The Italians have an old proverb which, roughly translated, means “he who eats alone, dies alone”. If the large, jovial groups of families and friends I’ve seen dining at the city’s restaurants are any indication, modern-day Italians still take this idiom fairly seriously. Obviously, given that I live alone, I have no qualms about eating by myself, but I do find that I get a few strange looks when I walk into a restaurant and shamelessly request un tavolo per uno. A girl can only cook so much before she just wants someone else to step up to the stove and cook a meal for her.
Last night, it was a sudden and intense craving for pasta that drove me out the door and into a restaurant – not just any pasta though, but spaghetti all’amatriciana, a classic Roman dish made with guanciale (cured pork jowl), tomato sauce and pecorino cheese. Simple, yes, like most Roman dishes tend to be, but also utterly delicious. And so I found myself sitting at a little table in Da Francesco, conversation buzzing around me, waiters swarming in and out of the kitchen with platters held high in the air, and the wood-fired oven in the corner churning out pizza after pizza after pizza.
The spaghetti was everything that you would imagine the perfect plate of pasta to be: All savoury and salty with a brightly-flavoured tomato sauce to cut through all that richness and a generous dusting of cheese melting itself slowly over the top. As soon as I started eating it, I knew that I never wanted to stop. I wanted to sit for hours at that cramped little table in the corner, endlessly twirling noodles around my fork… And then, all too soon, my fork scraped the bottom of the nearly-empty plate and the world jolted back into focus.
Here’s the thing, though: I don’t think I would have enjoyed the spaghetti as much if I had been eating with a group of people. Sure, it would have still tasted good, and the overall experience of dining out would have been even better – after all, a group of laughing friends adds more to the atmosphere than a Kindle propped up on a wine glass – but the spaghetti? Well, that truly was best enjoyed alone, with great concentration, attention to noodle-twirling technique, and appreciation for the way a handful of incredibly simple ingredients can come together into something so delicious.