September 28, 2022
When I first moved to Rome, I didn't anticipate that my favorite day of the week would quickly become Sunday. La domenica italiana. But as I became more and more acclimated with the rhythms of the Eternal City, I found myself wisped away during the hecticness of the work week and taken over by a nearly-obligatory social life on Friday and Saturday filled with aperitivos, pizzerias, and discos. For me and like most Italians, Sunday became my day for rest, a day for family, and ultimately, a day for food. From my first few weekends as a transformed Roman until now, Sunday is equally as comforting as it is satisfying, as I have learned to let the day's uncertainty, openness, and slowness take the lead...
The hardness of slow living (la vita lenta) means waking up without any alarm, by the natural sunlight peeking through the blinds and by the birds chirping outside the window. If breakfast isn't the most important meal of the day, it is today, as I have become accustomed to throwing on a pair of boots and thrifted leather jacket, a bit dreary-eyed, and stepping into the crisp autumn air. The city's stillness, sounds of ceramic cups and plates clinking and smells of freshly made coffee and baked cornetti, are a tall tale sign of how the day begins.
Taking it easy on Sunday means making time to enjoy a proper breakfast. Even Italians who chose to skip breakfast during the week set time aside for something sweet, accompanied by caffeine and light reading material. If breakfast is prepared at home, a freshly brewed coffee using the Moka pot (la caffetteria) is paired with a cake picked up from the local pasticceria (bakery) like a crostata or ciambellone or even confectionary cookies from the nearby supermarket. I prefer braving the morning head-on by treating myself and popping over to my favorite no-frills bar bordering the bustling piazza. Colazione al bar is as simple as it gets. Think cappuccino or a sizzling hot shot of espresso with a plain cornetto. If you're craving something sweet, opt for a filled one with jam, Nutella, or pistachio cream. Now and then, I do as the Romans do and ask for two or three pizzette, small finger-food-like pizzas that are warm and chewy.
I scope a table and chair outside, something that feels like a real luxury once it's found, and indulge in my morning treat and observe a group of old locals reading the daily newspaper, talking about last night's football match, or playing a round of cards. The real beauty of the world is getting lost in the sights and sounds without having to worry about rushing from one appointment to the next. Around 11 am, expect to see bar owners begin prepping pre-lunch drinks that are usually a crisp white wine or negroni before everyone starts making their way back home in time for the real star of the day: pranzo (Italian lunch).
In very Italian fashion, when one meal ends, the thought of the next begins. On Sunday, food seems to be the most significant obligation of the day. It is common to go to a family member's house, anyone from parents and in-laws to even grandparents' and have lunch with them. Before the preparation begins, the host is most likely making a few stops at the outdoor market to pick up some fresh produce and ingredients. On Sunday, if I am not assigned to prepare a dish for lunch, I love passing through the market on my way home from the bar, asking the locals what they're buying, what vegetables are in season, and what they have lined up on the menu, seeing if they can make room for an extra person.
A traditional Sunday lunch is never a quick affair, so come hungry and prepare to leave satisfied and almost uncomfortably full. So what is on the table? Although there are no fixed rules, it requires at least one or two antipasti (starters)—picture plates of freshly cut salumi, from prosciutto to salami, and cheeses— pecorino and parmesan. I love always having options of seasonal vegetables, grilled or marinated in olive oil, to start the meal. It is a great way to prepare your palette and awaken your appetite for future plates. Of course, no meal is complete without a good bottle of red wine. Il primo (the first course) is usually some pasta, from homemade gnocchi to baked lasagna or a simple spaghetti paired with a flavourful sugo that had been in the works all morning—feeling full yet? The glorious secondo (second course), usually meat or fish, is perfectly portioned out and passed around the table. Dessert can't be missed or resisted, my weakness is tiramisu, and two after-meal drinks are mandatory: first coffee and then digestivo (digestif)– usually limoncello or amaro, known to help the stomach digest all the food.
Expect lunch to run for about three hours, even if you spend your Sunday lunch outside the home and inside your local trattoria. After the meal ends, there's nothing much else that lies ahead. Some may decide to sleep off their food coma with a quick nap, where others, including myself, join the locals for an afternoon passeggiata (walk in Italian). There is such a thing as a passeggiata on Sundays. Every Sunday, despite the slow pace, it is carried out in every town and city. There is only one motivation: stroll through the town center with friends and family. It's calming, provides fantastic opportunities for people-watching, and is a great way to participate in local customs, digest all that food, and dream about doing it all over again.
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Words and Photographs by Gabriela R. Proietti