Contribution by William Barton
Location: Trapizzino, Mordi & Vai
Sandwiches: Chicken Cacciatore and The #1, respectively
When you eat nothing but carbohydrates for two weeks in a row, your stool stiffens up and becomes nearly impossible to pass. If you are able to pass it, afterward you need to lie down. If your wife is with you, like she has been for the past thirty days in cramped, sweaty rooms, she’ll look up from her phone and ask if you’re ok. You’ll weigh the options: do I tell my wife what I’ve just done (or didn’t do) or do I just stare breathlessly at the ceiling.
Besides the Vespa, that is my overwhelming memory of my last few days in Rome. My wife and I had spent the two weeks prior traveling other parts of Italy, and we had a difficult time ordering anything other than pizza and pasta and gelato. I mean, there are many, many other great things to eat in Italy, but with so little time, it’s more important to understand one thing as best as possible rather than spread yourself too thin. I did order two dishes that weren’t pizza or pasta, but those were Florentine steak, and the other was Osso Bucco, which is steak. I had a sandwich in Florence that was just bread and meat. I had a different sandwich that was just bread and meat. I could go on for a while, but I’ll stop here and you should know that I have something to say back to my wife when she gives me guff about how I’ll never experience the pain of childbirth.
Rich people who travel for a living say ‘take Italy slow.’ Well if you don’t, you’ll end up rectally handicapped.
Rome is a great food city, but it’s huge. I rented a Vespa to get us around the giant city, and I was glad for it. Riding a Vespa through Rome is best described like this: when it rains through the savannah and the water pools, the animals all make their steady march. It feels that every moment on the scooter is like that mad rush toward some sort of center, and you must disregard rules and everything you know about conventional driving to arrive alive.
Despite, or because of all my pre-planning, I had eaten loads of pasta and pizza every afternoon and evening, and, after seven days, I was only a day away from leaving Rome. I knew that I had to get some sandwiches. If I didn’t get a sandwich, I would never have an outlet with which to tell people how badly my poops hurt those days. Two sandwich places stuck out to me, and they happened to be close to each other. Rather than risk missing one, I decided to eat two back-to-back sandwiches for breakfast.
When you’re traveling, you don’t want to have a bad meal. If you’re only in a city for three days, a bad meal is a missed opportunity. In fact, I cried after a bad meal in Paris because I was so frustrated. If you don’t know any locals, what that means is that you must spend time looking through ‘best of’ lists, and ‘top —- you can’t miss’ articles. I hate those, but they are a necessary evil when traveling.
The place that arrived most frequently, and nearly always at the top of those lists was Mordi & Vai in the Mercato Testaccio. There is nothing special or romantic about the area surrounding Mercato Testaccio– it’s humble for Rome, where all the nightclubs open up for late night dancing, without a trace of the old ruins that mark the Roman Empire or a bit of the ostentatious art that marks its Christian limbs. The area around the market looks like a place where people live.
Mordi and Vai shares that ethos with the sandwiches it serves: simple Roman food without pretense. I ordered the number one, which was a slow cooked beef with stewed chicory on top.
Sergio Esposito, the owner of the shop, loaded the fresh baked bun up with meat, slipped a bit of the stewing juices over the top, and had the sandwich wrapped up in plastic faster than it took for me to order it (though to be fair, I was stumbling over my Italian phrasebook). I picked up a Peroni to go along with it, and the whole thing came out to five euro. Screamin’ deal.
Halfway through my sandwich, a gypsy came by with a raggety baby. Prior to my trip, more than one person asked if I was excited to see the gypsies, which I wasn’t. Looking at this poor, ugly baby straight out of a Flintstone cartoon, I wondered why anyone would ask that question. I gave the woman and her terrible looking baby the rest of my sandwich. I felt a touch of false holiness, but, being honest, giving someone a half-eaten sandwich is messed up, plus I had another sandwich on my mind just a short walk away. The sandwich is long digested, but I’m still working on the guilt.
About two blocks away is Trapizzino, home of the trapizzino, a creation by famous pizzaiolo Stefano Callegari. The name is a play on words– a mix between tramezzino (sandwich) and pizza (pizza). There isn’t anything particularly pizza-like about the trapizzino; it’s a crispy triangle of bread, baked in-house, hollowed in the center, and filled with the traditional flavors of Rome. I went with the chicken cacciatore. Within the first bite, it was clear that Callegari ran his shop with care– actually, it seemed like his wife was doing all the work. Callegari’s wife ran Callegari’s shop with care. The cacciatore was soaked through with the flavor of good, sharp white wine. We also ordered a meatball in tomato sauce, which tasted like the outcome of several passionate arguments about ratios and mixtures of ground meat.
Sounds good? Callegari just recently opened up a Trapizzino in New York City, so we can experience a bit of Roman street food in the US, too. But if you’re travelling to Rome, or even just to Italy for any length of time, my recommendation is to take Italy slow. I don’t mean that you should try to understand the people or immerse yourself in the relaxed, food-centric culture. You’re an American (maybe you’re not). Don’t hide who you are. You should immerse yourself in the agonizing internet search for the best possible, and then eating as much of that thing as possible. But you should also find time to eat things like raw greens or legumes– anything to help ease your bowel movements so that next time you quiver and pray to God, it’s not over something too trivial.