A food tour of Rome
Through VRBO, we rented a fantastic garden level apartment in the working class neighborhood of Testaccio. In our private walled garden, we had ruins peering over at us as we dined alfresco. Within walking distance of the city center, it was a peaceful alternative to the crushing tourism of the Vatican and other must-see sites.
Testaccio is rich in history, but with no major tourists sites, it is relatively quiet and very authentic. In Roman times, food for Rome was transported to the neighborhood in clay pots called amphorea. The food inside these pots, such as olive oil or wine, would degrade the containers, which made then un-reusable. The pots were broken and thrown into a pile, which over many, many years became a hill. Even today, when walking by Monte Testaccio, you can see remnants of clay pots sticking out of the hillside. The other cool attraction for literary lovers is the non-Catholic cemetery. In this peaceful, almost garden-like cemetery lies the graves of two famous English poets, Keats and Shelley.
However, let's get to the food, shall we? We have learned fast that when traveling with a teenager, there are only so many monuments or churches that be toured before the eyes start rolling back and sighs become standard conversation. "Really, this again? How can this church be any different than the last church?" If I threw food into the mix, chances were that Dear Daughter would have a good time and end up learning something ... which is why we always take a food tour when traveling. With a little bit of advance research, I came across Eating Italy, a tour company that specialized not only in walking food tours of Rome but also had a food tour of our neighborhood, Testaccio.
The group was small, no more than 10 people. After a quick introduction, we headed to our first location, Dess'Art, which we learned was THE place in Rome to get cannoli. Incredible and not too sweet, it was a great start to the afternoon.
Next stop was the gourmet food shop called Volpetti. Two brothers opened the store more than 40 years ago and still work the counters. There is no way that you are going to get out of there without sampling something ... and, consequently, buying. I left with prosciutto, cheeses and aged balsamic vinegar — the start of a picnic.
Over the course of four hours, we toured the neighborhood, sampling delights such as suppli (fried risotto balls), authentic Roman pizza and gelato. We learned how to know if the gelato was real or fake. We learned why thick Roman pizza was sold during the day, while pizzerias serving thin-crust, wood-fired pizzas were only open in the evening. We lingered at the indoor food hall and actually made a quick bruschetta with the freshest tomatoes, and sampled real buffalo mozzarella. If that wasn't enough, we had lunch at Flavio al Velavevodetto, which is known worldwide for its spaghetti carbonara.
In the end, we really felt part of the neighborhood. Over the course of the next several days, we visited many of these locations again. From our garden, we glanced at the ruins while enjoying our tasty morsels and dreaming of returning one day. And yes, we did manage to leave the neighborhood to see those other sites: the Vatican, Circus Maximus, the Coliseum. But we loved coming back to “our place” at the end of the day.
Whether you are a foodie or not, I would highly recommend booking a three- or four-hour food tour when on vacation. It is a great way to get acclimated to the area, learn about the culture and history, and see some spectacular sights. And when in Rome, book an Eating Italy food tour!