Pro tip: Avoid those eye-catching gelato displays.
Rome is a foodie’s paradise. This is a city that truly loves and admires a good meal, and there’s certainly no shortage of trattorias, ristorantes and osterias to feed even the hungriest among us. There’s no shortage of gelaterias either, both because gelato is such an amazing and tasty treat and because the city knows that after a hot day of hiking the streets of Rome, there’s no is nothing a tourist could wish for more than a refreshing scoop of ice cream.
Savvy tourists know that when it comes to ice cream, there’s traditional Italian gelato and then there’s everything else. Many Italians can tell at a glance whether a gelateria is up to snuff, and it’s a skill anyone can learn.
First, and most obvious: how is the ice cream presented? If it’s crammed into the mountains and dotted with eye-catching accessories, steer clear. Ice should be soft and semi-fluid, which means the only way to get it to pile up in mountains like this is to freeze it absolutely solid, which means if you go for something from the one of those mega piles you’ll either get something icy or full of hardening chemicals. The best ice creams don’t rise above the edges of their containers or, even better, are served in covered metal containers that are placed in special slots in the gelateria counter.
Speaking of that gelateria counter: if you can see the ice on display, are the colors of the fruit what they should be? Basically, ice cream can be made from a powdered mix and pre-packaged milk, resulting in something incredibly easy to make and can be good in that sort of “gas station cookie”. The best gelaterias make their product in small batches every day, without using additives or anything that might affect flavor or consistency. If a place sells neon spearmint or pure yellow banana flavor, run.
The gelato should be the color of the fruit it is made from, which means the berry flavors should be deep, dark red, and the banana should be almost gray. The apple and pear will look almost white-brown, and a good lemon can be almost translucent. All gelaterias are required to display the ingredients for their gelato flavors, so if in doubt, check them out. If a glance at these listings reveals vegetable oil (olio vegetale) or various artificial flavors, head back out the front door.
A good gelateria also takes seasonality into account. While most spots will routinely feature flavors like lemon, strawberry and fior di latte, upscale gelaterias will have flavors inspired by the seasons and created with everything they found at farmers markets this week- the. If it’s summer you might have watermelon or peach, while in the fall you might find fig or apple.
If you find a good gelateria (more to come), consider asking the people who work there for advice on what combinations to consider. Often times it is not ideal to combine fruity and creamy flavors as this can somehow muddy the pure flavor of the gelato. If you’re on a lemon, for example, consider educating yourself on what a good counterpart should be.
Gelato should be a true celebration of its ingredients, and when gelaterias skimp, you can taste it in your dessert. Why waste a minute eating something that’s not all it could be? With that in mind, here’s our guide to 12 incredible ice cream spots in Rome that are worth your while.
Related: The best things to do in Rome