ROME — If Rome could have an edible mascot, it would be the maritozzo, a palm-size loaf of sweetened bread split open and filled with whipped cream. Ostentatious and yet sweetly unassuming, the maritozzo defines the Roman personality with its contradiction of flavors.

The maritozzo is old-school — a pastry that has been around for centuries. But its presence on the bar counter waned at the start of the 2000s, thanks to quick-fix pastries and coffee shops. Its origin has rival tales, and since we’re in Rome, no one will agree on either. According to some, the maritozzo men would present the small bun with a ring or jewel in it to their beloveds. Other unofficial culinary historians insist that the maritozzo was actually given by the woman to the potential spouse. Young women would convene on Colle Oppio, an ancient hill near the Colosseum, each presenting a loaf to a line of men.

Traditionalists argue there are only two kinds of maritozzo: 1. sweet, with sugared dough, and 2. savory, whose roll has pine nuts, raisins and candied orange, known as maritozzo quaresimale. But there are no laws governing what can fill up a maritozzo, which is why Rome is seeing a revival and burst of innovation for the pastry. And lucky for us, there’s a place to get every version in the city.

The centurion bakery: Regoli

Specialty: Maritozzo quaresimale con panna

Customers have been queuing at Regoli for more than a century. On the block since 1916, the multigenerational pastry shop is faithful to classic Italian dolci (dessert) like the maritozzo, mostacciolo, profiterole and mignons. In the past 10 years, owner Carlo Regoli has seen a resurgence in the maritozzo — in particular, a nostalgic love by millennials for the treat of yesteryear. “We’ve always had maritozzi. It seems like this generation is looking for something tangible to tradition,” Regoli said.

According to Regoli, the quintessential morning snack is maritozzo con panna and a cappuccino. But for the history buffs, Regoli serves a maritozzo quaresimale, the Lenten maritozzo whose recipe is appropriately observant (at least, some will say) for the pre-Easter fasting season. In other words, no indulgences, including no animal fats. Instead of butter, Regoli mixes his batter with oil, and accents it with pine nuts and raisins to create a maritozzo almost like its storybook origin.

Price: 2.50-3 euros

Address: Via dello Statuto, 60 (in Monti)

The twilight traditionalist: Il Maritozzaro

Specialty: Maritozzo con panna (cream-filled maritozzo)

Emilio Agostini knows what’s best — a simple maritozzo evenly split and slathered with cream; nothing fancy. He doesn’t waver from tradition. Agostini will tell you his are the best in the city, but what he won’t tell you is how he makes his dough so soft and sweet, nor will he tell you the secret to the cream. All he reveals of the recipe is that it has never changed since his father, Antonio, began making maritozzi in the late 1940s at a neighborhood cafe and then at his own Trastevere establishment since the 1950s. Il Maritozzaro is a Trastevere hangout, a no-fuss corner bar where you’ll find cornetti (croissants), tramezzini snack sandwiches and panini on the counter, and a constant flow of neighborhood customers walking through the door. As busy as it gets with the morning crowd, Agostini keeps Il Maritozzaro open late at night. “There’s nothing like a maritozzo after a long night out. Everyone comes here,” he says.

Price: 2 euros

Address: Via Ettore Rolli, 50 (in Trastevere)

The contemporary artisan: Roscioli

Specialty: Remaking near-extinct pastries

In 2016, the Roscioli brothers, of Rome’s historic bakery and restaurant, opened a contemporary coffee shop and pastry lab in the Campo de’ Fiori neighborhood, honoring a trifecta of tastes: salty, savory and sweet. Roscioli Caffe quickly became a destination for its top-quality coffee drinks and its beautiful confections and pastries. Pretty soon, the main draw for locals was the slew of pastries that emerged from the scented memories of owner Alessandro Roscioli and chef Rodrigo Bernoni.

Both have a penchant for storied Roman pastries, in particular the maritozzo. “It’s changed up a bit over the years,” Bernoni says. In fact, the maritozzo used to be dark brown, almost burned, but as it moved into the city, the pastry gentrified, and its appearance became more appealing. And so has Roscioli’s recipe; with the addition of milk, rum, vanilla and natural flavorings to the bun, the Roscioli maritozzo is the richest in the city. The pastry is so beloved, it’s the base for a range of confections, including mini-sandwiches and pangoccioli (chocolate chip sweet buns that Roman children love).

Price: 3 euros

Address: Piazza Benedetto Cairoli 16 (in Regola)

The start-up: Il Maritozzo Rosso

Specialty: The savory maritozzo salato

Three years ago, tech-support rep Edoardo Fraioli, sommelier Francesca Cappelli and vegetable farm owner Francesco Di Trocchio decided to pitch a gourmet idea to a start-up incubator. The idea was to upgrade the maritozzo and fill it with savory recipes that would work as an antipasto, snack or meal. For pastry puritans, it was a sacrilege. The incubator loved the idea, and so did Eataly, who invited the group, known as Il Maritozzo Rosso, to set up a pop-up in their Rome outpost.

A year later, Il Maritozzo Rosso opened its first bricks-and-mortar establishment in Trastevere. The tiny bolt-hole serves up homemade maritozzi salati filled with Roman recipes like picchiapo (long-stewed meat in a red sauce) and creative inventions like creamed baccala (codfish) with hummus. All ingredients are sourced from Di Trocchio’s farm and local vendors.

Price: 8 euros

Address: Vicolo del Cedro 26 (in Trastevere)

More on Italy from By The Way:

Neighborhood guides to Rome: Testaccio | Regola | Flaminio

Renowned chef Luciano Monosilio walks us through his signature dish, famous in Rome. (The Washington Post)