has anybody tried the free meals in rome at the universitys that are avialiable to the public and are talked about in some of rick steves books.
free? Mensas charge but a reasonable price.
In all the trips I've eaten (only lunch) at three university Mensas, Tech Uni on Hardenbergstraße in Berlin , University of Kiel, and Tech Uni in Vienna near Karlsplatz The result was good cheap food at each. The Mensa is open to the public, I certainly was not the only non-student or staff member having lunch at the Mensa. First of all, the meals are not free, they're at a much reduced price, including beer. Both Vienna and Berlin having lunch there was more than once...no one asks you for ID or anything.
I've never heard of food being free at mensas in Europe either, and there can commonly (and sensibly) be a higher price for guests than for students with the proper ID.
The closest thing to "free" I've ever seen for tourists in Italy are the bars which offer aperitivo (a selection of snacks) included in the price of a drink, usually in the early evenings. But inexpensive eats are found everywhere: look for pizza al Taglio (by the slice) and panini outlets; they display their offerings in the window. Pick up fruit and other picnic-type staples at the markets. Bring a water bottle and drink free from fountains all over Rome: very clean and very good (unless marked as non potabile).
A net search for eating on the cheap in Rome will turn up a ton of recommendations.
As I remember it (it has been some years) student had tickets which they bought for heavily subsidized price. They got their meal for the ticket. Public paid cash, price was higher but still low.