Now I’ve visited Rome as a tourist probably more than 20 times in my life… and now I live here. So why, you might ask, would I even consider doing a food tour of the city?
Well a friend of mine here runs Eating Italy Food Tours and after reading the rave reviews he has received, quite simply, I had to see what all the fuss was about (oh and a slight coincidence – you may have guessed – I love food!)
My cousin and friends were in Rome recently so it was a perfect opportunity to take some time off from all the regular tourist activities. And weren’t we glad we did!
Kenny, our tour guide, is American but has been living in Rome for about four years. For the past year he has lived in Testaccio – one of the oldest quarters of Rome – and with his passion for and knowledge of the area, you could be forgiven for thinking he’d been born and bred there! Locals and shopkeepers welcomed us to Testaccio with open arms and throughout the tour would stop him to say ‘Ciao’ and have a little chat.
Like I’ve mentioned before, Testaccio is what I like to call Trastevere’s cross-Tevere neighbour. In Roman times it was a slaughterhouse area and the centre of trade. It was of course where the butchers settled, so historically developed as a food centre and where Rome’s most traditional foods can still be found.
We met Kenny right out front of Testaccio Market at 10am and so began one of the most unique cultural and food journeys I’d ever been on – a deliciously beautiful journey of food, history, culture, community and local heroes.
In a ridiculous moment of food excitement or what you could even call food drunkenness, I may or may have not been quoted as over zealously stating, “This is the best day of my life!”
So, next time you’re in Rome you won’t want to miss one of Kenny’s food tours. Check them out at: http://www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com/.
Let these photos feed your mind and make your mouth water!
Cesare Family Butchers
First up, Kenny introduced us to Cesare – his family has been in the meat business in Testaccio since 1919!
Lina & Enzo’s – Cheese and Cold Meat Purveryors
We met Lina and Enzo who have been married for over 40 years and working with each other every single day for 25!! They maintain they have the best bufala (buffalo milk mozzarella) in all of Rome. I agree. It was one of the best I’ve ever had… and I’ve eaten it in the Campania region where it’s from and most famous.
The Tomato Poet
Carmelo is known in Testaccio as the Tomato Poet. As you can imagine, Italians take their tomatoes very seriously – in fact,
Kenny told us that approximately 95kg are consumed annually per capita (plus a lazy 25 cans of peeled tomatoes). This guy is amazing.
He apparently insists on you telling him exactly what you are cooking or using tomatoes for so that he can provide you with the perfect mix.
Now, I don’t eat tomatoes (yes I know, just about as bad as being an Italian who doesn’t drink coffee) but I did try one – a bit of a waste on someone who isn’t a fan, but from everyone else’s reaction, they were obviously pretty fantastic.
Volpetti Food Store
After Testaccio Market we were in for another treat. Our next stop was at Volpetti – Testaccio’s gourmet food store. I was like a kid in a lolly shop!
They stock everything from the finest cold meats, over 150 cheeses, oil, bread, nougat, artisan chocolate, the list goes on!
Here we had a sample of their salami and prosciutto, truffle infused pecorino cheese and various aged balsamic vinegars. Delicious! We stocked up on some produce for dinner that evening, including fried zucchini fritters.
Next was time for something sweet. Pasticceria Barberini have been baking pastries and cakes since 1955. Here we tried their tiramisu in a mini chocolate cup. I was in heaven!
Not just a food tour, we also visited some of Testaccio’s historic and cultural sites including Campo Testaccio (the first home stadium of AS Roma); Monte Testaccio (an artificial mound formed from disposed amphorae – large terracotta vessels used in Roman times to transport liquids – from the nearby port of Rome); the inter race and multifaith cemetery (the only one of its kind in the city where approximately 4000 non-catholics and expats are buried and even features the Bulgari family plot.
The cemetery has a huge concentration of artists, writers, scholars and diplomats buried here and most famously, English poets John Keats).
By the time we stopped for an actual lunch were just about full! But of course we polished off a few plates including a Carbonara, Amatriciana and Cacio e Pepe – the three most famous Roman dishes.
The restaurant, Flavio al Velavevodetto (note, ve l’avevo detto translates to ‘I told you so’ in English – the name the owner chose to spite all those who apparently thought he would never realise this restaurant dream!) is situated right in Monte Testaccio and through some glass panels you can see the piled pieces of amphorae that make up the mound. The food, needless to say, was divine!
Second last stop for the day was at 00100 Pizza – one of the most famous in all of Rome – for the best suppli` (rice balls). Here we tried Neapolitan Genovese suppli flavoured with a meat and onion sauce. Purely amazing.
Giolitti of Testaccio
Gelateria Giolitti is a Roman institution and after you taste their gelato it’s not hard to understand why. Kenny gave us a whole heap of tips on how to tell real gelato from the fakes. I’ve been into a few gelato shops since – just to put this new education to good use! Here’s my caffe and crema (coffee and custard flavour with fresh cream on top!)
On top of the tour and tastings, Kenny also gave us a guide listing all the places we’d visited along the way as well as his favourite restaurants, pizzerias, food stores and gelaterias around the city – it’s the tour that just keeps on giving!
Thanks so much Kenny… I like to say that I’ve been getting to know Rome for almost 15 years and this has been one of my favourite and most memorable experiences to date. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat… hmmm now that’s a thought!
Signing off from Trastevere