My quest for Rome’s Best Gelato serves up 3 contenders

26 Jun

It didn’t start out as a quest.  But when you find yourself having gelato more then once a day, it’s time perhaps to seek deeper meaning in the process.

Many will claim that gelato is better for you than ice cream.  Certainly gelato, whose origin dates back to the court of the Medici in Florence in the 16th century, has been around much longer, and ice cream is in fact a recent variation.  It has a lower fat content and less air, so its flavours are intense and concentrated.

Many will also claim that gelato is made of natural ingredients, a claim at which I am going to have to draw the line.  In fact, when we are trying an unknown gelateria, our test will be to examine the colour of the pistachio gelato.  A bright vivid green means we’ll walk away; it’s full of colorants, at the very least.

But many gelateria do make their own frozen deliciousness from natural ingredients. Mmmmm….heavenly!  Here are 3 gelateria that I have found to be the very best in Rome. In general, a small serving each is plenty for me and Alessandro, and sets us back about 2.50 Euros in the tourist areas.

Via degli Uffici del Vicario, 40
(near the Pantheon and Piazza Navona)

Table service at Giolitti

This place is a pure old-school Italian salon.  Established in 1900, I love that Alessandro used to come here with his father when he was a child.  They win hands down in terms of the sheer variety of flavours – I haven’t counted but I imagine its over 50, including some unusual ones like chestnut (marrone), pear (pera) and pine nut (pina) – the latter a rich interesting flavour that I’ve developed a taste for. Even if you order a small (piccolino), you can choose 3 flavours (usually with a small at other locations you get 2).  The danger is that the amount of flavours can lead to some bad combinations.  Usually, I choose well by following a theory of either choosing a group of creamy flavours (crema, hazelnut, chocolate, espresso), or fruit flavours (limone, raspberry, strawberry, etc.) But the last time I chose mango, coconut and watermelon.  The watery-ness of the watermelon and the intense creaminess of the coconut clashed, and I ended up slicing the coconut off.  But the mango is my favourite here.

How it’s done:
You have to pay first (at the cashier to the left of the entry) and then assertively make your way to the counter to get your gelato if you want a cone. The serving staff are elegantly dressed and patient with questions about the dizzying array of flavours, and can speak a little English.  You have to tell them all the flavours you want at once, as apparently there is an intelligence behind which flavour gets placed in which order on a cone. After your gelato is piled up, the server will ask you, “con panna?” which means “would you like whipped cream on top?” This is the only place I choose this option, as their panna is clearly homemade, thickly dolloped out of a bowl with flecks of vanilla (at most places it is an aerated version)

You can also upgrade your experience, and sit at a table in their salon or outside, although this will escalate your price considerably!

(also near the Pantheon and Piazza Novona, right down the street from Giolitti)

An organic cone at Grom, Rome

This is part of an international chain, and just opened up a couple weeks ago (so recently that I am not able to actually find an address for it).  But you can find it by starting in the piazza in front of the Pantheon.  Stand at the fountain in the middle of the square, with your back to both the Pantheon and the fountain.  Walk through the laneway in ahead of you (it will be slightly on the right) and keep walking essentially straight for about 8 minutes.  Although no lanes are truly straight in this central area of Rome, just avoid any major turns. Eventually you will encounter Grom on the left hand side, on a corner, when your alleyway ends in a T-intersection.  Incidentally, if you turn right at that corner, you will get to Giolitti, in case you want to really go deep into your research.

So, sleek and modern Grom uses all organic ingredients, sustainable production and compostable products.  The ice cream is rich, subtle and pure; here I tried their crema (sort of a custard-y vanilla) and cream di Grom (which has chocolate and biscuit in the crema).  Alessandro had a fruit combo with melon, strawberry and mango..  Although the flavours are great and I am always happy to support organic flavours and sustainable production, this IS a chain of 40 gelateria and it did have a “chain-y” feeling to it.  Also it has fewer flavours (about 12 when we were there) and the gelato is kept in covered containers. Perhaps there is a reason for this, but isn’t part of the fun of going to gelateria standing in front of the glass and marvelling over the mouth-watering display?

How it’s done: Line up and pay first at the counter. Try to get a peek at the flavours and ask the servers a million questions.  Get your cone or cup, and they won’t ask you if you want panna if you haven’t paid extra for it at the beginning.

Fior di Luna

A cup is your only option at Fior di Luna

(Fiordiluna Gelato E Cioccolato)
via della Lungaretta 96 (in Trasteve)

We just found this place the other night; recommended by an old friend of Alessandro’s.  Jim Porto is a world-renown Brazilian jazz musician who has been living in Trastevere for the last 30 years.

This tiny little hole in the wall was packed with people who seemed to be buying gelato by the kilo. The wait took a while and seemed to be made worse by the complete lack of a process to line up.  Romans, by the way, do not seem to buy into the concept of a line-up, so be warned!

Finally, I got my cup of gelato.  I chose strawberry and lemon.  They don’t serve cones, only cups; as they are committed to using only organic and natural ingredients and apparently serving cones goes against this philosophy.  This deducts marks from their final score, as I love the child-like feeling that eating gelato from a cone imparts.  Furthermore, I am quite certain a brief phone call to Whole Foods would produce a carton of organic cones.  However, this gelato was heavenly – the pure fruit flavours were gorgeous on a warm summer night – both light and rich at the same time, and completely refreshing.  It doesn’t have an enormous range of flavours but enough that you feel you have a good choice.

How it’s done: crowd in and play to competitive sport of getting served.  It’s worth the wait.

In a future post, I’ll share 2 other frozen Italian treats – granita and grattachecca….


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