The tradition of rice balls (supplì) in Rome

If you are looking for an unforgettable risotto in Rome, you will not have an easy life. The Romans, as the Neapolitans and the southerners, were used to use rice in case of disturbances gastric and intestinal. In fact, even the ancient Romans considered rice like medicine.
Rice was long linked to the role of medicine even when the Aragonese dynasty introduced the cultivation in Salerno in the fifteenth century. For long-time Salerno had the reputation for best rice production until the cultivation passed in Lombardy due to the favorable environmental conditions.
Italy then split into two, the Northern regions related to the use of rice and the Southern ones related to the pasta. In Rome we call the famous rice balls “supplì, in Naples “sartù, in Puglia “tiella”, in Sicily Arancini.

The supplì is one of the symbols of the Roman fried food: it can be an appetizer, a side dish, a finger food, a snack or lunch standing. What matters most is that it is well done.
A well-made rice supplì in Rome must comply with certain rules.

  1. Size and shape. Not too small, nor too big, with the shape of an egg able to be eaten in two bites.
  2. Mozzarella. A cube of mozzarella must be placed at the center of the rice balls.
  3. Dry frying. The outside of the rice balls, covered with grounded dry bread, should be like a dry scab.

At the first or at the second bite, you will taste the melted mozzarella that will leave a long wire. Because of that, the Roman rice balls are called “supplì style phone” (in memory of the telephone wires).
The name supplì comes from the French word “surprise” and it is related to the effect of mozzarella.

In Rome many pizzerie, trattorie, restaurants or street market sell supplì.

Some important historians and intellectuals, when in Rome, were delighted by the quality of supplì. It also seems that James Joyce talked about it 20 years after his trip to Italy. So, you can not leave Rome without tasting supplì.