May 12, 2009

Breakfast at Antica Latteria

Vicolo del Gallo in the morning is very silent considering its proximity to Campo de' Fiori, one of the city's trendiest open air farmer's and flower markets.

There, in the 'rooster's alley,' as the small street name translates, further beyond the nobility of Palazzo Farnese and the mundane piazza where Giordano Bruno was burned to the stake, the atmosphere returns to its genuine traditional self again. Here, pilgrims and time travelers will immediately perceive the authentic Roman centro storico feel: folkloristic, busy, aged. It's like turning a corner and bumping into Rome's unmade face, crow feet and marionette lines showing, frayed hair and parched lips. No glamour, no historic ruins or rich churches here to admire, only truth. People. Faces. Aromas. And a small crumbly monument whose entrance is well hidden.

The paint on the wooden frame of the glass paned doorway is chipped. Inside, the senescent universe of the Latteria - one of the last in existence here in Rome - survives the lures of modern design, the newfangled habit of having breakfast on the run, the Anglo Saxon brunch, or the popular fashion of consuming industrial aromatised brews. Latteria means dairy store, and in this specific sense, it is a place where people go to simply have breakfast, shop for cartons of milk, and pass the time.

The tables in the Latteria are the same shaky ones from sixty years ago. The wooden chairs are the osteria-type with sturdy legs and woven straw seats; the sink is an old stained marble basin. This is because the venue is 100 years old, give or take a decade. Walking in the Latteria equals to diving head first in the breakfasts of my Italian childhood. A gift from days past, hanging suspended in an imaginary time, populated by young students skipping the first school bell; workers and artisans on their mid-morning coffee break; '68 revolt activists secretly meeting over a bowl of caffellatte (in the Latteria, magnum cappuccinos are consumed in large cereal bowls). What has remained unchanged over the years is the smile on the elderly signora behind the counter. It still shines the same way today.

The characteristic furnishings are so out of date to have become actual modern art pieces, appreciated for their dusty, vintage look. The nearby second hand clothing stores match the Latteria style to perfection, as does another one of my favorite Roman places: Anticaja e Petrella, a snaking tunnel of antique furniture and old trinkets for sale, at the far end of which a bar gathers people who meet to watch football matches on the communal TV set.

Folks take their time at the Latteria. Patrons remain well over the hour, often not doing much. Staying enough time to quietly study the details layered about, day after day, cappuccino after cappuccino. Sitting at one of the tables by the large steam-operated coffee machine, one's eye wanders on the mural of theater billboards coating the walls; the glance glides over to the old humming refrigerators, the piled biscotti boxes, the 10,000 packets of sugar. Behind the counter, rows and rows of stacked soda cans line the back panel, creating a continuous yellowed tin surface. At the very end, the back door opens to a small outdoor courtyard leading to an outhouse, its skeleton key dangling from a darkened keyhole.

The Latteria's caffellatte costs a bit more than at your regular cafe. It is best enjoyed in the above mentioned bowl rather than the usual cup or stout mug. Only in this way will you be able to indulge in the complex croissant-dipping manoeuvre. Anywhere else public, this sacred morning ritual is regarded as a wrong to etiquette and table manners. But this is la Latteria, and within these walls, this little sin is forgiven. Rather more, encouraged.

The best thing to do here is stay a little while longer than your schedule allows. Read the complimentary newspaper, chat with the smiling signora, play pinball. Or simply stare at the history peeling off the walls before you, as you slowly wait for your second steaming bowl of caffellatte to cool.

Antica Latteria
Vicolo del Gallo, 4
00186 Roma
Tel. +39 06 6865091


  1. Lola
    you paint the picture so evocatively I want to be there...with my big bowl of coffee and dunkable croissant ...

    I have spent a couple of weeks in Rome but not enough to really savour it, and it was so bloody cold when I was there that everything took on a grey pall. So I want to see it in summer next time... and enjoy sitting outside as I drink my coffees.
    Thanks Lola

  2. Sigh. Wish I could be there!

  3. sounds like an amazing place...the best thing to do is stay longer...great line....marvelously described....i wanna go!

  4. Lola, you gave us another memorable insight of Roman life! I think I've been there a million years ago... I love the way you described Campo de' Fiori...
    Another writing lesson, my dear friend, and if I am the...artist, you surely are The Writer!..

  5. Lola, That was wonderful to feel and to learn about these forgotten treasures! Thanks to you revealing the Latteria in a way that indulges you. I feel your writing renews a great sense of being there. WOW!! I would enjoy a bowl of caffellatte, nice job.
    Grazie, Grazie! :)

  6. Once I had a discussion with a retired teacher who was a great friend of travelling, visiting churches and famous buildings, always making sure he did not miss the best attractions. And he told me of his contempt for those fellow-travellers who were in Venice, or Rome, and just sat in a caffè at the market place, not doing what they OUGHT to be doing! Hahaha! That is exactly what I would enjoy most, I told him! Watching the people, drinking a mug of something which they would drink, eating a piece of cake, enjoying myself in the middle of normal life! Your latteria sounds just like the place for philistine me! Thank you for the lovely description, Lola!

  7. Your latteria sounds just wonderful and so authentic. I've never been to Rome, but I am starting a plan right now.

  8. The first picture of the market is what always comes to mind for me when I dream of Italy. The second is to sit as you did enjoying the caffe latte breathing in life. The third thing, although not in this post, will be to enjoy dinner and wine on a warm September evening in an agriturismo.
    Thank you Lola for keeping this fresh in my mind.

  9. I can taste that croissant. I can smell the market. That's just how good your writing is. Is your agent doing enough to get your amazing talent recognized?

  10. Wow! You DID take me there! So wonderful this little glimpse of life so far from my home. Thank you!

  11. I'm there. Just my kind of laid-back place to read the papers, sip a latte, gossip with neighbors. Lovely description, you painter of beautiful scenes.

  12. Lovely post! Loved a couple of the phrases - "tourists and time travelels", "history peeling off the walls in front of you". Beautiful!

  13. And enjoyed reading your Mother's Day post. Happy Mother's Day to you and your mom!

  14. Thank you all for your lovely thoughts.

    Delwyn - You should definitely come in spring... and summer too.

    Anno & Brian - why not plan a journey to Italy?

    Valeria & Chuck - Thank you dear friends, I love to write so your words fill my heart with flutter

    Angela - There's many ways to travel. I know many Italians who pack spagheti in their luggage when visiting exotic new places. Going "by the book" is one way, I'm more like you, learning more from contact with people and locals than following a guidebook.

    Siobhàn - You should put that plan into action. There's very affordable flights from Ireland!!! Easyjet, Ryanair... I wait here, open-armed.

    Lori E - I have the perfect place for you then. I will post about my favorite agriturismo, owned by childhood friends. A place to fall in love with...

    Patrizia - Darling doll, thank you. My agent is doing all he can in this terrible moment of economic crisis. But I'm optimistic...

    Immersion - That was the goal I had in mind, written tele-transport :)

    Rosaria - Then you and I are made of the same "pasta." I keep having fantasies of getting our blogger community together and meeting face to face somewhere beautiful, before great food and abundant vino.

    Sujatha - Thank you dear friend. How is your father doing?

  15. Can't believe I never went to this place when I lived in Rome! I know exactly where it of my favorite little corners of the city.

  16. Hi Lola,

    Love viewing your photos. Rick and I will definitely visit Italy on of these years.

    Thank you for visiting out blog & commenting on the Jasmine story.


  17. Cream filled cornetti? Ditto on the sigh...

  18. Lola you make me feel like I can walk right into your words. I love the pictures but with a story like that I don't even need the pictures. But I am glad for them.

    By the way, a heroine. I like the ring of it.

    Love you sweet lady.

    Love Renee xoxo

  19. Beautiful writing, Lola! Not only does the place sound absolutely perfect, and include my absolute favorites, coffee and croissants (that picture looks like they're almond - I'm actually drooling), but your description transcends the mere existence and creates a scene in which we readers are able to feel immersed. We can smell it, hear it, and nearly taste it. Thank you.

  20. Interesting. I've never heard of a latteria before.

  21. Lola, you write like dream...we float in and follow your words to the very heart of the Latteria. I cannot think of anything more perfect than a bowl full of freshly brewed cappuccino, a flaky warm buttery croissant and the time to sit and ponder, watching with wonderment as the world goes by.

  22. I've never made croissants before but it seems to me you pulled that pastry up onto itself, a foldover of history and atmosphere, and made for us a delicious treat. How perfect. The stuff of movies for me.

  23. I'm so glad you posted a photo at the end of your beautifully written description of the Latteria. I was anxious to see it. I love the notion of playing pinball in the same place you'd go to get your morning caffelatte. Thanks for showing us the non-trendy side of Rome. Very wonderful.

    love, SM

  24. Grazie Mille, Lola, for the post on the Latteria. I went there years ago with a very special man. I've passed by it when I've been in Rome but have never entered but the next time I will. Thank you so much for this wonderful blog!