Italy is synonymous with pasta, pizza, and gelato. But when you have limited time and your eyes are bigger than your stomach (well, that’s me), it is better to trust the experts. A food tour is the best way to sample everything that Roman food has to offer.
On our four days in Rome, we went on a Roman food tour with EatingItaly, a tour which I would recommend to anyone traveling to Rome.
We sampled some authentic Roman foods in the non-touristy neighborhood of Testaccio, home to many of Rome’s culinary delights.
Roman food tour
A tour of the neighborhood –
Testaccio used to be Rome’s working-class neighborhood and is still unknown to tourists. As I write this post, this neighborhood is getting gentrified.
Our guide said, Testaccio is where Roman food was born. This neighborhood doesn’t have any notable tourist attractions, but in this tour we learnt some history and visited a few interesting places. One such place is Testaccio’s food market. Mercado di Testaccio (Testaccio market) has been there for many years. Though the market is moved to a new building, most of the stalls are still run by the same family and caters fresh produce to locals.
Rome’s slaughterhouse is also located in Testaccio. Now this slaughterhouse has been converted to an art gallery.
Then, there is a non-catholic cemetery housing the graves of English poets John Keats and P.B. Shelley. Here, we also came across a bizarre sight, a pyramid. The Pyramid of Cestius was built in 12 BC.
The most interesting place we saw while exploring Testaccio: Monte Testaccio. Monte Testaceo is an artificial hill or mound made of stacked up broken pots (called amphora) that were once used to store olive oil. Now, these hills are surrounded by restaurants as the layers of amphorae provide natural air-conditioning. Read all about Monte Testaceo here.
In the walking food tour of Testaccio we visited all the places I mentioned above in addition to sampling some delicious foods in the local market, salumeria (delicatessen), tavola calda (cafeteria), trapizzino (street food snack shop), pasticceria (bakery cake shop), gelateria, and trattoria (restaurant).
So, let’s look at the food we ate in this Roman food tour:
A taste of Roman food –
Pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) – We started our culinary tour with a small portion of a Roman pizza, the classic Pizza margherita. Roma pizza, unlike the ones in Naples, are thin crust.
Seafood lovers, don’t leave Rome without having Roman pizza with anchovies. I just cannot express how yummy they are!
Supplì – Supplì is a fried ball of rice with meat, tomato sauce, and melted mozzarella. It is a quintessential Roman snack.
Cornetti – This is what Italians have for breakfast along with their cappuccino. Cornetti is not a croissant. They are a bit different from croissants in the way they are made, their shape, and their taste.
Cured meats – Prosciutto and salami. Delicious melt-in-your-mouth Italian cured ham.
Pecorino and aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese – Parmesan cheese is made from cows milk and only the ones made in certain provinces in Italy can be labelled as Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Pecorino cheese is made from sheep’s milk. The one we sampled had tiny pieces of truffle.
At the same place Volpetti, we will also tasted aged balsamic vinegar.
Tiramisu – The ever popular Italian tiramisu was served to us in a chocolate cup.
Fresh mozzarella and Bruschetta – We tried out some fresh mozzarella in the market and made our own bruschetta on homemade bread.
Cannoli – A Sicilian staple dessert, this one was freshly filled with ricotta right in front of us. Ooooh, so delicious!
After snacking on all these delicious fares, we headed to the restaurant Flavio al Velavevodetto for the main meal. Here we hogged on sumptuous pastas—carbonara, bucatini all’amatriciana, and cacio e pepe and washed it all down with the house red and white wine.
Romans like their pasta al-dente, that is, slightly undercooked. But for us, in this restaurant, the pasta was perfectly cooked. At least, that’s how I like it.
Carbonara – Pasta (usually spaghetti) with eggs, cheese (usually Parmigiano-Reggiano), bacon, and black pepper.
Bucatini all’amatriciana – Amatriciana is a traditional Roman pasta sauce made with tomato, cured pork cheek, and pecorino cheese. In this trattoria we were served bucatini all’amatriciana. Bucatini pasta is thicker than spaghetti and has a hole in the center. Amatriciana pasta is my favorite among all the three pastas we had, and the one here was the best we had.
Cacio e pepe – Meaning “cheese and pepper”. This is again a very traditional Roman pasta. And as the name suggests, this dish has only three ingredients–pasta, pecorino romano, and black pepper.
Gelato – We bid goodbyes to our guide and new found friends over gelato at Giolitti. A family-run business, Giolitti has been making gelato since 1890. Here, we learnt how to distinguish real gelato from fake. Yes, you read it correct—there are fake gelatos out there.
So, that’s how we spent half a day discerning the flavors of Roman food.
If you plan on going on a food tour, the only things you should get along are a bottle of water (which can be re-filled at the many fountains along the way), an empty stomach, a smile on your face, and two words ‘Buenisimo’ and ‘Grazie’.
(We spent four days in Rome in late September)