WARNING! Some of my readers have told me that they are squeamish about food. If you are, be warned that this post may spoil your appetite (or worse)!
Our friends Rossella and Marco introduced us to typical Roman cuisine last week at a traditional trattoria, Betto e Mary (Via dei Savorgnan, 99). By the time we reached the trattoria I was so lost that to this day I don’t know where we were! Rossella says the trattoria is in Torpignattara, an area outside the city walls southeast of the main train station (Termini) and one of Rome’s old working-class neighborhoods. Rossella and Marco kept warning us not to ask for a menu or a wine list (the restaurant has neither) and begged us not to request any exceptions (we don’t usually do that in Italy, but we ARE Americans after all, and one never knows what Americans will do!).
The walls in the osteria are covered with posters, photos, signs, paintings, and drawings. A Roman saying etched in wood hangs over one patio door: “Mejo puzza’ di vino che d’acqua santa” (Better to stink of wine than holy water). One sign outlaws neckties, and several neckties, their bottoms cut off, hang in the main dining room.
We arrived at 8:30 and were seated at one end of a large table on the crowded, raucous patio. Four men sat at the other end of the table. They had already begun eating, which was helpful because we could see what they had ordered and discuss their dishes with them (well, Marco and Rossella could discuss the food—my Italian isn’t good enough to do that yet). It was so noisy that I had no idea what the food choices were or what we were ordering!
Apparently the serving staff are part of the fun at Betto e Mary, but the “old” staff weren’t there that night, and the “young” staff aren’t nearly so much fun. The old staff sit down at your table to discuss the food and your decisions and ultimately to take your order. Our young waitress merely asked us if we wanted wine and water (we did) and listed the antipasti. Marco and Rossella ordered a selection that included the following. Keep in mind that the old traditional Rome trattorias used every part of every animal, and this trattoria still does!
- Salad with dried, shredded horse meat; arugula; and parmesan —delicious
- Caponata of marinated eggplant and other vegetables
- Marinated horse cartilage cut into thick, chewy cubes—I found this a bit flavorless but interesting nonetheless
- Divine fried cauliflower—my favorite!
Our waitress called out the primi piatti that were available that night. After a loud and lengthy discussion with diners at the tables surrounding us, Rossella and Marco explained what the pastas were—way too many to remember. I had an incredibly rich and delicious spaghetti carbonara with wonderful, chewy speck (sort of like bacon), parmesan cheese, and pepper. The diners at the end of our table told us that the dish was made with four eggs! It was so rich that I couldn’t finish it, but I wanted to! Rossella had gnocchi with tomato sauce, which was also good. Michael and Marco had a half order of excellent pasta with oxtail and a half order of lovely pasta with animella sauce, which we believe are sweetbreads.
Our waitress sang out the secondi so fast that I don’t think she ever took a breath, but Rossella and I were too full to eat secondi anyway. A noisy discussion with the diners at the surrounding tables followed before Michael and Marco finally chose their secondi. Michael had yummy bistecca di maiale (pork neck steak) with arugula. Marco had one of Michael’s favorite Roman dishes: trippa (tripe, which Wiki defines as “edible offal from the stomachs of various farm animals”—I think this one was beef). I don’t like the texture of trippa—it’s too rubbery for me—and one taste was enough for me a couple of years ago. Michael reported that this trippa was excellent. All of us shared a plate of crispy golden potato chips—wonderful!
We began asking for the check at 10:45 or so and finally got it around 11:15. The grand total for four people? €53 (before tip) for all that food and a liter of wine!
If you’re adventurous and enjoy casual surroundings, indifferent service, and delicious food, give Betto e Mary a try (make a reservation). We had a wonderful night. Thank you, Rossella and Marco—I can’t wait for our next adventure together! How about another trattoria!