Fried Artichokes, Legacy of the Roman Jewish Ghetto

Jewish Fried Artichoke, Rome

Jewish Fried Artichoke

Jewish artichokes are a delicacy I was eager to try while in Rome. I’ve heard them described as delicate chrysanthemum-shaped with a crispy, salt-kissed taste. I knew I just had to try one given the opportunity.  They are a big attraction in the restaurants of the old Jewish Ghetto. Also known as cardiofi alla giudia,  artichokes were once a mainstay of the Roman Jews during times of scarcity and extreme hardship.

How could exquisite culinary delicacies evolve out of such extreme poverty and oppression?

Women of the Jewish Ghetto in Rome, established in 1555 by Pope Paul IV to sequester the Jews into one area, used what little they had to provide tasty meals for their families while also keeping them kosher. Artichokes, cheese, salt cod, and aubergines were cheap and used to create dishes that are considered gourmet cuisine today and served in fine dining restaurants throughout Rome.

Jewish Ghetto in Trastevere

Jewish Ghetto in Trastevere

The Jewish community began in Rome as early as 63 BC after the Romans invaded Judea and brought many of them back as slaves. Settling predominately on the east bank of the Tiber River, the walls (built in 1555) surrounding the ghetto kept them isolated for almost 300 years. The ghetto in Rome was one of the poorest in Italy. Desperately cramped, the Jews were forbidden to own property. They “were excluded from most professions except money-lending, dealing in old cloth and bric-a-brac, and selling food in the street. Many of them became friggitori-street vendors of deep-frying morsels, mainly of fish and vegetables for which they became famous,” describes Claudia Roden in her article “The Dishes of the Jews of Italy: A Historical Survey.”

 

The Great Fountain of the Ghetto that once provided the only fresh water in the ghetto.

The Great Fountain of the Ghetto that once provided the only fresh water available.

The Roman Jewish Ghetto today is a maze of narrow winding streets, interesting shops, and several cute Kosher restaurants emitting delicious smells.  Locals and tourists alike still flock to the old ghetto for carciofi alla guidia, Jewish style artichokes.

The Synagogue of Rome stands in the midst of the Jewish Ghetto where the original synagogue stood at one time. The ghetto is described as one of Rome’s most charming and eclectic neighborhoods, with restaurants serving up some of the best food in the city. The same little pieces of fried vegetables (artichokes, zucchini flowers and salt cod), and fried fish chunks that are now served as fritto misto in the finest restaurants of Rome were sold centuries ago by the friggitori  for only a few coins.

Ironically, today’s Jewish Ghetto property, which during the ghetto oppression was considered very undesirable, is now some of the most expensive in Rome.

Have you visited the Jewish Ghetto in Rome and tasted a Jewish artichoke? What were your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you so please feel free to leave a comment.

 



Categories: Blog, Culture, History

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30 replies

  1. Enjoyed your piece on my favourite vegetable, artichokes, and thought you might possibly like to read mine on the same subject at https://travels-with-my-camera.blog/2016/08/24/the-artichoke-romes-8th-king/
    Your article has added a lot to the information I had on the artichoke in Rome’s culinary history, and thanks for that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mari! Thank you…I just read your article and I loved it! Your photos are very nice, and I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself over your attempts at making artichokes the Roman way. I, too, would have had the same experience. There is something key that is lost in translation, I’m sure. If you go in May and get a kitchen experience on fried artichokes, let me know! Buon Natale

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  2. Looking forward to my first Jewish Fried Artichoke!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I didn’t love the one we tried. Maybe it was just not the best restaurant. I loved visiting the Jewish ghetto though. 😍.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My mother would create different dishes with artichokes and no matter the variation, I couldn’t develop a taste for them!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Kind of like grapes, just in reverse 🙂 , and how grapes are pretty much the fruit for the royalties. When I lived in Italy, my landlord used to invite me for dinner at their place. They offered me artichoke, but sorry to say, I couldn’t eat it. Not one of my proudest travel moments for sure.

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  6. Fascinating post, Susan. It really made me want to visit Rome’s Jewish ghetto. I’m thinking the next time we visit friends in Rome, I know where I want to go!! We’ve been to Venice’s Jewish ghetto, which was also very interesting. Yet also so sad that people would have been treated in such a way. And those artichokes look so good. Never tried them, but I’m willing to try (most) anything at least once! Rome, here we come – again!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love carciofi, but haven’t tried Carciofi alla Giudea. I seem to spend all my time in Roma eating suppli!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I haven’t tried a lot of Jewish foods, but I am currently living in a predominately Jewish area of Toronto, and am getting well educated by a close friend and fellow writer about the fascinating history and culture behind Judaism. I will have to start trying the food.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. How interesting… it reminds me of lobster – in that it was fed to slaves and prisoners and used as bait and fertilizer because it was considered ‘poor man’s food’ when the first European settlers arrived here. And now, look how expensive it is.
    I am not a fan of artichokes, but reading this, and the photos….. well, I may have to change that 🙂 Thanks for an interesting article Susan

    Liked by 1 person

  10. OMG this is my favorite! The leaves are like chips but the heart is done perfectly. This is a do not miss in Rome.

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  11. Carciofi alla giudea are soooo good!

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  12. this was an excellent piece. i loved reading it so much that i am going to put a link to it on my Italy post. please put a link back of it on your post so that it increases ranking and searchability of this post.

    http://larkycanuck.com/2012/12/11/when-in-rome-do-as-i-do/

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  13. Inspiration for next week’s dinners, and interesting history to go along with it. Mille grazie. 🙂

    Like

  14. You lured me into reading with the artichokes—but a fascinating read, too!
    Thanks~
    Irene
    http://www.moretimetotravel.com

    Like

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