How and where to find the best ice-cream in Rome
Italy is famous worldwide for its food and for its ice-cream which is called Gelato. When you come to Italy, particularly Rome, you will learn that the Italians are fiercely traditional when it comes to food and its preparation, including gelato.
Firstly, it is important to understand that gelato is NOT ice-cream and you should be careful when talking ‘ice-cream with an Italian. So, what is the difference?? Is it just about ingredients? Actually no, it’s more than that, almost everything about gelato is different from our American and Northern European ice-cream. The ingredients are slightly different, as well as the consistency and temperature. Both gelato and Ice cream contain dairy, sugar and air but that is where the similarity ends
What is gelato and how is it different from ice-cream??
Ingredients - Unlike ice cream, gelato does not have cream or egg yolks, just milk. Gelato contains less butter fat and so – Great News it is lower in fat. Good gelato only has natural flavours so your strawberry gelato has a higher percentage of strawberry pulp and is therefore lower in sugar.
Temperature - gelato is served at a higher temperature than ice cream (it is not as cold) this allows the tongue to experience the flavour more quickly and intensely. Unlike with ice-cream where your tongue freezes and you have to wait longer to enjoy it.
Air – Lastly, gelato has less air in it which gives it a dense creamy texture. Ice-cream is whipped whereas gelato is churned slowly giving it a different texture or consistency.
The good news is that in general, gelato is lower fat, lower in sugar and contains more natural ingredients than ice cream. So, you can guiltlessly tuck into those amazing flavours as often as you want to!
How to eat Italian gelato
Gelato is served with a paddle, not a spoon and like most ice-cream parlours you have the choice of a cone or a cup. There are 3 sizes: small – piccolo, medium – medio and large – grande, but you can also buy your favourite flavours in a tray to take home with you, then it is sold by weight in a 500gram or 1kilo tray.
However, you want it, in a cup or a cone prices generally start at €2.50 for a small, but you can have at least two flavours.
Do they have extras? Many gelaterias offer variety, different cones covered with nuts, or perhaps filled with your favourite chocolate before the gelato, some have toppings you can add. One thing you will definitely not find is a chocolate flake or syrups to pour over your gelato. Why not? Because it is perfect as it is! One extra available at most gelaterias is a dollop of cream or panna, whilst you might think this is crazy, remember that there is no cream in gelato. Locals often have a dollop of cream on the top which adds to that lovely velvety texture.
Where to buy gelato in Rome
The tricky part is how to find the good stuff, gelato is available everywhere in Rome. But remember you want to do it like the locals which means following some rules. When buying gelato, you should go to a specialty shop called a gelateria, where they sell (but also make) gelato. Many bars and also restaurants sell gelato but this isn’t the good stuff.. Good gelateria have a laboratory where the gelato is made fresh, as soon as it runs out (although you may not be able to see it). With all things in Italy FRESH is the key; so, you want to find a place that uses natural ingredients and makes their gelato every day. The more flavours a gelateria has, the less likely it was made that day.
There are a number of gelateria in Rome that offer up to 150 flavours, these are mostly frequented by foreigners and tourists. The most famous is Giolotti in the warren of streets near the pantheon. It is worth a visit as it is one of the most elegant and historic gelateria in Rome.
However, the best gelateria, those most frequented by locals, have fewer flavours. In some of these, you can’t even see the gelato because it is kept under metal lids (to keep the temperature just right).
How to choose your gelato
You can find almost any flavour of gelato you want, most gelaterias stock the favourites; but some have interesting seasonal choices like fig and walnut, or more adventurous combinations like pear and gorgonzola. Remember FRESH is the key and so you don’t want to buy gelato that is brightly coloured, for example banana should not be bright yellow but a pale creamy colour, and pistachio, a popular flavour should not be bright green, but light khaki coloured. If the strawberry flavour doesn’t have little flecks in it (the seeds) it isn’t made from fresh strawberries. If the gelateria has flavours piled high with syrup and other toppings – walk away!
Lastly…. When is gelato time??? The answer to this is any time! If you ask an Italian why they eat it they will answer - because it makes them feel good and of course it cools you down in the heat. It is not unusual to see crowds of people outside a gelateria as late as 1.30 in the morning.
Favourite Gelateria in Rome
So now you know that gelato is better for you than ice-cream, it cools you down and makes you feel good - you can eat as much as you like without feeling guilty! If you want to try some of the best gelato Rome has to offer, here is a handy list of the top gelateria in Rome:
Gelateria Fassi: Il Palazzo del Freddo is near Piazza Vittorio (Via Principe Eugenio, 65), not far from Termini station. Worth the trip as it claims to be the oldest gelateria in Rome dating back to 1880. The gelato is made daily and still uses the flavours and recipes as when it opened. Hugely popular with the locals.
Gelateria Fatamorgana have expanded in the last few years and have locations in Monti, Trastevere, Prati and Via del corso. They are best known for their creative flavours like black rice and rose petal, and their bestseller, basil, walnuts, and honey. They also have sugar, dairy and gluten free options for those who have specific dietary requirements. Best of all the menu changes regularly and they have an interesting ‘flavour of the week’.
Gelateria del Teatro Via dei Coronari, 65 (near Piazza Navona) and Lungotevere dei Vallati, 25 (Campo dei Fiori). Famous for the quality of its ingredients that come from the far reaches of Italy like lemons from Sorrento and almonds from Sicily.
Gelateria San Crispino has top locations near the Trevi fountain and the Pantheon. San Crispino is known for combining the traditional and slightly Avant Garde and they are perfectionists; producing luxury flavours like Amalfi and Calvados lemon sorbet or Cocoa crème with Rhum Clement.