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Finding Good Gelato in Rome

Erica Firpo

Gelateria al Teatro

Via s. simone 70, 00186 Roma (near Piazza Navona, off via dei Coronari)
tel: 06-45474880
Hours: Every day from 11 to midnight (1 am on weekends)


Last week, I had a nasty flu. The kind whose cure requires only gelato and maybe some granita di limone, depending on how sore one's throat is. Living in the center of Rome does not always afford me the luxury of finding truly delicious, home-made gelato. This city is tricked out in faux "artiginale" gelateria on practically every corner. The warning signs are obvious: funky flavors and fluorescent colors.

These are some of the purist ideals that exemplify home-made gelato:

  • banana is grey
  • neither pistachio nor mint is bright green
  • all flavors are kept in metal tins (covered or not-covered) to preserve the temperature
  • there should be no name-brand printed next to the flavor

Finding good gelato in Rome is like trying to walk through a mine field, you never know if you are going to step into the wrong spot. To be direct, it sucks. The disappointment when munching on a stale cone or a powder-filled crema is equivalent to your loving boyfriend dumping you for "some space". And the horror stories I've heard about a multi-flavored 20 euro gelato purchased happily in front of the Colosseo scare me into faithfully frequenting only three gelateria in the entire city.

I am the quintessential gelato snob. I trek half-way around the city to get my cioccolato fondente fix. I brag incessantly about biking to the "periphery" of my Rome to slowly savor the perfect fiori di latte and drag many of my motorino-inclined friends up hills to find pomodoro e basilico or a simple hibiscus. But when sick, I can't be bothered to descend my stairs and walk fifteen minutes for an ice cream. I only need to walk ten.

A few months ago, I was meandering around my neighborhood, Piazza Navona, a war zone of bad gelato, when I stumbled past a little alley way just off of via dei Coronari, the antique thorough-fare that runs directly to Ponte Angelo. A hand-decorated sign beckoned me to enter with the words "Gelateria al Teatro", I was not impressed. The "too close to Navona" warning flag went off in my head, but my dog dragged me inside none-the-less. A simple and small counter displayed the standard gusti: Cioccolato, pistachio, nocciola, crema, café, banana, stracciatela, along with the not-so-common lemon, pineapple, pear/carmel, apple cinnamon, coco, white peach, fico d'india, fig, melon, mango, uva fragola, yoghurt, gianduia, nocciolato bianco, cioccolato puro, Havana (a rum chocolate), tiramisu, crema catalana, sesame, amarena, mango and coconut. Adjacent was five granite: coconut, chocolate, café, plum, mint/lemon, and lemon.

The gelati and granite were showcased in individual metal tins and the banana was the perfect milky grey color. I tested the pistachio and was amazed, it tasted like recently toasted Sicilian pistachios. Stefano, the owner, noticed my look of shock and asked me what I expected. I had no answer (my mouth was full) and decided that cioccolato puro would be the final test. It tasted like cold dark chocolate fudge gelato. I had found my oasis.

How did I know this was an honest artiginale gelateria? Owners Stefano and Silvia are so dedicated to the purity of gelato making that they have exposed their laboratorio, a well-organized stainless steel fantasy kitchen, to visitors. On any given day, Stefano will bike to the gelateria with bags of fresh fruit, or Silvia will talk about their newer inventions, like the notoriously delicious Sesame.

To make gelato requires precision, fresh ingredients, modern mechanics, patience and love. It is not a haphazard sport nor is it a room of thick-armed women churning away all day. To Silvia, making gelato is "a gioco matematico (a mathematical game). Every flavor has its limits," in regard to ingredients, quantities, temperature and cooking. And the game is fun. Especially at Gelateria al Teatro where visitors can watch Silvia and Stefano mix fruits, milk and cream through the Compacta 3003 RTX, the most valuable machine need to make gelato. (The Compacta is the modern day equivalent of milk churner, reducing time, controlling temperature exactly and eliminating any arm aching.)

I asked Silvia if I could learn how to make pistachio gelato, my father's favorite flavor. It was simple - we oven-toasted pistachios from Bronte, Sicily, cooked them down with milk in a deep pan and then placed the liquid into the Compacta for an eight minute cycle of heating up, cooling down and churning. There was nothing to it - except exact measurements and temperatures, timing and a bit of patience. As expected, the pistachio was delicious.

Recommended Book

Rome, Little Black Book

Erica Firpo and Christel Brenting, Rome Little Black Book, Tram Eight Press, 2005

Food guidebook for Rome with over 100 restaurants, nightspots, pubs and caffes.

Order from Amazon

Resources

Slow Travel Italy - Gelato: Basics about ordering gelato

Slow Travel Italy - Restaurant Reviews: Recommendations for gelato places are included by region.

Slow Travel Italy - Grinisa's Gelato List: Recommendations for Rome, Florence, Venice, and the Island of Lipari.


Erica Firpo lives in Rome and writes for Fodor's and National Geographic Traveler. She co-authored the Rome food guide "Rome, Little Black Book". Her favorite Rome blog is Moscerina.

© Erica Firpo, 2007

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