Beyond Pasta & Pizzas: A Taste of Testaccio, Rome Italy
Beyond the Colosseum, Vatican and the Pantheon lies the other side of Rome, the side that's usually less visited by tourists. Testaccio, the working class neighbourhood and where cucina romana (Roman cuisine) was born, is Rome's foodie destination. It's the place where you roll up your sleeves, walk through the meandering alleys and getting digging into some real, authentic Italian food. I went on a 4-hour walking food tour with Eating Italy with Alexandra as our tour guide. An American who loved Rome and her Italian food, Alexandra was a lovely guide. I highly recommend visiting the website and reserving your spot to avoid disappointments. Don't let the price tag deter you, it's worth every penny spent!
We were an interesting mix of people world over who met up for the tour - just the thing I love on walking tours where you interact with different cultures. Our starting point was at L'Oasi della Birra, a tiny cafe good enough to pick up a bottle of water and espresso while you wait for the tour to start. Alexandra handed out a flyer that outlined our food pit stops giving us an overview of what we are about to experience and eat :) I'll be lying if I said I wasn't drooling already.
Our first stop was Barberini (Via Marmorata 41), a local bar or cafe where we try and start the morning just like the Romans do: an espresso and a bite-size sweet treat. Apparently the Italians like to have their breakfast standing and quick service too and hence, you'll hardly find chairs in these local cafes. In fact, you might even get charged if you choose to take a seat!
Italians also appreciate sweet breakfasts and we got to sample the two most commonly ordered - the Cornetti, the Italian version of a French croissant with less sugar and butter, and Tiramisu which literally means 'pick me up' or 'pull me up'; refers to the little extra sugar rush in the morning? :)
Our second stop, not far from the local cafe, was a deep dive into Italian vinegars and oils, oil infused salami, traditional vegetable preparations, Prosciutto which are Italian dry-cured ham, truffled pecorino and so much more, at Volpetti (Via Marmorata 47). The Italian food store was opened by two brothers Emilio and Claudio Volpetti around 40 years ago who now proudly have their sons joining them on the shop floor too.
Here is a tasting of what was to unfold once we stepped in (wild boar salami, bresaola which is air-dried beef, pecorino and parmesan cheese):
Seen below is sampling some authentic balsamic vinegar, selected of cured meats and freshly made salads:
Next up in line was everyone's favorite - Pizza! But not just any pizza. This was the best pizza al taglio (pizza by slice) served in town - Volpetti Più (Via Alessandro Volta 8). The story goes something like this: Pizza was born in Naples around the 1800. In 1905, when the first Italian immigrants moved to New York city, that's when pizza went to a whole new different level, something like how we know it today. The Roman pizza is often known for it's thin crust and minimal ingredients. Here's a fact I really enjoyed learning on this tour: Italians have the whole pizza by themselves - no sharing! Much unlike what the rest of us do when we order several pizzas for sharing and tasting :)
The owner, quite popular for his animatics, tempting us with some Pomodoro di Riso (rice stuffed Roman tomatoes) for EUR5.00 :
Testataccio Market (Via Beniamino Franklin) is a gastronomic treat for all five senses. The food market is ebullient and bursting with colours of reds, purples, greens, yellows and oranges - stellar! It's difficult to keep your attention at one food stall when there's so much intervening with sights and scents.
Making our own little samples of a Tomato bruschetta and Caprese salad, fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil served with fresh (and I mean FRESH!) buffalo mozzarella cheese:
To finish off our market visit, we made a last stop at small stall where they made fresh ricotta-filled Sicilian cannolo - I'll let the picture do all the talking:
What's an Italian food tour without pasta, right? Well this next food stop was a mandatory one. We had to indulge in the real thing, the way the Romans prepare their pasta. "What have I been eating all this time?" was the thought that ran through my head with every bite into my pasta. We tried Carbonara (egg and cream based), Cacio e Pepe (pepper and cheese) and Pomodoro Basilico (tomatoes and basil) at the award-winning restaurant, Flavio Al Velavevodetto (Via di Monte Testaccio 97).
By now, I was ready to loosen a button because I knew I was still two food stops aways to the end. Next up was a small but famous local joint, Trapizzino (Via Giovanni Branch 88), where we sampled a Suppli - a rice ball fried to golden brown perfection. I suddenly knew why it's was Rome's favourite all-time street food snack.
And finally, we had to end the tour with a gelato! Giolitti (Via America Vespucci 35) has been serving some of the best gelato in town since 1914. There's nothing better than savouring a cone of ice-cold gelato under the hot Roman sun. Here are some tips to recognise authentic gelato from the commercial ones:
- they will be flat and not displayed as heaps of gelato (it's all the stabilizers that interact with air and get fluffy)
- uses only natural ingredients
- color will be true for instance, banana will not be a pure yellow colour!
- last but not the least, avoid the gelato parlours near the tourist spots :)