Fstoppers Photographs Rome and Eats at an Italian McDonalds - P.T.W. BTS Ep. 10

Our behind the scenes journey around the world continues today with episode 10. This episode takes place in Rome Italy as we film three separate lessons for our "Photographing The World" cityscape tutorial.

In this episode we shoot three of the most iconic scenes in Rome: the Vatican, the Roman Forum, and Castel Sant'Angelo. Our time in Rome seemed to be plagued by bad weather, bad luck, and bad food. It rained almost every day we were there, the famous Vatican lights never came on because they were being worked on, and most of the food that we had in Italy was awful.

Even though the lights on the Vatican never came on, Elia Locardi was able to capture a really beautiful image and dusk. It ended up being my favorite shot from Rome.

Warning: Food Rant Below

Now before you start attacking me for being a stupid American who can't appreciate quality Italian food, let me explain. I love Italian food. I like both Americanized Italian and the more simplified and elegant traditional Italian food. I appreciate fresh and flavorful ingredients that (some) food in Italy has. That being said, I have been to Italy twice for about five weeks now and I have had some of the worst food of any country I've ever visited.

I've been to the five most famous cities in Italy and the food makes me feel like I'm at an amusement park. Even though I'm in another restaurant in another part of town, the food is the exact same. It feels like every restaurant is owned by the same corporation but they changed the decor to make you feel like you were in a new venue. If you want food quickly inside these Italian cities you have basically two options: A single piece of meat and cheese on a rock hard piece of bread without any sort of condiments, or a stale slice of pizza. I've had decent pizza in Italy but nothing has ever been wildly better than what you can get in the states. I met up with a local Italian and he actually agreed with me and told me his favorite pizza in the world is from Pizza Hut.

If you have time to sit down for a meal, your options do open up a bit but for the most part revolve around pasta. Most of the pasta I got during both trips to Italy were honestly worse than canned Prego in the U.S.A. I do not believe this food is high quality Italian food. I think that the vast majority of these restaurants are funded by tourists who simply don't know any better. I compare it to getting "American food" in Times Square, N.Y.C. Your options in the area are the absolute worst: Applebees, Bubba Gump, and Olive Garden.

By the end of our trip I was absolutely sick of the same boring options for food but our final meal turned everything around. Elia and Naomi took us to Ristorante Pizzeria San Cosimato. It was by far the best food we had eaten during our entire trip and was potentially the best Italian food I have ever eaten. I know that more restaurants like this must exist all over Italy but they are so hard to find, especially in the areas that tourists tend to be.

So no, I don't hate Italian food, I love it when it's done well. Sadly, I've found that high quality Italian food in major cities is almost impossible to find for less than $50 per person. I know many of you will disagree with me. Most people think I'm crazy when I say that I didn't like the majority of food I had in Italy. I will point out that both Elia and Naomi are actually Italian and after filming this, they went back to Italy to teach a workshop and they both wrote me and said, "Lee, I think you're right, I'm so sick of eating the same bland meals over and over again."

If I can dish out the criticism I need to be able to take it as well so feel free to let me have it in the comments below.

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29 Comments

Alessandro Molinari's picture

If you go to China, all the chinese look the same. Sometimes we simply are not used to appreciate or recognize something different from our daily context. Some other times we simply chose the wrong restaurant.

I'm sure there is some truth to this but for some reason it has happened it Italy more than any other country I've visited.

Henry Louey's picture

Lee if you had a Sony A7r II around your neck you would have found that the food tastes better, the blue hour be longer, the luggage lighter and the weather always perfect :D

I am not sure that food is any worse or better vs any country. It's what our palettes used to eating when we see a "pizza" or a "subway" etc in a different country

If you compare an Italian pizza to a U.S pizza and then compare both to an Australian Pizza you will shocked at the difference. I don't think one is better than the other, they are just different

(Though i think we are the only country that will put an egg on our pizza - and it's delish!)

Take comfort in the fact your group didn't have a massive fight with the restaurant owner accusing him of serving stale bread to our table because we are tourists. It was only later that we realized that's the way the bread just is

opps....

Patrick Hall's picture

I have to say, the disappointment in Italian food wasn't just reserved for pizza. I actually had a hard time finding good breakfast and normal sandwiches too. I remember ordering a fried chicken sandwich and it was literally the same material McDonalds makes their chicken from...that pink paste that turns white when you cook it. There is no where in the US where you would get this "chicken" in a chicken sandwich except maybe a high school cafeteria (even MC'Ds has chicken breast in their sandwiches).

The other big gripe that I have with pretty much all European sandwiches is they use no condiments at all. I remember finding the sandwiches in Spain to be really boring and Italy was no different (airports too, not just the "tourist" part of town). I understand different cultures have a different palette but I can't imagine Europeans not being enlightened by the idea of oil, vinegar, tomatoes, lettuce, salt, pepper, and cheese on a sandwich. Every sandwich we ever had in Europe was just hard bread, thin dried bacon or chicken, and maybe some cheese. I really wonder if Europeans find soft sandwiches with moisture gross and unhealthy or if they actually believe a good sandwich I as plain as possible.

The irony of all of this is, if these restaurants were catering towards tourists, wouldn't it be in their interest to make a Subway style sandwich and make millions? The food was so bad that even I dipped down to McDonalds which is pretty much avoid at all costs in the US.

All that being said, I do have to highly recommend the one restaurant we did find so delicious and ironically it was a recommendation from Elia and Naomi who knew the owner. This place was the best meal in all of Italy hands down and if you go to Rome, I'd highly recommend eating here a few times if you have bad luck with local food.

http://www.ristorantesancosimato.com/

Davide Mari's picture

I am Italian and I do love sandwich as plain as possible.
The whole concept of italian food is simplicity. If you use good quality and fresh ingredients you don't need to cover the flavours with sauces, salt or pepper.
But you'll never find the real italian food if you go in a restaurant in front of the Colosseum...get out the city, find the smallest and ugliest tavern you can find. Is the cook old as your grandpa? Then that's the right place.

Ricky Perrone's picture

What kind of a jackass orders a fried chicken sandwich in Italy? Murica, I'll have a fried chicken sandwich a large coke and a side of french fries please. Rome is built around tourists and basically ripping them off, you've got to dig to find the good stuff. Eating at McDonalds? I'd eat at the train station cafes before that garbage. Breakfast? if you've been anywhere else in europe they all have the same simple and not that great carb and meat fest breakfasts, its not an italian thing. One of the very best restaurants I've ever eaten at was in Rome, it was a tiny hole in the wall place on a side street that most people walk by on their way to the sh1tty grab a slice of pizza places......or McDonalds

stefano druetta's picture

WARNING: against 'muricans rant below.

if the point of this video was disappointing each and every italian reader of yours, or showing off your inadequate traveler's skills, then well done! 13 minutes depicting yourselves as a couple of sissies pulling around more luggage than your arms can lift (Smart Traveler's rule n.1), thus being clearly overtired and incapable of proper food-wise decision making. now, giving any opinion about italian food with these premises is no less than idiotic, and all the hate/banter is very well deserved. you get what you give.

«The irony of all of this is, if these restaurants were catering towards tourists, wouldn't it be in their interest to make a Subway style sandwich and make millions?»

this is the single most stupidest thing ever read about tourism. you're expecting the world to adapt to tourists, when it should be the other way around by definition of travel: this very thought is what brings sh*t on your tourist meal. If you go to Italy and you want a gummy subway sandwich because the "Pasta Alfredo" you asked for didn't meet your expectations, please get some basic knowledge before leaving home. restaurants aim to get large-pocketed tourists inside and serve them the lowest quality food at the highest price possible, coz you're muricans, and we know you don't know much about food. If you large pocketed tourists would just inform yourselves or ask people on site (oh dear, that would require some foreign language learning from you! my bad), then you and we wouldn't even need those silly restaurants that seem to come out the worst murican fantasies. my friend, good restaurants usually have white table cloths, forget the red checked ones you love, for eff's sake.

A few weeks back I've been invited to St.Petersburg by a client of mine which is one of the largest vodka producers in the world, one night they took us out on a bar crawl: you can imagine the amount of alcohol ingested! well, day after, while experiencing the worst hangover ever, we had lunch at a traditional russian restaurant, with proper traditional food and everything: all I wanted was a huge bowl of veggies and a 2l sparkling water bottle to recover and keep up with the work I had to do, but it's autumn and it's Russia, so I had to order something different, and I thought: "fish might be a good alternative, we're on the Baltic Sea after all, let's go with the fish!" They brought me a whole smoked sturgeon, which might be a delicacy if you like, but in my conditions was closer to a nightmare on a plate. Should I blame the restaurant, the Country, their food culture, or my poor self-managing skills?

Ciao!

ps: I'm going to have a Truly Sicilian Christmas Dinner you can only dream about (and wake up with an epic boner), enjoy your MC'D!! :D

Sorry Patrick but you'll never find a good chicken sandwich in Italy, or any other sandwiches. To be honest, if you find a chicken sandwich in an Italian restaurant's menu, well you are not in an Italian restaurant, you are in a restaurant that sell "international" bad food for unprepared tourists

Douglas Turney's picture

Patrick

If you are expecting a large American breakfast or large over stuffed sandwiches you will always be disappointed in Italian food. That is not the Italian way. Of course each their own and there is nothing wrong with having a different taste but you can't judge a countries food based on your countries food. Like the states Italian food differs by region and perhaps you were in regions where the food was not to your liking. I for one do not care for Sicilian food. I wouldn't say it is bad, it's just not my type of food. Next time you go let me help suggest a few places for you. Lesperta.com

Michael Kormos's picture

Do you guys actually WORK? Ever? Or is the job of the founder of fstoppers to just travel, eat, and take a whole lotta selfies, only to write about them on your very own website.

Seriously, let me know if you're hiring!

I try to live a balanced life of work, play, and Mcdonalds ;)

Hi Lee, my wife and I spent a week in Rome with our two oldest kids. I agree that finding a great place to eat can be tough. We did find a couple though that were decent. After a few days of finding just ok places, we were thrilled to discovered an awesome place called The Perfect Bun. It's an American style restaurant and was such a great change that we ate there twice, definitely recommend it if you're ever there again.

Peter Timmer's picture

It's always the places you expect the most from you get the least and vice versa. I went to South Africa a month ago and i didn't expect much of the restaurants but it was actually really cheap and really good, we did have friends to show us around though.

Where i live, (the Netherlands) the food is generally good, but 20 dollars per person? that will get you fast food, but not restaurant quality.... 50 euro's is what you'd at least have to pay for a good dinner, so maybe it's just Europe which is more expensive considering food.

Anyways i really enjoyed the BTS again, thanks! And i hope you had, and will get better food in the other countries!!

Henry Louey's picture

But you have Febo. Which i just happen to love! Where else can you get a croquette for around 2 euro :)

Peter Timmer's picture

haha you're right about that :P

Elaine D's picture

I hope you took some photos of the food at the good restaurant.

Was that a McRib that you had at McDonalds?

Barry Chapman's picture

You've clearly missed one of the main tenets of visiting Rome (which also applies throughout Italy). When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

I'm an Australian expat living in the US but I lived in Rome for 3 years. Admittedly I missed the good Asian food (Thai, Lao, Vietnamese etc) I could get in Australia more when I was in Rome than I've missed good Italian food in Australia (or here in the US). But if you get away from the tourist trap areas there is great food to be found throughout Italy and the prices aren't exorbitant.

Before reading your story or watching the video I knew that your experiences were likely similar to those of people from Europe or elsewhere, who expect to find good food around Times Square. I can assure you it's easy to find bland, overpriced food there, as it's tailored towards tourists who don't know any better. How many New Yorkers do you think actually go there to eat? The same is true within Italy and particularly in the tourist areas in Rome. If you go a little farther afield, to areas where more Italians actually live (such as Trastevere, where you found your favorite meal) then you'll find things a lot better.

It also pays to be a little adventurous and not try to eat like you do at home. You won't find soft sandwiches in Italy, apart from Panini, which I must admit aren't a favorite of mine (I rarely ate the crusty Italian bread sandwiches either). But you will find great produce. And the best food is that which takes advantage of fresh local ingredients while they're in season, in simple ways which bring their flavors to the fore.

One favorite local option I enjoyed there was fiori di zucca (zucchini flowers) pizza, on which a hint of anchovies balances flavors really well with the zucchini flowers and mozarella, without any fishy taste. Even people who hate anchovies loved it, once I convinced them to try it. And I've never had better artichokes (in fact don't even like them generally) than what I had in Rome when they were in season.

Fast food isn't generally a strong point but a good tavola calda (literally hot table, but the term is used for a snack bar) and/or gastronomia can have some great meals at reasonable prices. I found one near my office and had delicious prepared cooked lunches each day, with choices changing daily and in accordance with the seasons, for under $10.

As far as McDonalds is concerned, I found the one opposite the Pantheon a great value, as you could buy a beer there cheaply and sit outside with it, while the suckers in the tourist trap restaurants on either side were shelling out huge amounts for sub par food.

If you didn't already you should really try the gelato. And of course as an espresso drinker I was spoiled in Rome and still haven't found a reliable source of good espresso here in the US, while in Australia it's readily available.

I think you'll love the food in Singapore if you're at all adventurous eaters (which is unclear from your video), but again you should try to get to where locals go, such as street markets where the food is good value.

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John Skinner's picture

I'm sad to admit that I tend to read way too much on forums and the internets as a whole... But I have to say that in all of those years, all of those opinions, all of the articles, all the reporting... I've never - ever read anything like this.

In Italy, and seems to feel all the food tastes the same, sans the decor.

"I met up with a local Italian and he actually agreed with me and told me his favorite pizza in the world is from Pizza Hut".

First off Lee, I'm sorry. I'm sorry you've had this sensation and feeling whilst eating there. I can only tell you that without any doubt, that country has provided some of the most incredible -- memorable meals for me I've ever had in 55 years of being on this earth. I would suggest wandering off the 'beaten path', or, getting better guides to your travels. And although Northern Italy is for scenic things, the farther South you go, the better the food gets. If you can make friends and visit families as a guest at one of their dinners, do it.

I have friends in Bari, (Southern Sicily) Palermo, Modica meals like no place on earth.

I'm totally gobbstopped that I've even read this...

Ricky Perrone's picture

Yeah this blows my mind I've been spending summers in italy for 10 years with friends and family and have always gotten the exact opposite sentiment from them.

Marco Fiorini's picture

I am Italian and I must agree with you. Let's be honest guys, if you're visiting the most historical cities in Italy all you can eat is crappy "tourist" food nobody like. And yes, probably that places are owned by the same "companies" (you know camorra, 'ndrangheta...) and run by some under payed immigrants from south east of Asia. It sucks and every Italian who's gonna read this will gonna feel offended, but this is the truth.

But Lee, please. If you take a few steps outside the tourists area you can find good places to eat everywhere. The problem here is that you did as the americans do, and not the romans. We Italians are done with americans who act like this and then rant about others country behaviour.

Rogan Templer's picture

Love these behind the scenes videos guys - Quick question do you need to get permits to fly the drone in the cities and places like that? I guess in the wilder areas in the first tutorial it is easier to fly without incurring the wrath of authorities/locals I am just curious as to what hoops (if any) you needed to get through for the drone in this tutorial?

Douglas Turney's picture

Lee

Sorry you had so many crappy meals while in Italy. Perhaps you keep going to the Italian equivalent of Times Square restaurants. I can assure you that you are doing something wrong and if you ever go back to Italy my Italian travel company Lesperta.com will prove to you that there is good food in Italy! And yes even in Roma.

Douglas Turney's picture

Lee and Patrick,

Were there any regulations concerning flying a drone in Italy or Roma? Did you have to get any permits?

Jonathan Reid's picture

How can a nation with such a long coffee heritage and culture be so bad at making coffee. I almost wanted a Starbucks...almost.

Barry Chapman's picture

You've got to be kidding me! The worst espresso I had in 3 years living in Italy was better than the best I've had at Starbucks.

My first post on stoppers and its about...food. Go figure.

Although I agree that it can be hard for a tourist to find good food in Rome, one of my all time favorite restaurants is in Rome. It's called Trattoria Moderna and after tens years of literally dreaming about the their pasta (an all'amatriciana with kosher beef instead of pork), I had to make good on my Trevi fountain coin toss and return in 2013. Luckily, the pasta was every bit as dreamy as I remembered it (although it was no longer on the menu and I had to ask for it). I don't think they have a website, but it is located near the Campo Fiori at Vicolo dei Chiodaroli 16 and can be found on Google maps. I have absolutely recommended this place to everyone.

Another memorable restaurant in Rome was Urban 47 in Monti. The address is Via Urbana 47.

Off the top of my head, nothing else comes to mind in Rome. I think that the problem is that when we travel, we are often drawn to the places that seem to have a bit of "action" and evoke the "feel" of the country that we are in, places like Piazza Navona or Times Square. The problem is that everyone has the same impulse and the hustlers capitalize on this by ponying up for the rent and the making their money by watering down the food...knowing that in all likelihood the tourist couple will never be back. As a general rule, I recommend heading down some side streets a couple of blocks off the big tourists attractions (where the rent is cheaper) and then the chances of finding a decent restaurant start to improve dramatically.

Oh, by the way, speaking of Times Square, I'm somewhat surprised to admit that a found a bit of a hidden gem near there. It looks a bit lame from the outside, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the HB Burger at 127 West 43rd Street offered free range bison burgers on their menu.

Ok, so if any of you are stuck in Rome or Times Sq, I have offered up 3 quality (and reasonably priced if not necessarily fast) options that can help you avoid McDonalds. Don't say I never did anything for you!

I have to disagree Lee. In the most part of Italy with 5 € you can eat something that is not even comparable at that 10 € s**t from McDonalds. With 30 € you can have a fantastic meal. Probably you go at some of that restaurants built for tourists. And the proof is that you speak only about pasta and pizza.
Moreover the beautiful of Italian food is that is a whole universe. Every region has is food. Every Comune different interpretations. Go to Tuscany, in the country maybe, not only in the centre of big cities. Try some tagliatelle al ragù di cinghiale, and a good Fiorentina. Or come in Trentino and I will cook for you polenta of potatos with some deer. But in my village, becouse 20 km away you'll find a version that is something totally different. Go to Sicily and you'll have something different again.

Maybe you'll hate all of this things. It's ok.

But the thing you really can't do is compare your american food with our Italian food. Probably what you called a good pasta for us is not pasta. Like your cheese. Maccheroni cheese, with maybe that orange cheddar, for us is something that should be illegal. Like Patrick that look for a chicken sandwich in Italy, it seems a joke.

It's like if I go to Japan and I compare some Soba with our tagliatelle. It's wrong.

For you probably american food is the best, like for me is the Italian food. It's not a problem if you don't like the pizza you can find in Napoli, but don't compare it with pizza from Pizza Hut.

I wish you and all the people at fstoppers an happy new year.