Few foods inspire such a ferocious response from people as 'offal' does. Tell someone you've prepared offal for tea and you'll likely receive a barrage of onomatopoeia - 'bleurghs', 'eurghs' and probably a bit of gagging.
Rarely will you hear the words 'PHWOAR! Entrails? Please do pass over the plate!'
But, unless you are a vegetarian, you cannot say you have eaten properly in Rome unless you've tried offal. Oxtails, brains, calf intestines and lamb inners are all menu stalwarts in Rome.
A brief history:
This particular type of Roman cooking actually has its own name - ‘quinto quarto’. Historically, meat was distributed across five classes according to an official scheme which saw the best cuts given to the nobles, the second best to the bourgeoise (and so forth) and the cheapest cuts (the quinto quarto) to the humble worker. Testaccio was essentially one giant slaughterhouse through much of the twentieth century and workers were often paid in meat, as well as money. These clever proletariats developed nifty ways to cook cheaper cuts and to disguise an undeniable pungent reek, usually through slow cooking in stews. Thus, the ‘quinto quarter’ was born.
Here are a few of my favourites. And no, I didn't eat them to prove I could. I ate them because they tasted delicious.
1. Coda alla Vacinara
Oxtails: Huge bubbling hunks of tender meat cooked in a rich tomato stew made with various vegetables, a smoked ham like pancetta and lots of celery. You need to eat this with your fingers to get the most from this dish. This is serious comfort food and apparently a staple in the winter time, though I still enjoyed a big bowl in 36 degree heat.
Intestines: Pajata are the intestines of an unweaned calf or, occasionally, lamb. The actual meaty bit doesn't look particularly offensive - small tubes disguised by a hefty sauce. Usually served with a pasta like rigatoni - Pasta con la Pajata
3. Tripa alla Romana
Tripe: A large lovingly hewn bowl of cow inners, simmered in tomato sauce with ham, garlic, parsley, and mint. In my humble opinion, tripe is really the gateway to all things offal, a sort of taster lesson, if you will, into quinto quarter. After that you can move onto Animale (sweetbreads) and cervelli (brain)
Other offal on offer...
Whilst I've only listed my three favourite dishes, you'll find plenty more offal on the menu.
- Animelle: Sweetbreads, usually grilled.
- Coratella: Heart, lungs, oesophagus and usually sautéed with artichokes.
- Milza: Speen
- Cervello: Brain
- Fegato: Liver
Where to try it:
- Tram Tram - Via dei Reti 44, (Closed on Monday)
- Cecchino dal 1887 Via di Monte Testaccio 30 (Closed on Monday)
- Da Bucatino Via Luca della Robbia 84 (Closed on Monday)