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Rock Climbing, Pizza and Carbonara

Wednesday morning Thuan and I walked across the Tiber river and further east to the Vatican City. Along the way, we passed the Pantheon and exclaimed at how integrated into the urban fabric it is. From countless encounters with it in architectural history texts, I had imagined it as a grand monument as opposed to a medium-sized temple ruin that was surrounded by coffee shops, restaurants and even a butcher shop. This is not to say that the Pantheon is not impressive, but rather, Rome as a city is studded with ancient gems. In its historic center, you can find a piece of its past at every turn.

Desai standing in front of the Pantheon.
The Pantheon is "in my hand".

We bought lunch at Antico Forno Roscioli, a busy bakery with pizza bianca that David Downie describes as “luscious” and “strikes the perfect balance between crispness and tenderness” in Food Wine Rome. I tried to ask the lady at the counter for recommendations in Italian, but she instantaneously replied in English. I was a bit defeated (where can I practice Italian?!?) and flustered by the variety of choices, so I randomly pointed at some slices, and Thuan did the same. We ended up with three different varieties, and my favorite was the pizza bianca with salumi, artichokes and soft ricotta? Note: Pizza bianca, white pizza, refers to the style of pizza bread unique to Rome. It resembles a focaccia, but is slightly thinner. It does not necessarily mean the pizza is without tomato sauce.


Three different types of pizza from Antico Forno Roscioli.
Pizza bianca is on the bottom.

That afternoon Austin, Thuan and I boarded a bus west. We watched the villas and palazzos gradually give way to apartments, the streets widen and become lined with trees. After 40 minutes, we got off somewhere completely different than where we lived—somewhere more…common? Unlike the tourist-filled city center, Pigneto reminded me of my childhood neighborhood in Xi’an. There is nothing special about it, just people walking their dogs, drinking a coffee at the neighborhood bar, living their normal lives.


We found our destination, Rock It Climbing, tucked away in a big garage-like complex. The bouldering route ratings were in the European system, walls were wooden and worn, the whole space felt a bit stuffy. Different from Ithaca and NYC, where rock climbing has become increasingly trendy and gyms are filled with 20-something-year-olds, Rock It is largely a youth training facility. Around 5pm the place teemed with school-aged children, the youngest group doing calisthenics and hanging from bars while older kids accompanied by coaches took turns at specific problems. While it’s a bit annoying for half of the routes to be occupied, it’s also inspiring to witness some of Italy’s future stars during training.


Rock It Roma climbing gym
Empty gym, shortly before children entered.

A quick trip to Lidl and another hour on the bus later, we arrived back at our apartments. Yet it’s not time for bed, 9pm is the prime dinner slot! I chose Tonnarello in Trastevere for my belated birthday celebration, and a group of friends and I walked over. A few weeks ago one of my Italian co-workers at Assembly OSM jokingly said that most people only visit Rome once–they get enough of whatever the city has to offer and never return. At that time I imagined a city similar to New York City–crowded, loud and filled with tourists. As we crossed Tiber River, our laughter mingling with a busker’s guitar strumming and the steady flow of the fountain on the other side, I wondered: how can one not fall in love with Rome?


At Tonnarello, I tried carbonara for the first time. A classic Roman dish, its ingredients are quite simple: pasta, egg, cheese and guanciale (cured pork cheek). I twirled the spaghetti, making sure to scoop up some sauce and a piece of guanciale, and took a big bite. The fresh noodles were truly al dente, bouncy and coated in thickened cacio e pepe. The salty guanciale complemented the creamy noodles well, adding a flavorful burst to each mouthful. Our table also shared carciofi alla giudia–fried artichokes–which is another classic Roman dish originating from the Jewish quarters. I have wanted to try it ever since watching Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy. The artichokes were rich in flavor and layered in texture. The outside was salty, thin and crispy, and the inside was warm and juicy. A wonderful combination!



However, I doubt that these dishes are the best amongst the city. We settled on Tonnarello because we were convinced by highly ranked google reviews, but the restaurant’s clientele was largely English-speaking tourists. The service was great and food was good, but my goal this semester is to find where the locals eat and what they regard as the best dishes in the city.


Did I mention that I like food? 😋


Italian word of the day: arrampicata - (rock) climbing


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5 Comments


Sherrye Ye
Sherrye Ye
Jan 24, 2023

I'll be going to the Pantheon (in Paris) on Thursday for my architecture history class so I'll have to let you know what I think :) Don't be discouraged! I too am quickly falling in love with this city that is not New York. A place that takes a bit more time and a lot more care with food! There's also a famous climbing place just outside Paris so you'll have to check that out when you visit! Miss ya! -SY

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Desai Wang
Desai Wang
Jan 24, 2023
Replying to

Yes I am coming!!! Planning in progress. Paris blog featuring SY coming soon :)))

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Thuan La
Thuan La
Jan 23, 2023

comment 123

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Fran Mao
Fran Mao
Jan 23, 2023

Your article takes me through the Italian food and beauty of Rome. I like the food as well! 😄

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ABCDE Feix
ABCDE Feix
Jan 23, 2023

Love the food pics! Waiting for the next episode. I like the salumi and the arrampicata!

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Desai Wang

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