my mission was complete, Italians wouldn’t need to put ‘bacon’ as the translation. The world would know. ‘One gricia, please,’ I said.
The meat was plentiful and crispy. The pasta was short – rigatoni – and dry, rather than fresh. So unless the waiter’s Mum was a multi-national pasta corporation, I don’t think she made it herself. Decent cheese, not enough pepper. No noises. I also detected the scent of onion. Onion! Bacon would almost have been better.
All in all, I don’t think these guys are going to make the top 428 Gricias.