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Oct 5, 2012 10:56 AM

"War on the Sandwich" in Rome

Interesting article:

My favorite quote: "“Eating on monuments can really get out of control,” he added. “Once I caught a group of tourists who set a table on the Spanish Steps, with table cloth and cutlery! This has to stop.”

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  1. There's a "Gastro Flash Mob Against Rome’s Sandwich Tyranny" scheduled...

    6 Replies
    1. re: Gio

      I should have known Katie would be on top of this!

      1. re: Gio

        Is it still on? the facebook event seems to be deleted.

        1. re: Maximilien

          The flash mob announcement is gone from Katie's site also... We won't know anything until either she comes here or posts on her blog.

          1. re: Gio

            I just now clicked on the link you provided to Katie's site, and I got the flash mob announcement. So it's not deleted.

            1. re: Gio

              If you go to Katie Parla's twitter account, you can see that 30 minutes ago she tweeted a picture of a cop ticketing "a sandwich protester."


              1. re: barberinibee

                Oh good... thanks baberinibee. I wonder what happened earlier when I didn't get the announcement...

        2. (disclaimer, I'm not a street food fan except for Gelato/Ice cream)

          So, where are they supposed to eat ?

          There aren't that many parks in the center of Rome, and unfortunately, the banks of the Tiber are not easily accessible (IMO and that's a shame)

          1. My favorite quote:

            “It’s common sense,” one officer said. “You can’t dirty such a beautiful and historical monument with ice cream and bread crumbs just because you can sit on it.”

            It was necessary in America, I think, for officials to encourage people to sit on the steps of historic public places and eat lunch as a way of rescuing cities, to create a renewal of public culture. But I was shocked to see when I was recently in NYC that at Lincoln Center, one whole area of the plaza near the reflecting pools had been given over to tall stone bleachers for public eating (and texting). And I was also taken aback to see people just eating everywhere as they walked, and of course with those huge tubs of soda (which I think are now banned in NY).

            Where I live in Italy, people will take food to the beach, but it is considered inappropriate to walk around putting lunch in your mouth, or sit on the church steps or the town hall and do it. I also enjoy how Italian culture makes eating a focused activity you sit down around a table and share with other people, not a sandwich on the run. I think it is healthier, actually.

            I think Venice has had laws like this for some time. To me, they are like Don't Walk On The Grass signs and the police moving picnickers off the grass of the Campo in Pisa. I don't take that as an affront to my liberty.

            8 Replies
            1. re: barberinibee

              In one article about that, they wrote that there was such a bylaw in different Italian cities.

              1. re: Maximilien

                I had thought this was merely a renewal of an existing law in Rome, perhaps with stiffer fines, but maybe I am wrong about that. I haven't really followed it. I'm just surprised people want to go to Rome to eat sandwiches, or eat fatty food all day long. I had kind of thought that Slow Food thing was catching on.

                1. re: barberinibee

                  it has caught on of course, but the vast majority of tourists dont know or care anything about it - the rules that govern masses of people apply, which is that they are pretty much oblivious as they travel, to the local ways and just do what they normally do. Large parts of Rome were pretty hard to bear when we visited last week due to the crowds and we avoided them.

                  1. re: jen kalb

                    I pretty much agree, jen, except do note that when it comes to the "dress code" for visiting churches (covered arms, thighs), the travel public helps enforce the dress code. You see the warnings about how to dress "respectfully" in guide books, on travel message boards. People tell other people waiting on line to get into St Peter's.

                    So the idea that religious space has to be respected gets the cooperation of tourists. But historic space? Shared public spaces of beauty? Fuhgeddaboudit.

                    Maybe "food historians" should start studying "eating locally" in ways that include how locals view eating comprehensively, not just in terms of kilometers.

                    We had such success in avoiding tourist crowds in Rome from Jan 7 - Jan 18, I think I may never see another Roman Spring Summer or Fall again. Hope you're having a great time wherever you are now. Olives, chestnuts and a few intermittent drops of rain are descending upon Liguria, but no mob scenes, tourist or flash.

                    1. re: barberinibee

                      Seems to me that the slowfood movement, coming out of Italian culture can assume baseline of foodways -- as a reaction to industrialization and fast food culture it could assume that people understood how Italians have traditionally eaten and how those ways might be threatened - tourists on the other hand dont necessary understand and appreciate basic eating norms, and the way they move through the city, often in masses recreates roman spaces as tourist zones in which it can be hard for them to have any normal Italian style experience..

                      Slowfood seems to have at least as much to do, now, with preserving and identifying traditional food products as with advocating for "slow" eating. Maybe that was always a bit of an attention grabber.. For example, when we at Nonna Nina yesterday (will be reporting when we get a chance) they offer a fish dish from the tonnara (fish net at Chiappa which is now a Slowfood Presidium - I thought that was a little precious. since its not actually a distinct food product ;

                      1. re: jen kalb

                        I've really never taken much of an interest in "Slow Food" except I like the guides. To me, anything in Italy that is named in English words is primarily about being an attention grabber, not necessarily evil, but it's just addressing an audience that isn't me.

                        As for Nonna Nina, I doubt they can get tuna at a better price than what comes from the tonnara at the foot of the hill. I don't know how long Slow Food has been around, actually, but I would bet that Nonna Nina has been serving tuna from the tonnara from the restaurant's opening.

                        Looking forward to reading of your travels in the nabe.

              2. re: barberinibee

                I just spent a week in Monti and late afternoon the square was loaded with locals eating and standing around the fountain and I noticed a mix of both American and Italian doing the same thing around other fountains in Rome though none to my recollection at the more famous ones since the crowds wouldn't even make the experience enjoyable. Also in Tuscany this week I've seen a Italians, specifically men, walking while taking bites front their sandwich or just standing in the street, presumably outside their shops eating. As for me I ate gelato walking from the gelato shop with no chairs, to our apartment since to have not done so would have meant I would have left a trail of melted gelato on the street and none for me when arriving home. I only bother to say this because while I think many American tourists have enough strikes against them, being the sole consumers of food on the streets isn't one of them.

                1. re: Anita1956


                  I talked about America and New York City because it developed a different attitude about eating on the steps of historic buildings or iconic piazze, and i was recently there. I didn't talk about it to single out tourists from New York or America in Rome.

                  Although Rome certainly does have a tradition of street foods and panini to go, I do think the promotion of sandwiches and the valorization of street food over other kinds of Roman or Italian food is a media/globaloney thing aimed at tourist "foodies" who prefer grazing and eating all day to sit-down meals (Barcelona became a huge hit destination promoting this). In that respect, while Americans are certainly not the only people now traveling as grazing tourist "foodies", or who have a robust habit of gorging on fast food while visiting tourist attractions, they are a bit more likely than people from many other cultures not to think twice before using grand public staircases and monuments to sit down and eat carbs because that it is accepted tourist behavior where they come from. When Italians lament the "Disneyfication" of their historic cities, this is part of what they are lamenting. This inability to distinguish an historic building from a theme park/fun fair attraction.

                  Finally, please, please, please: No one has said it is wrong and the law is not aimed at people walking down the street grabbing a bite, or standing in front of their shops having a bite, or doing that at the residential piazza. It is designed to put off-limits for eating and lounging places like the piazza del Campidoglio -- a tourist magnet that happens to have been designed by Michaelangelo, and which embraces one of the most ancient churches in Rome and the tomb of the Unknown Solder. This was the spot the "sandwich protesters' targeted to show the world what's important to them. Got the picture. Go home.

                  Just so everyone knows, in case you are hungry for a sandwich at the piazza del Campidoglio, you can walk up a set of stairs/path just to the right of the piazza as you face it, and you will arrive at the back terrace of the Capitoline museum. There you will find a cafe selling sandwiches for 6 euros or less. No problem if you want to eat the sandwich on the terrace and enjoy a panoramic view of Rome. If you prefer to bring a more delicious sandwich from Bonci or Beppe, rather than buy a rather pedestrian one from the museum, that's OK too.

              3. The flash mob was today, and here is a report from the local paper:


                The problem with the law is that how do you define historic monument in a city like Rome? Everything is pretty much an historic monument. Also, in piazzas where tourists tend to gather, there is never ever any place to sit. Go to any other European city and there are benches for tourist. In Rome it's sort of a given that you have to perch on an ancient stone or wall.


                2 Replies
                1. re: minchilli

                  Well, yes. Pretty much everything in Rome is an historic monument -- particularly the piazze where tourists tend to gather. That's why their guidebooks sent them there. If knowing where it is appropriate to eat and where it isn't is so mystifying to tourists but they desperately would like to eat without any delay, can't they walk 50 feet and step inside a bar and eat a sandwich standing up if they prefer a sandwich to a meal? Or are you suggesting that they also be able to bring plates of pasta to sit out on the steps of historic buildings, and uncork bottles of wine?

                  The "sandwich protesters" showed up with sandwiches. Why do fast-food eaters need to be supplied with seats?

                  I would rather not have the historic piazze of Rome redesigned to include benches. Please. I realize this is a food board, but must we endorse eating without any restraint or consideration of anything else? Ever? Is it really too much to ask people who are visiting Rome for just a few days that if they wish to eat, that they find a place to do so that isn't a revered site or church? I don't think so.

                  The sandwich vendors and maybe the trend-setting street food loving bloggers have a big interest in egging on the flash mobs and protests. I don't see how it is in the general public's long-term interest to encourage tourists to bring more sandwiches into the piazza del Campidoglio.

                  1. re: minchilli

                    One other point about the local Roman attitudes toward sandwiches and small bites, and public space:

                    Minchilli mentions that other European cities have amenities that Rome does not, and part of what is going on these days in Italy is that a whole younger generation of Italians have visited other European cities (or worked in them), and they are asking why Italy can't import some of what the see and like in other places, and a lot of this had to do with food and drink and how it is consumed and where. This strikes me as absolutely normal -- i.e., Americans and the British go to the continent and very commonly come back wishing their home towns had more European foods and cafes.

                    In Italy, there have been a lot of young-ish Italians who think something like "tapas" and more creative street foods would be a big hit in Italy, and be great for the tourist trade, and they are frustrated by the rigidity of native traditions. They've embraced EATALY and beer and other untraditional changes. I am not suggesting it's all dreadful and they never have a point. I'm just noting a cultural movement that means that a sandwich is not just a sandwich but a pea shooter aimed at a whole architecture of traditional customs and regulations some people are rebeliing against, saying it's best for the future of Italy.

                    I am not taking sides. Just reporting on that scene. (Although I am really fierce about the protection of historic space over feeding the tourist.) "What other cities do" when it comes to food, youth opportunity and tourist development is a big topic of lively discussion -- and often envy and frustration -- in some passionate circles in Italy.

                  2. @ barberinabee: The Campo de Pisa was the only place I ever ate out in a public place in Italy, and that was only because I'd been dying for gelato and there it was. It was pretty sad gelato, and as I looked around I saw the only other customers appeared to be American tourists …

                    There are so many places in every city or tiny hamlet where one can pop in, sit down and have a bite of something or a drink, I really don't understand the urge to eat anything on the sidewalk if you don't have to. I was surprised to read that ready-to-eat food trucks are now apparently common in cities, but then I was last there over twenty years ago.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Will Owen

                      In the Campo dei Miracoli in Pisa, the police generally pay more attention to the people who sit down on the grass and commence picnics. It's also possible they have gotten more rigorous about it in recent years.

                      I agree with you wholeheartedly, obviously, about how people over the age of 4 can probably wait a few minutes to eat without melting down into a public tantrum, and should therefore make their way to an actual eatery if they want a bite. (Or carry energy bars, for heavens sake.) I do think it is only fair to warn people however that, in Pisa, one should keep walking beyond the first ring of opportunity. It's not just the gelato that can get pretty sad in the shadow of the tower.

                      1. re: barberinibee

                        We walked out beyond the old walls to a place called Albergo da Bruno. Despite its having been advertised on billboards coming into Pisa and placards everywhere, it was a charming place, Bruno was a charming fellow, and they gave us the best meal we'd had in Tuscany. As I said, though, that was over twenty years ago - 1991 - and I would not expect that Bruno would still be around.

                          1. re: barberinibee

                            So the gentleman we thought was "Bruno" was actually Signor Cei. I should point out that nobody in our group spoke Italian, nor did the waiter speak or understand either English or French. The only thing that got us fed was my ability to read an Italian menu, more or less, and to say things in approximate Italian. I must say the entrance area has not changed since '91, and I recognized that old framed newspaper page as well. What a hoot! And thanks!