Travelling in Italy and not speak of Italian food? Well, that’s impossible. Italy is synonymous with pasta, pizza, and gelato. And any foodie will want to indulge in the delicious Italian cuisine. But when you have limited time and your eyes are bigger than your stomach (well, that’s me), it’s better to trust the experts. That way you can sample and see what Roman food has to offer.
On our four days in Rome, we went on a Roman food tour with EatingItaly (totally recommended). We sampled some authentic Roman foods in the non-touristy neighborhood of Testaccio, home to many of Rome’s culinary delights.
Roman food tour
Touring the neighborhood –
Testaccio used to be Rome’s working-class neighborhood. Now it is getting modernized and is still unknown to tourists. But as our guide said, this is where Roman food was born.
This neighborhood doesn’t have any notable tourist attractions, but in this tour you will learn some history and visit few interesting places. One such place is Testaccio’s food market. Mercado di Testaccio (Testaccio market) has been here for many years but is now moved to a new building. Most of the stalls are still run by the same family for generations, catering fresh produce to locals.
Rome’s slaughterhouse is also located in Testaccio. But it’s no more a slaughterhouse. It is 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, you will also come across a bizarre sight, a pyramid in Rome—the Pyramid of Cestius built in 12 BC.
And the most interesting place you will see and learn about: 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 you will visit 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 you will eat in this tour:
Sampling Roman food –
Pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) – 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 had, had tiny pieces of truffle.
At the same place Volpetti, you will also taste aged balsamic vinegar. And if you like what you have tasted, this is the place to stock up!
Tiramisu – You will have this popular Italian dessert in a chocolate cup.
Fresh mozzarella and Bruschetta – Sample fresh mozzarella in the market and make your own bruschetta on homemade bread.
Cannoli – A Sicilian staple dessert, this one will be freshly filled with ricotta right in front of you. Ooooh, so delicious!
After snacking on all these delicious fares, you will head to the restaurant Flavio al Velavevodetto. Here you can hog on sumptuous pastas—carbonara, bucatini all’amatriciana, and cacio e pepe; wash it all down with the housemade 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 (Thankfully. 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.
This is the only pasta I’m not a fan of. Guess it’s an acquired taste.
Gelato – You will bid goodbyes to your guide and new found friends over gelato at Giolitti. A family-run business, Giolitti has been making gelato since 1890.
You will learn how to distinguish real gelato from fake.
So, that’s how you can spend half a day discerning the flavors of Roman food. What you need to get along—a bottle of water, an empty stomach, a smile on your face, and two words ‘Buenisimo’ and ‘Grazie’.
(We spent four days in Rome in late September)