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When in Rome ... Eat French Onion Soup?

So you know that old saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”? Well, as it turns out, what the Romans do is eat French onion soup … cooked by nuns, of course! No, I’m not lying. It’s totally true and incredible, but we’ll get back to that in a minute—I’m blowing my hook! OK, Travitz, get it together … from the top …

It’s finally May, people are getting their COVID-19 vaccines, the world is opening up-ish and life is slowly getting back to normal in many places around the globe. In certain parts of the world, however, new surges are taking place, so we’re simultaneously hopeful and yet still depressed. What do we need? Italy! When do we need it? Now! Picture it, Roma (Rome), the “Eternal City,” known for everything from the larger-than-life ancient colosseum with gladiatorial fights (hello hunky, early 2000s Russell Crowe) to the Pope’s opulent Vatican to classic film “Roman Holiday” and iconic Vespa-riding Audrey Hepburn. You knew all that, I’m sure. But did you also know you can get a pretty killer bowl of French onion soup in this mythic Republic? Oh, you sure can! Andiamo (ahn-dee-AH-moe) … let’s go!

Rome is truly a city of contradictions … or is it paradoxes? Ancient and modern. Pagan and Christian. Italian and international. And Ristorante L’Eau Vive (Restaurant of the Living Water) is no exception. A hidden gem worth anyone’s time and just off the beaten path—very near the quasi (almost) two-millennia-old Pantheon—this li’l charmer was originally founded a couple of decades ago as a way for nuns from around the globe to live in fellowship with each other and the Living Water (Christ) by serving their adoptive community. The ambience

of the restaurant initially feels cozy, with walls clad in stucco and ’70s-style wood paneling. But that feeling quickly gives way to awe, as you look up and spy the breathtaking scenes above—expansive vaulted ceilings display beautifully frescoed vignettes of both Bible stories and pagan myths in gilded frames. Most of the nuns who host you, and do such a great job of making you feel welcome, are actually not at home at all, but rather thousands of miles from their own families and communities. The menu is both commonplace and extravagant, offering up not only simple side salads and breads but also decadent foie gras and escargot. My favorite find is, you guessed it, the zuppa di cipolla gratinata (French onion soup). Rich but tangy, savory but sweet, creamy but watery, crunchy but slimy—all the contradictory pleasures a great “FOS” should deliver. It’s so buonissima (good-issima)! This is not your grandma’s cup of Campbell’s.

But hey, if we wanted to eat only French food we would have gone to France, right? Maybe next time. ;) In Roma we eat “as the Romans eat” and, my goodness, do they eat well! Home to some of the most quintessentially Italian foods (Alfredo sauce need not apply), the Eternal City certainly knows how to pack a gastronomic punch—in all the right ways! One of my favorite places in the city to eat and, let’s face it, people watch, is Piazza Navona. OK, OK, it’s a total tourist trap but I literally cannot help it. I’m a sucker for super old piazze (town squares), super old fontane (fountains) and, yeah, delicious cibo (food). Typically speaking, the fare you’ll get near a tourist trap isn’t nearly as good as you’ll find “off the beaten path.” But in Italia, even the cheapo tourist food is still a meraviglia (wonder) and only a D.O.C.G. (authentic Italian) would notice the difference—so you can’t go wrong. It’!

Piazza Navona is just a few minutes’ walk from the nuns and soup. I pause here and look intently into the camera to admonish you: in Italia always walk around the old parts of the centro (city center) and always arm-in-arm with your traveling comrades come amici veri (like real friends). In larger cities like Roma or Milano, you can definitely save some time by hopping on the subway or bus to cross from one side of town to the other. But once you’re there, please, I beg you, fare una passeggiata (stroll around). You just miss too much otherwise. Anyhow, moving on from my PSA … so Piazza Navona is super cool because it’s a nice blend of the old and the less old, like basically all of Italia (Europe, really). The piazza (circa 1600) was built on top of an open-air stadium that the ancient Romans (circa 90) used for sports competitions—you know those Romans love their competitions! These days, the piazza is known for her three, that’s right, three stunning fountains and open-air cafes (think sipping espresso at an adorable bistro table while rocking a chic pair of black shades and a colorful scarf). True, Italy has all manner of food on her menu and most of it is truly spectacular, but I can’t help it—9 out of 10 times I’m going for pizza or pasta because #carbs, ammaright?

There are three things I adore about Italian pizza: 1. Many pizze (pizzas) are cooked in wood-burning pizza ovens so the rich, smoky flavor of said wood is baked right into the crust, rendering it simply divine and unlike anything you’ll get from a conventional oven, be it gas or electric; 2. Each person gets her own pizza, which means I don’t have to share with anyone or compromise my ethics by allowing pieces of chicken to be put on it (I don’t care who you are, chicken should never go on pizza, end of story); and 3. Three little words—French. Fry. Pizza. Yep, they put FRENCH FRIES on pizza … AND IT’S INCREDIBLE, SO I’M YELLING! The extra crunch, the extra saltiness, the extra “I don’t even know what.” It might sound schifo (nasty) at first, but I promise you will not be disappointed. In fact, once you try it you’ll lament that french fry pizza didn’t happen to you sooner. It’s everything you ever wanted and didn’t know to ask for. Te lo giuro (I swear it)!

So the next time you’re in Roma, that captivating city of contradictions, check out Ristorante L’Eau Vive for some yummy French onion soup lovingly made and served by nuns. Then, casually stroll over to scenic Piazza Navona for some people-watching and a french fry-laden pizza baked in a wood-fired oven. It’s super touristy, but you’ll be oh-so-glad you did. Better yet, book a trip through OGGI Travel and let us guide you expertly through the best experiences Italia has to offer!

Ciao for now!

Marilee Travitz

Travel Writer

Photo credits:

French Onion Soup by Sheri Silver on Unsplash

Girl in Piazza Navona by Polina Kostova on Pexels

Pizza by Nik Owens on Unsplash

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