The menu at Checchino dal 1887 is bound to raise some eyebrows. Just a stone’s throw from Rome’s former slaughterhouse in Testaccio, the restaurant’s posted list of brains, intestines, tails, and feet looks, to the uninitiated, more like a recipe for a witch’s brew than an array of local specialties. Many a tourist and even some locals would rather not see, let alone eat, a plate of animal innards. Yet no other dish can claim to be as Roman, and what some might consider a macabre meal can be found in every quarter of the capital. Coda alla vaccinara, il cervello, and especially a pajata”vaccinari (workers) were allowed to bring home to their families.
Pajata was for centuries the staple meat dish in Rome’s historically poorer districts, like Testaccio and Trastevere. These days, at restaurants from the upscale Checchino to the more modest Ostaria da Edmondo”not far from the Olympic stadium”pajata is served as a fanfare for the common man. Pajata is the most important dish at my restaurant, says Checchino owner Elio Mariani. It is the most representative of the quinto quarto”pajata is a common refrain among Testaccio restaurateurs, but an odd claim for a kitchen that purports to have invented a rival Roman favorite.
Legend has it that the daughter of Checchino’s founders took an oxtail and some cheek meat from the slaughterhouse across the street and added it to a celery stew usually reserved for pricier cuts of beef. Thus, coda alla vaccinara was born. Pajata, also spelled paiata or, less commonly, pagliata, is made from the upper intestines of a yearling calf. Animals that young still feed from their mothers, and it is important that their intestines contain the mother’s milk. Only a fraction of the very upper section of the intestine is used, so that the bits of grass”called paja in dialect”the calf has grazed on are only partially digested. Any further along the digestive tract becomes something that not even the poorest of Romans could bear to stomach.
On either side of the Vatican are two of the more comfortable, upper-middle-class quarters of Rome, called Prati and Trastevere. They each attract slightly different crowds. Trastevere is a dream for students, artists, and other bookstore-browsing types who have a bit of extra cash to spend on an apartment with character. It may be a stretch to call it Rome’s answer to Greenwich Village, but there are some good hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants with a rustic flavor. There is even a small English-language movie theater, the Pasquino. If you’re single and in your 20s or 30s, or even middle-aged with an appreciation for hip venues, this would be an ideal place to live. Rent here has also risen to ‚25 per square meter in many cases. Prati is more staid and quiet, the home of the national broadcaster RAI and a number of law offices, and is generally a serene place to raise a family. There are some very good restaurants in the area and a few decent shops, but mostly it is a modern residential zone with wide, relatively uninteresting boulevards. It is just slightly cheaper than spicier Trastevere.
Across the river from Prati is a similarly conservative, family-oriented neighborhood that’s even better-known for its yuppies. Parioli is so stately, in fact, that many national governments have set up their embassies here. Cafs and shops play to the whims of cautious diplomats looking to make a good impression. If you see a group of young men with neatly ironed slacks driving expensive mopeds, you may safely assume that they are pariolini. All snickering aside, Parioli is a very clean neighborhood with some elegant apartments, and if that’s your cup of espresso, it’s well worth the price: about ‚23 per square meter.
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