This cold dessert can only be found in Italy’s capital, you won’t see it in Florence or Venice. Forget about it! So important and quintessentially Roman that a couple of years ago it was also included in a university admission test with some of the students coming from the rest of the country complaining because they had never heard of such a thing!
According to the legend, crushed ice with sweet syrups was a dessert also for Ancient Romans who would import snow from the nearby mountains to prepare this delicacy.
During Renaissance, in the 16th century, Catherine de Medici had her Italian cook make grattachecca even at the Royal French court in Paris.
Most probably it was invented at the end of the 19th century: “Checca” stands in Roman dialect for ice block while “gratta” means to scrape: scrape the ice block.
It is sold at kiosks only during the summer. Don’t even try to have one in November or March. Ice is no longer shaved by hand, it is now crushed with a special mixer.
The ingredients and the colour of the grattachecca greatly vary.
My favourite combination is orange syrup with sour cherry fruits (amarena in Italian). The family-run kiosk in front of Ara Pacis, along the Lungotevere in Augusta Avenue, used to have a hand-made orange juice that was really good and not too sweet. In the 1960s this kiosk had among its clients famous Italian intellectuals such as Alberto Moravia and Pierpaolo Pasolini
But a very successful one in Rome is lemon and coconut juices with a coconut slice which is the specialty of one of the city’s most renown kiosks, Lemoncocco, in Buenos Aires square, a bus ride from Termini station.
Tamarind syrup, the exotic fruit that you will never see in an Italian table, is also a good match with orzata, an almond-based cordial.
An historical kiosk where I used to go at the very end and start of the school year after class is Sora Maria‘s, not far from the Vatican, at the corner between via Trionfale and via Bernardino Telesio. Long queues here are the rule, also because Sora Maria’s daughters are seldom open. According to the legend Maria incorporated a nose fountain in her kiosk and therefore has permanently free running water!
The city’s oldest however, is in Trastevere. It celebrates this its centennial this year as it was opened in 1913 as you can see from its liberty style kiosk. It’s at the corner between Lungotevere Sanzio and Belli square.
There are another five or six kiosks in Rome that sell grattachecca (granita is a completely different dessert, doesn’t originate from Rome and can be found anywhere).
They all open very late in the morning, some only in the afternoon, and stay open until the wee hours – until 1 am at least.