In order to view this article offline and get travel directions to the restaurants mentioned below you need to download the GPSmyCity Rome Maps and Walks app from the App Store or Google Play. All our posts turned into self-guided walking tours can be found here. Shaved ice, fruit juice and fresh or dry fruit chunks. This is the Roman way to quench thirst during the torrid August days.
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 Rome-based university admission test with some of the students coming from other parts 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 of Abruzzo (Gran Sasso and Maiella) 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, France.
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.
Don’t make confusion with granita which is a completely different ice-based dessert, doesn’t originate from Rome (it comes from Sicily) and can be found anywhere in Rome and all over the country (best version in Sicily, of course).
Grattachecca is sold at kiosks only during the warm and hot months, generally May to October. Unfortunately ice is no longer shaved by hand, it is now crushed with a special mixer, which makes it much easier.
Ingredients and colours of grattachecca may greatly vary, depending on the syrups and the fresh fruit you add.
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 writers 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, just 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 from Sicily.
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. Alla Fonte d’Oro was opened in 1913 as you can see from its liberty style kiosk. It’s at the corner between Lungotevere Sanzio and Belli square.
Not far from it, along Lungotevere degli Anguillara and overlooking the Tiberine island, the Sora Mirella kiosk features liquor and alcohol-based grattachecca and the best fresh fruit you can add as a topping.
Last but not least, a quiet kiosk in the Testaccio borough with very few tourists that offers freshly squeezed lemon juice grattachecca as its specialty mostly to local residents, at the corner between Franklin and Giovanni Branca roads.
Grattachecca kiosks usually open very late in the morning, some only in the afternoon, and stay open until the wee hours – until 1 am at least. Gratacchecca, the Roman answer to the summer heat, more refreshing than ice-cream or gelato!
In order to view this article offline and get travel directions to the restaurants mentioned below you need to download the GPSmyCity Rome Maps and Walks app from the App Store or Google Play. All our posts turned into self-guided walking tours can be found here.