Grattachecca!

My love of granita is well documented. Hailing from Sicily, granita is made with fruit juice or coffee, liberally sugared, perhaps supplemented by other flavorings (ground almonds or pistachios, for example) and then frozen. As it freezes, the mixture is stirred around every hour or so, until you are left with a slushy mush of icy deliciousness.

Hello granita!

The Roman variant is called grattachecca (gratta-keh-kah) and it’s also highly refreshing on a boiling hot day — the type of day that seems to be in endless supply during the Roman summer. Grattachecca consists of freshly grated ice topped with fruit syrup and sometimes with fresh fruit.

Lemon scraped ice

‘Gratta’ means scrape and ‘checca’ is the name for the big blocks of ice that were used to keep things cold in pre-refrigerator days. Early in the last century, some bright spark got the notion to scrape some ice, chuck it in a glass, cover it with fruit juice or syrup and sell it by the side of the road.

This lady is carrying on a tradition that is reportedly thousands of years old.

The clever vendor was actually following a looonnngggg tradition of adding flavorings to snow, with Persia, Greece and China all claiming the honor of introducing the notion to Rome thousands of years ago. Quintus Fabius Maximus, who was very briefly the suffect consul of Rome (in 45 B.C.), supposedly imported snow from Mount Terminillo in the Apennines to be flavored with sweet syrups and distributed by thermopolia (booths selling hot and cold beverages).

Modern day thermopolia

Below are some well-known grattachecca places in Rome. Fonte d’Oro will be a century old next year and was where Marcello Mastroianni and Anna Magnani got their fix. And the Obama family enjoyed grattacheccas at Sora Mirella when they were in Rome in 2009.

Fonte d’Oro
Lungotevere Sanzio/Piazza Belli
Trastevere quarter. Open 12 pm-2 am

Sora Mirella
Lungotevere degli Anguillara
Trastevere quarter at the Cestio Bridge. Open 12 pm-3:30 am

Sora Lella
Via Porta Cavalleggeri
near St Peter’s Basilica. Open 11 am- 2am

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