Ciao, Brunch with Bearees, and happy National Ice Cream Day! While we normally don’t think much of national food holidays, National Ice Cream Day has a special place in our hearts and on this blog. The “cream” component of “ice cream” usually keeps it off the table for us, but over the years, we’ve had some delicious success. This summer, we celebrated ice cream Sunday in the original metropolis—the eternal city—the Big Apple of the BCE—that’s right, you’ve guessed it: Rome.
I feel like I’ve said it before but in case I haven’t, let me just be clear: I love Rome. Rome has a crazy history built on mythology and violence and rhetoric, and remains one of the most fascinating places to visit. Between the muggy weather and the ridiculously uneven cobblestone pavements, walking through Rome can be a bit difficult. However, look up and you will see a city where the past and future constantly collide. If you’re a fellow Classics person, there is no greater incentive than the copious number of Latin inscriptions on every ruin, every basilica, every street corner. However, if you’re not interested in Latin and the fascinating language that created the foundation of our Western world, maybe the idea of gelato will entice you.
According to the gelateria’s website, Giovanni Fassi was once the royal pastry chef, famous for a distinct moustache. When he refused to shave his trademark accessory according to a royal decree, he left his position in the royal house to open his own Palazzo del Freddo, where it still stands today on Via Principe Eugenio. The shop is just a short walk from the Vittorio Emanuele station on Linea A of the Rome Metro system. Established in 1928, Fassi Gelateria is one of the oldest gelaterias in Italy, still run by the Fassi family, and its original Rome location retains all the charm and nostalgia of a classic ice cream parlor.
The Palazzo del Freddo boasts a selection of amazing confections and pastries, all exclusive and signatures of the Fassi brand. However, our mission was gelato and gelato alone, and to that end, Fassi Gelateria delivered tenfold. They have a dizzying number of flavors, and although the counter is usually too crowded to even peek at the selection, large boards on the back wall detail each one in sleek modern font. In addition, a little green leaf denotes which flavors non contiene latte o uova, or which flavors are egg-and-dairy-free!
Note that you need to purchase your selection prior to selecting the flavors, and at the cashier’s desk, you will receive a ticket to present to one of the many charming servers behind the gelato counter. Once you have your golden ticket to gelato, you can choose several flavors—up to three, even in a piccola copa!
The wonderful thing about gelato is that each flavor has its own scoop, which greatly reduces the chances of cross-contamination. However, be warned that the traditional serving includes whipped crema, or cream, as well as a cookie topping, but you may politely tell your server to withhold such adornments.
Our first foray into the Palazzo del Freddo, and incidentally the very first thing we ate upon arriving in Roma, was a trifecta of pera, arancia rossa, and limone, or pear, blood orange, and lemon. I’ve always been partial to fruit flavors, and on a night filled with the uncertainty and stress that accompanies long journeys, tasting the refreshing trio of flavors was like eating a tiny cup of relief. While blood orange and lemon are popular sorbet flavors at home, pear sorbetto is always so delightful, and reminds me of the Christmas pears that my grandma gets every year from Harry and David.
After several days of sightseeing and pasta-eating, we returned to Fassi Gelateria for an encore. This time around we opted for a combination of sorbetto al cioccolato, pesca, and, upon the server’s own personal recommendation, albicocca. Chocolate is a rare food for the dairy-free, particularly because pure cocoa can be very bitter and not at all appetizing. The chocolate sorbet, however, was perfectly sweet and rich, like a frozen brownie, and complemented the two stone fruit flavors as if that were its intended purpose. We originally went in only for the chocolate sorbet and the peach flavors, but as soon as our server heard the order, he immediately began stuffing the apricot flavor into the mix. “It is very good together,” he said, “no milk, no cream! Just a nice fruit.” How right he was!
They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, and indeed it takes many days—many more than the ones we spent there—to see even a fraction of the city’s rich and vibrant fabric. As it will likely be a long time before we are able to return, we think of the great Roman orator Cicero, who, when exiled from Rome, fell into a deep depression and wept until he was allowed to return to his beloved city. Although we have not been forcibly removed from the state for executing Roman citizens without a fair trial, we do hope very much to one day return to Rome, to its glory, and to its gelato!