For a Filipino studying in Rome, access to affordable Filipino food is essential. In a country where there is an obssession with the two Ps (pasta and pizza), it is important to have hearty alternatives when it comes to sitting down for a meal. That is why I was delighted when I discovered Sarap Restaurant in 2013, a year after it opened.
Ironically, it was a guest visiting me who introduced me to Sarap. She and her family found it while exploring Rome and they took me there on their last evening in Rome to thank me for my hospitality.
Sarap can be found in Viale Giulio Cesare, 113/B, 00192 Rome, about five minutes’ walk from St Peter’s Basilica. It is a restaurant located in a basement, and easily missed if you do not already know where it is. However, the Philippine flag displayed outside helps one to identify it. The nearest Metro station is Ottaviano.
Sarap is light and airy. As you go down the steps to enter the restaurant, you will be greeted with signs saying “Welcome” in different languages. The welcome does not stop there, as the staff always await and serve with a smile. You place your order at the counter and when you pay you will be given a number which will be called out when your food is ready. In this sense, Sarap resembles the likes of McDonalds and Burger King more than a more formal restaurant.
But the informality is one of the things I like best about Sarap. It is the sort of place where you can go to for a quick bite, while still expecting the taste of a home cooked meal. It is a relaxing place, ideal both for when you fancy a quiet time alone by yourself or an unplanned meals with friends.
The prices of the combo meals start from €5.50, complete with bottled water. All the traditional Filipino fare are on offer: noodles (including my favourite, pansit palabok), adobo, kare kare, sinigang, crispy pata and lechon kawali to name but a few. For dessert, there are cassava cake, hopia and the like, with the perennial favourite halo-halo being offered in the summer months.
Now for the acid test: what is the food like? For the uninitiated, “sarap” is a root Filipino word that can be used to mean “delicious”. Does the restaurant live up to its name? Generally, yes. I have been a regular customer for several years now and I have yet to leave the restaurant feeling disappointed. The portions are generous and there is a wide range of Filipino favourites to choose from.
That said, I have probably ordered pansit palabok more times than any other item on the menu. It reminds me of home and I can almost pretend to be back there when eating it. At €5.50 including bottled water, pansit palabok is one of the cheapest meals but I would happily pay a couple more euros for extra toppings. Some of my favourite toppings are missing, including smoked fish, prawns and squid. Also, they tend to put too much sauce over the noodles. But hey, I’m just being too fussy. Let this photo tell you everything:
The facts that I have become a regular customer and that a second branch in Rome is now open are testaments to Sarap’s appeal. There are at least four other Filipino restaurants in Rome (which I also hope to review in the coming months) but Sarap is the one that I keep going back to. The food is affordable and the restaurant has a welcoming ambience that makes me feel at home, which is important when I want to escape from my day-to-day routine in Rome. If I could change certain things, I would do away with the plastic cutlery and use real ones (to save the environment) and I would make halo-halo available throughout the year. If you can buy gelato in the middle of winter in Italy, there is no reason why you should not be able to enjoy the Filipino equivalent through the year too. The toilet, while clean, can also do with some refurbishing.
If you need further convincing, here are photos of His Eminence Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales (left) and a couple of my English friends (right) enjoying the Sarap experience.