EAT PRAY LOVE: THE BEST GELATO IN ROME


FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Named for a saint and naturally tasting heavenly, SAN CRISPINO gelato all ready was a pass the word must for devotees of the Italian treat.

Then a bus driver gave ELIZABETH GILBERT the buzz — THE BEST GELATO IN ROME — and SAN CRISPINO became enshrined in her how I found the real me memoir EAT PRAY LOVE.

Fans have been making pilgrimages for melt in your mouth inspiration ever since.

In the book that has now become a movie, ELIZABETH recounts her rapturous encounter, not once – but three times in one day – with the gelato. In a single mouthwatering paragraph, she waxes rhapsodic about the flavours.

First she had the honey and hazelnut combo, then she returned for a pairing of grapefruit and melon and yet again for an exotic nightcap of cinnamon ginger.

While playing a bit part in the movie, gelato is getting a big boost from the film’s ads. JULIA ROBERTS, who portrays ELIZABETH GILBERT, is shown with a look of pure satisfaction on her face and a cup of (presumably) SAN CRISPINO ice cream in her hand as she sits on a stone bench in Piazza Navona.

Gelato worshippers intent on finding this Roman temple of delightfulness, however, get little help from Ms. Gilbert. She does not say just where she had her SAN CRISPINO gelato.

Did love at first lick come on Via della Panettieria, a narrow street near the TREVI FOUNTAIN?

Or at the SAN CRISPINO franchise — yes, the best gelato in Rome is franchised — on Piazza della Maddalena, a tiny square behind the Pantheon?

Or perhaps at the gelateria where the two brothers who founded SAN CRISPINO opened their first location in 1992 on Via Acaia in the working class San Giovanni neighbourhood?

Wherever ELIZABETH GILBERT had her gelato epiphany, “we are happy we were cited in the book and especially that she liked our gelato,” Pasquale Alongi, one of the brothers, modestly said as lemons were squeezed for SAN CRISPINO’S limone gelato in the laboratory on Via Acaia.

Giuseppe Alongi said he and his brother set out to make gelato with equilibrium and create flavours that are not too sweet and with only natural ingredients.

Pasquale, a former law student and Giuseppe, a former medical student were inspired by the fresh tasting pastry made by their mother from the South Tyrol region near Austria. Their father is from Sicily, also known for the freshest of ingredients, such as the pistachios from Bronte, a town on the slopes of the Etna volcano. They are the only pistachios the brothers consider good enough to use in SAN CRISPINO gelato.

“When we make lemon flavour, we use only good Amalfi lemons,” said Pasquale.

“If we don’t find them, we do not make the lemon flavour.”

That would be a shame. SAN CRISPINO’S lemon gelato coats the tongue with silkiness bordering on the sensual, yet presents enough pizazz almost to cause a pucker.

And there are no cones at SAN CRISPINO because, as Giuseppe explained, cones are “contaminated” by greasing agents used in baking pans and thus should not come in contact with gelato.

“We lose 30 per cent of our customers when we tell them we have no cones,” he commented in his store near the Trevi Fountain.

“The owners have a purist approach, everything natural, no intense colours, no flavourings,” stated Francesco Amore, the SAN CRISPINO franchisee near the Pantheon, who said he became a disciple of the gelato when a friend introduced him to it.

“You have to have a very refined palate to appreciate it,” remarked Mr. Amore, recalling how the Alongis fermented basil leaves for six months and made all of two tubs of basil gelato last fall. The basil flavour was quickly scooped up…and then it was finito.

For Italians, gelato is more than a sweet treat.

“It’s a moment for us to get together,” Francesco Amore said, venturing that Romans adore their gelato shops in the same way they grow up with lifetime loyalties to one or the other of their local soccer teams.

And that love has been a lasting one.

Some 2,000 years ago historian Pliny the Elder cited a recipe using snow, honey and fruit nectar. Around the same era, Emperor Nero, notorious for partying in his fabled Golden Palace in Rome, was said to have devoured copious portions of frozen fruit drenched in honey.

An almost reverent air pervades a SAN CRISPINO gelateria. Unlike other shops in Rome, which display a riot of colours and textures of gelati brimming in display tubs to set customers salivating, SAN CRISPINO keeps the flavours of the day in 22 pozzetti, or metal tubs covered with shiny lids.

Workers behind the counter lift the lids with a delicate motion, as if they are about to open a container of precious jewels, then offer tiny spoonfuls for the undecided to taste.

Pairings of flavours are chalked in on a blackboard titled THE SAN CRISPINO EXPERIENCE to guide customers, said Mr. Amore, who added he gently suggests what he hopes will prove to be a happy marriage of flavours.

On this boiling August day the combos include hazelnut meringue, white fig and cream; pink grapefruit and chocolate and rum, as well as the classic pairing that so impressed ELIZABETH GILBERTSAN CRISPINO honey with ginger cinnamon.

The Alongis chose the name SAN CRISPINO because the saint is the patron of shoemakers and is pictured with tools in his hand, an image the brothers thought captured the handmade care behind their product.

“We wanted to find the best ice cream in Rome. But it actually said it is not only the best ice cream in Rome. It is the best ice cream in Italy…and we think it is,” said Steve Donague from Manchester, England. He was ecstatic that there was “lots of rum” in a trio of Armagnac, rum and chocolate combo.

Of course, Rome is a city all but bursting with gelato. And while the no cone formula evidently worked for ELIZABETH, those who like to share their licks are hardly left in the cold.

Dutch tourist Peter Der Graaf polished off a cone of strawberry, pear and limoncello, made from the dessert liquor at his favourite gelato haunt in Rome, GIOLITTI’S, a family run place that has been making gelato for some 100 years and is arguably the Italian capital’s best known gelateria.

“I like the taste, the coldness, the texture,” said Mr. Der Graaf, as his 9 year old son Jelle took a few licks from his dad’s cone outside the shop, near the Italian Parliament.

Nazzareno Giolitti, whose namesake grandfather first started dishing out gelato in the early 1900s, ventured that eating gelato is “a form of socialization. It’s being together with a family.”

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