I first tried fritto di cervelli e carciofi in the early 1980s. I was working at Rex il Ristorante, an Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, but once a year our boss Mauro Vincenti took us on a trip to Italy.
While in Rome we’d visit Trattoria Al Moro, in an alley next to the Trevi Fountain. Since it opened in the 1920s it’s been a Rome institution. Famous clientele – politicians, journalists, director Federico Fellini – are immortalised in photos and news clippings
on the walls.
Vincenti always ordered for us: classic Roman dishes like tagliatelle con le rigaje (pasta in a tomato sauce with chicken innards); spaghetti al Moro, the restaurant’s own twist on carbonara; and my favourite dish – fritto di cervelli e carciofi.
When I was in Rome last year I took my family to Al Moro.
The dish – lightly seasoned slices of lamb brain, dipped in egg, dredged in flour and deep-fried until light brown –is served with Roman-style fried artichokes. Under the
hot, crispy batter, the lamb brain is completely different from any other meat – soft, almost like ricotta cheese, with a very rich flavour.
I didn’t tell my children that it was lamb brain… I said it was chicken. They both liked it, but realised right away I was lying. (Now they know what it is, they still love it.)
In Italian cuisine, much like Chinese, it’s important no part of the animal goes to waste. For this reason, traditional dishes, especially in Rome, often feature offal: animelle (sweetbreads), coratella (heart, lungs, liver), milza (spleen), fegato (liver). And, if you know where to look, cervello (brain).
Each time I visit Rome I go back to Al Moro: to remember my old boss, and to eat my favourite dish.
Umberto Bombana is the chef at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana in Hong Kong’s Central district
Cathay Pacific flies to Rome from Hong Kong seven times a week