Feeling thirsty as you wander the streets of the eternal city? Here are five ways to drink like the locals.
Water is water, right? It might all be H2O, but Rome has elevated water into a cultural statement. The aqueducts that supplied the city in classical antiquity were among the most important contributions to human culture until twentieth century inventions like electric lightbulbs and the internet. To this day, street corner fountains surge with water that is safe for visitors to drink – making it both the cheapest beverage and one of the best ways to get in touch with your inner ancient Roman.
It’s too late for coffee, too early for wine, and the novelty of Rome’s water fountains has worn off. What you want is chinotto. This southern Italian soda is flavored with a bitter citrus fruit of the same name. The resulting drink is complex and earthy, with very little sweetness. The flavor isn’t for everyone, but acquiring a taste for complicated chinotto will give you an insight into the Italian palate that can’t be found in local specialties you’re already familiar with from home.
Aperitivo is a big deal in Milan, and possibly the best excuse for an impromptu prosecco tasting in Venice. But don’t worry: it’s also popular down south in Rome. The typical drink is spritz, a sort of champagne cocktail made with Aperol bitters and a little soda water, served over ice in either a white wine glass or a tumbler. It’s also possible to make a spritz with Campari or Negroni (in Italy this is called a Negroni spagliato, which translates to a “wrong Negroni”), which are great options if you want to try the cocktail in the USA, where Aperol can be difficult to come by.
While the spritz is a somewhat recent import from the north, Romans have been drinking wine since at least the eighth century BC, when southern Italy was colonized by the Greeks. In typical Italian fashion, the wine lists of casual bars and enotecas are dominated by local products. The nearby growing region of Lazio produces simple fruit-forward wines which are wallet friendly and almost unknown outside Italy. Lazio is most famous for white wines like Frascati and Marino, though red wines – dominated by Sangiovese – are also popular. If you’re on a serious budget, ask for vino da tavola, or “table wine”. This is of a lower technical classification than the regionally controlled varieties (which would include Frascati or Sangiovese), meant for local consumption.
Not only is it the most popular Italian beer internationally, Peroni is also the beer of choice in the eternal city. It isn’t one of the world’s great beers, and honestly if your time is limited it would be better to stick with wine. But go out of on the town and you’ll find Romans sucking this locally owned brew down like the nectar of the gods. Sometimes doing as the Romans do means getting wasted on mediocre beer. And that’s OK.