If you are in Rome for longer than a tourist visit, youll want to start feeling like a Roman and being treated as one as soon as possible. It is common for newcomers to pay over the odds for the many things they need while settling in and getting to grips with a new city. Unfortunately, there will always be those who try to take advantage of foreigners, and being ripped off, or fregato as the Italians say, is incredibly frustrating; furthermore, if you cant speak Italian it is hard to stand your ground. Whether on a tight budget or with lots of money to spare, you wont want to be paying more than you should. So here are some guidelines to help you get your moneys worth and avoid some natural pitfalls in those first few weeks. In a nutshell, heres how to get in the know.
Fruit and vegetables at local markets can be much cheaper than at supermarkets, although some of the boutique-like street markets in the historic centre, such as Campo de Fiori, can be a tourist trap. However, if you are careful there is no need to avoid these central locations. By law, all produce should be marked with a price, so make sure that you get a receipt stipulating the weight of your purchases and the price charged per kilo (corresponding with what is displayed). A general rule at street markets is to stick to seasonal food because it has more flavour and is cheaper than the out-of-season produce. You would also do well to head for the stalls with orto written on them as this signifies homegrown produce rather than that bought at a wholesaler.
Search out the mercato rionale in your area traditionally set up in every quarter of Rome and still running in most places, including Prati (Via Cola di Rienzo or Via Andrea Doria); Monti (Via Madonna dei Monti); Trastevere (Piazza S. Cosimato), Testaccio (Piazza Testaccio); Esquilino (Via Filippo Turati); Porta Pia/Nomentana (Via Alessandria); and S. Giovanni (Via Magna Grecia).
Once foreign foods such as cous cous, soy sauce and ginger could only be bought at gourmet food shops such as Castroni (there are branches in Prati, Trastevere, Flaminio, Via delle Quattro Fontane and the Balduino), but now they have started to make an appearance in local supermarkets and alimentari (grocery shops) around the centre. However, they are still thought of as speciality foods and have a price tag to match. For a wider range of Asian food, especially Chinese and Indian, it is worth taking the time to go to Via Carlo Alberto in the Esquilino area (Vittorio Emanuele stop on metro line A), where there are good Chinese-run supermarkets with authentic ingredients at a fraction of the cost elsewhere.
Around the house
For good-value household items, there are now two Ikea outlets in Rome. One is near the Anagnina stop on metro line A, from where you can take the courtesy shuttle bus to the store. The other is near the Bufalotta exit on the Gran Raccordo Anulare (GRA), or ring road, between the Nomentana and Salaria exits to the north. If you cant face the trek out of town, you could try one of the everything-you-need type department stores in and around the centre, such as the relatively up-market Coin, the cheaper but still good quality Upim or the bargain-filled Oviesse.
There are still the old-style hardware stores, in most areas, selling everything from light bulbs and frying pans to dustbins and adaptor plugs.
For items such as blankets and bedding go to the shops clustered around Largo Argentina, which often have corredo (trousseau) above the door. For kitchen items, try the lista di nozze (wedding list) warehouse-style shops based around Portico dOttavia.
After youve sorted yourself out with groceries and set yourself up at home, perhaps youd like to venture out to eat. With so many places from which to choose, the eating-out scene may be mind-boggling; but a Roman friend once suggested that the uglier the place and the ruder the waiters, all the better. These restaurants have so-called casareccia cooking (home-cooking) and tend to be unpretentious and inexpensive. A sure way to find this sort of place is to look for a long queue in the street outside. Word gets around quickly in Rome, especially when it comes to food, and locals prefer to join the end of a long line rather than to opt for the second-rate alternative next door.
For lunch, try a tavola calda, literally meaning hot table, where you can pick and choose from pasta, vegetables and meat in a bar/caf-style setting. Alternatively, get a slice of pizza from a pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) or from any forno (bakery). You can also ask any alimentari or delicatessen to make you a sandwich with your choice of bread and filling from the counter, the total sum of which is considerably cheaper than at a bar. Remember that sitting down at bars can cost double, if not triple what it costs to eat and drink standing al banco (at the counter). However, most bars even the most fancy ones charge more or less the same for what you consume at the counter, where the prices must be listed.
There are no hard and fast rules to acting like a Roman. Learning the language will help you no end as you will soon be able to tell if someone is pulling the wool over your eyes. Take the time to explore shops, bars, markets and restaurants to find places where you feel comfortable just keep your eyes peeled and dont be afraid to speak out. Youll be Roman before you know it.