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Italy, where food is divine

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle with Fr. Bonifacio “Ted” Lopez, parish priest of The Church of Saints Elizabeth and Zaccharias in Rome.

I have a confession to make: My sister and I are Cardinal Tagle “stalkers”.

I first heard about Cardinal Tagle in October 2012 when I went to the Vatican upon the invitation of Rep. Rachel del Mar to witness the canonization of St. Pedro Calungsod.

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A few days after the canonization, it was announced that the new Archbishop of Manila was Luis Antonio Tagle and while I did not know who he was at the time, Rep. del Mar’s friend, Rome-based Filipino priest Fr. Bonifacio “Ted” Lopez, was over the moon.

In 2015, I visited the Vatican again, this time with my sister, Goldee. Frustrated that we were not able to see Pope Francis up close when he visited Manila in January 2015, we decided to see him up close at the Vatican instead.

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We got word that Cardinal Tagle was in Rome as well so we took the bus and commuted to Collegio Filippino to say hi.

To our surprise, Cardinal Tagle opened the gates to the Collegio himself—so humble!

Bishop at work

Cut to 2018, after my sister’s wedding was officiated by the Archbishop, she scheduled her Sposi Novelli, a papal blessing for newlyweds by Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square, around the time she believed Cardinal Tagle would be in town—and he was!

We were also blessed to witness Cardinal Tagle concelebrate a mass with Pope Francis himself when the Pontiff inaugurated the “House of Joy” for disabled persons at the Parish of the Blessed Sacrament in Tor De ‘Schiavi, Rome.

We were sadly not able to have a meal with the great Bishop, who needed to read a 168-page document that he was to report about to the Pope the following morning (hashtag #BishopAtWork), but we were able to get tips from the blessed Filipino community in Rome (priests, nuns and other Savior-related professionals) on great food finds in and around the City of the Pope.

Best gelateria

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The best gelateria in the Vatican, according to Fr. Bonifacio Lopez, parish priest of The Church of Elizabeth and Zacharias in Rome, is Old Bridge Gelateria (Viale Dei Bastioni di Michelangelo 5).

From St. Peter’s Square, take the road that leads to the Vatican Museum and just go straight toward the Ottaviano train station stop; you will find it to the left of the plaza.

It is really an amazing gelateria with beautifully creamy gelatos. There are so many flavors to choose from but I just always go for chocolate and pistachio.

I have to confess though that for chocolate gelato, I have a new favorite: Venchi. This brand specializes in chocolate, actually, but later also started serving gelatos. I discovered it in Florence, not in Rome, but happy to find out that there is a Rome branch as well. If you are to order specifically a chocolate gelato—and it has several chocolate flavors—go near the Pantheon and try Venchi. It knows chocolate the way the Pope knows the Bible.

Best pizza

Rome is not the place for pizza as we know it, with that soft, chewy yet toasted crust with loads of cheese, sauce, and savory decor on top. You would have to visit Naples for that, which is a 2 to 3 hour drive.

Instead, there is in Rome the traditional Roman pizza that you can find at Forno Campo di ‘Fiori. Don’t think though that it is anything at all like the Shakey’s Special with meat, bell peppers and mushrooms. This is super plain but the bread is excellent: Light, airy and crunchy.

Complaining that we couldn’t find good pizza, Father Ted recommended an excellent pizza place although it is quite far from the Vatican. If you have a car or don’t mind the 55-minute commute, head over to La Rosa Rossa (via dei Georgofili 77/81). It is a neighborhood, family-style restaurant and you will find the pizza being enjoyed by Italian families. My eyes popped as I watched the pizzas being served at other tables: One pizza per person! So a table for six would have six pizzas—apparently that’s how it’s done! When I told the waiter we would just get one pizza and my sister and I would share—as we would in any pizza place here in Manila—he looked at us with an expression that showed both pity and amusement, as if to say, “Come on, you can do better than that!”

Sandwiches

Just around the corner from Old Bridge Gelateria is an awesome sandwich place called Duecento Gradi. This is just what you need to prepare you for that long walk in the Vatican Museum or after a day at the Vatican. I must say these are some of the best sandwiches I have had in my life. They are just packed with braesola, maybe prosciutto, olives, tomatoes, happiness, love, compassion, understanding, world peace. So good. There are vegetarian options as well.

Filipino food

I’ve also become friends with Mother Superior Regina Ate, who is also based in Rome. After I told her I was starting to crave for rice and Filipino food, she brought me to a Filipino carinderia in the Vatican. The name is Sarap (viale Giulio Cesare, Rome). It will give you your fix of adobo, dinuguan and beef steak.

Pope Benedict

By chance, my mom and I came across Pope Benedict XVI’s fave haunt when he was still a bishop: Ristorante Cantina Tirolese (via Giovanni Vitelleschi) near the Vatican Museum. At first, I thought it served classic Italian fare. Apparently not—it is an Austrian restaurant serving traditional Western Austrian food. The goulash is incredible and it’s fun learning about the various Austrian delicacies like Austrian salami and a kind of deli meat that is made with deer. !

Pope Francis

There is no word on what are Pope Francis’ favorite restaurants in Rome. In fact, he has a reputation for not eating out. Although I have it on good authority that he likes Philippine mangoes and Chef Jessie Sincioco, who was his personal chef when he visited Manila, had the privilege of personally delivering Philippine mangoes to the Pope at Casa Santa Marta.

A very handsome member of the Pope’s entourage—let’s call him James Bond—also highly recommends Quattro Mori Hostaria (Via di Santa Maria alle Fornaci, 8, 00165). This restaurant takes pride in its seafood and makes a great vongole.

As for Cardinal Tagel’s favorite restaurants—I don’t know. I guess I have more stalking to do.

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TAGS: Cardinal Tagle, food, Fr. Bonifacio “Ted” Lopez, Italy, Vatican
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