Roman Food – Small voice, Great deli – Antica Caciara
A similar same sort of thing happens with people. Well, with men anyway. Often men with full voices inspire trust. That, our attitude regarding a well articulated, completely resonating tone of natural command comes from our evolution. Big voice = competent guy, we often assume. ‘He knows what he’s doing. Must be respected.’ Lots of executives learn that trick early on, (particularly short ones.) ‘Listen, see, I’ve got a naturally commanding voice. Follow my lead.’ They stand up straight and wear expensive, tailor-made clothes. But sometimes if you follow them without paying attention they’ll take your shirt. And your shoes. And your underwear, for that matter. Think Wall Street.
Smaller-voiced men with hunched shoulders are by contrast often neglected. You know, the pee-wee Hermans of the world. The ones that can seem to fade into the background.
In Rome there are a few well-kown, visually impressive, ‘big-voiced’ delis, particularly downtown. And some of them aren’t at all bad. Roscioli, Franchi….are the Dean and Deluca’s or Eataly’s of the eternal city. They usually have the most well-known, high-class produce and artisanal salamis and such. Snob stuff. And they make you pay very dearly for that snobbery. There are plenty of others that pretty much make you pay dearly for even mediocre stuff, pretending that they’re giving you good counsel and offering you something special. Particularly if you’re a tourist. Watch where you’re putting shoes or you’ll loose a heal. And a good chunk of whatever’s in your wallet.
In the heart of Trastevere there’s instead a small place that might appear even a bit shabby at first glance: Antica Caciara Trastverina, of Roberto Polica, in via San Francesco a Ripa. Maybe you wouldn’t even notice it if you pass by, as it sort of fades into the background of the street. But take a closer look. That sheep’s milk ricotta you see stacked up inelegantly in the window is still glistening with freshness. That was cheese was definitely done this morning. And look at the price: it’s more than a little reasonable, and so much less expensive that the Balducci-like places a bit closer to the tourist attractions. So step inside.
That guy there, the owner, is almost always behind the counter. He’s thin and sort of wiry but with a subtle, strange elegance like a young apple tree. He’ll greet you kindly, humbly, almost apologetically and ask you if he might help you in a kind wisp of a voice. Ask him. Trust him. He’s one of the most culinarily knowledgable men you’ll ever meet. Anywhere.
And his store’s produce reflects that knowledge. Every single lunch meet, or dried fish, or cheese in the store is simply remarkable. He doesn’t just have, say, a bresaola. He’ll offer you a taste if you seem uncertain, explain to you its flavor in detail, in inception when you place into your mouth, its evolution once you begin to chew and its aftertaste. And where it comes from, how it’s made. Go ahead and taste it. You’ll pause, and then remain overwhelmed. Poetry. The best. The best pecorino Romano, the best coppa, the best ricotta, the best salted herrings in Rome…can be found right there in his deceptively modest-looking store.
When the bill comes you’ll again be overwhelmed…at its smallness. Here you won’t loose your wallet, shoes, shirt, underwear or anything else. You’ll gain something instead: flavor and knowledge. And maybe next time another full-voiced, full-of-himself guy offers you his ‘follow me’ spiel on the streets or on TV while he’s running for office, you’ll reach for your pocket to make sure your wallet remains in place. And remember that sometimes smaller voices carry much greater weight.
I just wish people like Roberto would go into politics and banking. That is, finance. But, like a smart, experienced Brit once said: ‘There’s no money in poetry. Then again, there’s no poetry in money.’ Roberto, in his way, is one hell of a poet.
…if you happen to know of other great delis in Rome, let us know in the comments…