Bologna is so renowned for its culinary credentials that it is nicknamed ‘la grassa’ (‘the fat one’). It’s the home of ‘ragu bolognese’, the dish that the British violate so badly that it causes Gino D’Acampo to have regular pre-planned meltdowns on GMTV for viral purposes. The region also lays claim to mortadella, tortellini, parma ham, parmesan, and lasagne. So what did I go in search for? Obviously a Gricia.
In Bologna, I had more luck than Venice. We found ‘Pistamentuccia’, a restaurant specifically dedicated to Roman cuisine. Again, I cannot stress how weird this is for Johnny Englander. The Bologna folk were in a packed restaurant trying an ‘exotic’ cuisine from a place only two hours away by train. Like trendy Londoners queuing up in Soho for some traditional East Anglian food.
We sat down and the placemat immediately told me I was in the right place. A pictorial diagram explaining the differences between the main Roman pasta dishes: Cacio e pepe is cheese and pepper. Add guanciale it’s a Gricia. Add tomato it’s Amatriciana or add egg and it’s Carbonara:
The best thing about this diagram is Look. What’s. In. The. Middle. A simple flow chart like this proves my entire year-long purpose: Gricia is at the heart of everything. It is Roman pasta in its simplest form and that’s why it’s the best. You hear that Carbonara fans? Get your fucking egg out of my Gricia.
I turned to my long-suffering girlfriend who has eaten far more gricias than she would care for and said: ‘This is the place. I bet they’ll do gricia how I like it’.
How I like it is how it’s done by aforementioned Pasta Remoli, Finsbury Park. Short, fresh pasta. Romans tend to make Gricia with long, fresh pasta (spaghetti, tonnarelli) OR short, packet pasta (rigatoni). And by ‘tend to’ I mean these are the two options and this strict rule must never be broken under penalty of death in the Colosseum.
I asked the waiter in Italian if the Gricia came with long pasta. He said yes, fresh tonnarelli. I asked if he could do short fresh pasta. He seemed confused but not unwilling and said something about my sleeves. I said thank you, I had rolled them up especially. He meant ‘mezze maniche’, the popular pasta shape of ‘half-sleeves’. Somewhere in this confusion he took my order.
My girlfriend, fluent in French and Spanish, sometimes effortlessly understands Italian better than me even though I have about a 4 year head start on her. She informed me I had misunderstood the waiter and I was getting short pasta from the packet. “No, no, he understood.” I said. “Trust me. My Italian is better than yours. You don’t even know the imperfect subjunctive.”
The waiter arrived with my short pasta from the packet.
The dish was probably a four Colosseums but my disappointment and wounded pride made it a 3. When outside of Rome, don’t do as the Romans do. Stick to Bolognese.
Restaurant: ★★★ | Pasta: ★★★ | Pepper: ★ ★★| Cheese: ★★★ | Guanciale (‘pork cheek’): ★★★| OVERALL: 3/5 Colosseums