In Rome, once again, we enjoyed Italian cuisine (carbonara, mi amore!), wine, gelato, architecture, history, and watching people (tourists and locals alike). It seems like those are reason ENOUGH to go to Roma! Nothing like Rome to appreciate cultural diversity and food delights!
When I travel with friends, I don’t just travel with anyone. I travel with folks who love wine, food, exploring, and chilling – like me. One of my friend’s is a personal chef and she and her husband are big foodies (and so will be their baby one day!). Before the trip, they looked for opportunities to sample food beyond lunch/dinner. They found an awesome food tour in the Testaccio area of Rome, an area I had not explored or had even heard of before. The tour is organized by Eating Italy Food Tours, founded by a native from Philly. Domenico, also from Philly, was our tour guide that day and he was definitely the right guy to show us around! (Check them out at http://www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com/ .)
We arrived to the Testaccio area after passing a pyramid by a cemetery. Rome’s city walls seem to have been built around it. I had no idea there was a pyramid in Rome! It is called the Pyramid of Cestius as it was built as a tomb for a guy with that name. What was incredible to me is that it was built 10-20 yrs BEFORE Christ. It is incredible!
The food tour took us to the cemetery on the side of the pyramid which used to be where foreigners were interred in Rome in the not so distant past. It is referred to as the Protestants’ or the Englishmen’s cemetery. One of its most famous “eternal residents” is the poet Keats who died very young (I did learn something, see??). You must be wondering when am I getting to the food. So am I. So let me get back on track.
We started at the old local market which is marked for demolition in the very near future as they have built a brand new place for these folks. Sounded wonderful until our tour guide told us the vendors’ rent will be doubled which will likely put a few of them out of business. Yes, the old market wasn’t a beacon of perfection but it definitely had charm! Among the things we sampled was real mozzarella di bufala made by a lady named Lina – now I know how real mozzarella di bufala is supposed to taste like!! Here are some of the sights at the market:
After the local market, we meandered towards Volpetti which, as soon as I saw the sign, I recognized from an Anthony Bourdain episode I had recently watched! Volpetti is this piece of heaven on Via Marmorata, near the Pyramid. All sorts of cheeses, balsamic vinergars, cured and dried meats like prosciutto, etc. We got to sample (as we did everywhere in this tour) and my favorite was the San Daniele prosciutto (vs. Parma prosciutto – which was still good!). The San Daniele had a certain tinge of sweetness that I enjoyed. Needless to say, we loaded up on some goodies for that evening’s dinner (we decided there were too many good things not to devote one dinner in the apartment to them!). Prosciutto is worth reading about and sampling – here is a quick overview of this delicious piece of ham: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosciutto. An another that covers the difference between pancetta (bacon) and prosciutto (ham): http://italianalmanac.org/06may/ham.htm
Right after Volpetti and further down Marmorata, we stopped at Barberini’s were the pastries all were calling my name, winking at me. Not being a cultural chauvinist, I understood they were tempting me. Of course I accepted the morsels we were given to sample including tiramisu in a tiny cup made of chocolate (modeled here by my friend Chris):
On our way to further destinations in the tour, we passed a hill called Monte Testaccio. If you don’t know any better, you walk right past it. It has vegetation and was behind a fence when we hit upon it. However, our tour guide stopped to tell us about it. Folks, it is not a real hill that mother nature (or Mother Nature, lest lightning strike me) created. In the old days, and I mean, the OLD days, people used amphoras to store and carry things. However, when they were used for olive oil, the amphoras were not really re-usable for long. So, they would break them up and pile them on what became a hill over time. Vegetation grew and the hill – someone discovered – would offer in its innards a great place to store wine at the perfect temperature! So in old days (not OLD days), small caves were built for this purpose. It no longer seems to be used for this but remains a great witness to how the old Romans did things. The area has become trendy with nightclubs while still hosting traditional trades like butchers.
After a little meandering, we next came to 00100 Pizza where we were in for a real treat: suppli – a cheesy fried rice ball that was a foodie’s dream.
As our mouths continued to water, we made it to the place, Da Bucatino, where we would have a traditional Italian lunch centered around bucatini, a thick and hollow spaghetti-like pasta (not common here in the States) in amatriciana sauce (my favorite red sauce). I did my best to clean the plate though all the sampling along the way was competing for space in my stomach!
Finally, after the day of sampling great cheeses, meats, pasta, and the like we ended up at a neighborhood gelato place called Giolitti. It has been there since the early 20th century. A place where the gelato and the panna are all homemade – true artisans! What a difference a homemade makes.
So, a little more off the beaten path than the Rome that most tourists see (including me in my first 2 trips there), yet a stone’s throw away from all those places, the Testaccio area offers not only great food but a different scene with history and charm to along with it. Don’t miss it next time in Rome!
Other things I enjoyed in Rome:
- The Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum
- Basilicas and the Pantheon
- Ceilings of Rome and the Vatican
- Campo de Fiore and the Trastevere.
What other lesser known areas of Rome have you seen and would you recommend them to others?
(Photos taken with Canon EOS Rebel T1I)