The concept of fast food is not an invention of modern times – street vendors have existed since the beginning of civilization. Many streets vendors were present in the city centre of Ancient Rome and from dawn to dusk they offered a great selection of specialties, priced for all pockets: from simple bread with onions to bread soaked in wine, from sausages and barbecued meat to fried fish and vegetables, from fresh and mature cheese to oysters and exotic specialities.
Since social activities would take place in the city centre, this attracted many street vendors. It’s also worth considering that not all houses were equipped with kitchens and some dwelling were simply dormitories. Rome was also the meeting point for many citizen of the empire, who were visiting the capital for many reasons. Every day thousand of people would continuously come and go in the busy streets of this capital city and, naturally, they had to eat.
Among those street vendors, the “porchettaro” still exist today. Porchetta is made from a yearling pig – it is an extraordinary and spectacular food and a joy to see and taste. It also an explosion of flavors and has existed since the 5th century BC. The recipe was inherited from the Etruscans and passed down from generation to generation of “porchettari”. The most famous porchettari are those Ariccia and from Vallerano, two small towns in the Lazio region near Rome.
To this day, porchettari is no longer confined to the centre of Rome, but they are selling porchetta in the city’s consular roads. They no longer work from carts but they drive modern vans, which are equipped for the selling and serving process and they still offer this ancient delicacy in the way of fast food. Porchetta is displayed to the public with its inviting burnished crackly skin. It’s shiny and crunchy on the outside and tender and extremely flavorsome inside.
When costumers buy porchetta it is sliced by hand and the vendor make sure there are equal quantities of crackling, tender meat and stuffing. What lucky costumers they are!
Porchetta is sold either in portions and wrapped in brown paper or as a filling in a bread sandwich. There are two choices of bread: homemade from Genzano (baked in a wood burning oven) or normal bread made according to the regular modern bakery process. Porchetta can be eaten on the spot, or it is weighed and priced if taken away.
One point to consider is that porchetta must be eaten only when fresh and with a day of purchase. The mobile van selling porchetta does not go back its base unless the whole porchetta has been sold. It is the perfect marriage of fast food and slow food. From porchetta comes the words “porchettata” or “porchettato” and “in porchetta”. All these words define an Italian method of stuffing lamb, goat, and rabbit and, in some cases, even fish.
It is impossible to find the precise recipe of porchettari because the only key ingredients are listed. Essentially the full recipe is a secret. And so when costumers ask about the ingredients, the vendors sometimes alter the quantities and ingredients. They have become cunning after a few millennia of experience! It is extremely difficult to source porchetta in Italy if you are not in the Lazio region. Sourcing it abroad is impossible. You may find it vacuum packed on the grocery shelves in the supermarkets.

Drawn from Fettuccine Alfredo, Spaghetti Bolognaise & Caesar Salad by Maurizio Pelli.

For info: The Culinary Clinic by Maurizio Pelli.

Photo creditis: Tuscany a Modo Mio.