Prosciutto and other Mouthwatering Food in Rome
On our last afternoon in Rome my boyfriend and I went for a walk from our hotel to the Villa Borghese park. On our way to the park we stopped in a deli to look for biscotti to bring home.
It was lunchtime and the deli was crowded with people, all calling out in the beautiful sing-song intonation of the Italian language, ordering sandwiches and pastries and buying fresh pasta for dinner. Women dressed elegantly in dresses and high heels, men in suits and men in dirty work clothes, all busily pushed themselves through the hungry crowd. A woman in a beautiful suit bumped me and said a sincere “scusi!”
Jarl and I didn’t want to carry biscotti through the park so we left the crowded store, noting the street name so we could stop on our way back. A couple of hours later when walking back from the park, we stopped at the deli again, almost not recognizing it without the lunch crowd. Walking inside the now empty shop it felt welcomingly cool after being in the Mediterranean sun, our bodies sadly unaccustomed to the sunrays and heat after living in England for the past few years.
Picking the bag of biscotti I had eyed earlier, I turned toward the little checkout counter. A woman ordering a sandwich with prosciutto at the deli counter caught Jarl’s eye.
“Should we get some sandwiches from here instead of at the airport?”
Not needing to be convinced, I asked the people behind the counter if they spoke English, for which I got a shrug and a smile in reply. My boyfriend pointed at bread hanging in baskets on the wall and then at the sandwich on the counter.
“Could we have that please?” we asked slowly. “A sandwich with prosciutto?”
“Pizza?” the woman behind the counter said.
“No”, we shook our heads. “That” we indicated again the at the sandwich on the counter and the bread sitting in baskets on the wall.
“Pizza!” the older man behind the counter said emphatically, coming over to us. He gestured at the sandwich using his whole body, saying, “è Pizza”. The woman sweeping the floor also chimed in saying “è Pizza” with a knowing nod
My boyfriend and I looked at each. The sandwich on the counter looked nothing like pizza; it actually looked just like focaccia. We shrugged. Turning back to the older man behind the counter, we surrendered and smiled, saying, “Ok, pizza.”
The man, who had wavy layered silver hair down to his ears, gave us a big smile and took a couple pieces of the “pizza” from the bread baskets, asking us how much we wanted by holding each piece toward us. We nodded when he held up two pieces, one large enough to be cut in half. Using a huge knife, he sliced the bread open. There was a hunk of meat already laying on the meat slicer which the man reached for. Then
he shook his head with a knowing smile and reached for one of the legs of meat hanging on the back wall. This man with the wavy silver hair tenderly placed the leg on the meat slicer and offered us the first couple of paper-thin slices of prosciutto. It melted like butter in my mouth. My boyfriend and I nodded as we devoured the gifted pieces of meat.
“I’m drooling,” I said to my boyfriend, who grinned back at me.
The man had his sleeves rolled up and a dirty white apron tied around his waist. He looked amused by our anticipation of the food and content with his work as he carefully lay pieces of this delicious prosciutto on the “pizza.” Next he gestured to some mozzarella di Bufala, raising his eyebrows in a question. We nodded again, looks of delight and amazement on our faces.
The man chuckled as he spread out the mozzarella on the sandwiches, his soft blue eyes sparkling. Looking up, he raised his eyebrows again and moved his hands away from each other horizontally in front of his body, making the signal of “done.” We nodded again. He weighed the three sandwiches to figure out their cost.
I look at this smiling man out of the corner of my eye and pointed to the the end of the shop where there were pastries. He followed me, walking behind the length of the deli counter, openly laughing to himself. I point at a tray of fresh macaroons and hold up four fingers, now raising my eyebrows. As he is looking for tongs, I saw a tray of cookies my boyfriend was eyeing the first time we were in the shop and I amended my order. Pointing to the macaroons, I held up two fingers, and pointing at the cookie tray, I held up two fingers, shrugging to indicate, “I can’t help myself.” The man dropped two macaroons in a small white paper bakery bag and, using the tongs, grabbed five or six thin cookies and dropped them in the bag with a wink, his eyes shining with delight. In that moment, I wasn’t sure who was having more fun, me or him.
After an exchange of “Ciao, grazie,” my boyfriend and I walked out of the cool deli into the hot sun holding a bag heavy with prosciutto “pizza” and biscotti. I was still smiling.