Taste of Testaccio, a Rome Food Tour. Rome, the eternal city welcomes you with its thousand churches, palaces, and fountains. It charms you with its warmth, its friendly smile, its great food, and magic.
[Disclaimer: We were offered a free Rome Food Tour by Eating Europe. All opinions expressed are our own]
One of the best ways to discover a city is through its food. Food that is at the root of its culture, so iconic that you immediately associate it with that part of the globe. Taking part in an Eating Tour is a wonderful experience, one where you immerse yourself into the culture and get a real taste of the food and local life.
Song of the day: "Sotto il Segno Dei Pesci" by Antonello Venditti.
Have you ever visited a friend in a different city and had them show you around their part of town? Well, that was the experience with this food tour!
Taste of Testaccio
N: We have to thank "Eating Europe" for offering us to experience Rome like a true local (which I am!) - and far from the tourist crowds, in the "heart of Rome, Testaccio". Testaccio is a quieter and less touristy area (quartiere) in Rome, which pulses with the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It is worth visiting for its unusual history, quirky sights, amazing market, and excellent food scene. Testaccio is Rome's original foodie neighborhood bursting with flavors and where cucina romana (Roman cuisine) was born.
Taste of Testaccio, the guided 4-hour walking food tour, lets you experience Rome like a local, in an authentic neighborhood where people live, eat and shop.
We met Luca, Luke for friends, our amazing guide for the day, at "Oasi della Birra", set on the edge of Piazza Testaccio (the main square), best known for its aperitivo (happy hour) buffet. We sat outside on one of the few picnic tables that make up the street-side terrace, waiting for the rest of the group to show up and in the meantime talking with Luke, a Tuscan who now lives in Rome, and speaks excellent English.
Panificio (Bakery) Passi
N: The first stop, after meeting Luke was at a memorable Panificio (bakery), Passi. Memories of family ventures there flooded me as I approached the entrance. Almost every Saturday morning we would go to the outdoor market in the square close by for fruits and vegetables and also for one of the best shoe selling stall in Rome. After the shopping, a stop at the Panificio was in order. They are renowned not only for bread, but pizza a taglio (by the slice), supplì, and typical Roman cookies (ciambelline, biscotti), crostata, cakes.
L: I love going into these places when the locals are there. There are this charisma and warmth you feel as they converse about the weather, politics, and finally what they are going to buy. No one is in a hurry, everyone seems to be enjoying their shared love of quality food.
The owners working not being shy to boast about how good their product is. However, it's not about being the best, it's about doing what you love and being good at it. One thing in Italy, if your food is good and the price is right, many will come and we were dodging people left right and center, lol.
Thanks to Luke we were greeted with open arms and food to eat! We got to try pizza rossa (tomato pizza), pizza con patate (potato pizza), and suppli (deep-fried breaded rice in tomato sauce ovals with mozzarella in the center) which were so good and we were so hungry after smelling fresh baked bread and pizza! Gotta love when you bite into a crispy crunch surface of a suppli and in the center there is this gooey stringy cheese that stretches out and hence you have to juggle a bit to get it into your mouth!
N: Everybody knows the Sicilian Arancini, but very few know about the Roman relative, Supplì. Round the first, oval the second. Supplì (with the accent on the i) is our favorite street food, together with pizza al taglio, and also part of a "deep-fried antipasto platter" we always get at a pizzeria before ordering pizza.
Too bad I was busy eating and I don't have a picture that shows the string of mozzarella in the center that stretches endlessly and that is the reason why in Rome supplì are also called supplì al telefono.
N: The Testaccio covered market is one of the oldest and best-loved in Rome, dating back to 1914 and many of the stalls have been passed down through families for generations. Until 2012 it was located outside, in Piazza Testaccio, close to the Panificio Passi, then they moved it a bit further up, making it a covered market, and giving back the beautiful square to the people.
Unfortunately, in August, most of the stalls were closed for holidays and it looked quite deserted and not vibrant as it would be in other times of the year. You see shutters down with colorful signs saying chiuso per ferie (closed for holidays).
L: Our next stop was a market which is like a bazaar. There are many vendors of various types from five and dimes where you can find anything under the sun.
You see tailors, electronic shops, clothes, shoes, and knick-knacks. However, the most important are the fruit and vegetable stands, delis, and these wonderful places to get lunch because they have the most delicious pizza, grilled vegetables, verdura (greens) and lasagna or beautifully baked Parmigiana.
We had a super fresh bruschetta with these sweet rich cherry tomatoes and basil, not to mention a good amount of extra virgin olive oil and a slather of fresh garlic on the bread. Also, we had a Caprese salad with the most creamy, soft, super delicious mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella). Talk about fresh!
One would think "oh my God, I am getting full!" but the best part about this tour is all the walking, as a result, digestion happens quite quickly and phewww! good thing, because we have a few more stops all with food to taste!
N: Just a refresher on Italian 1:1. Show that you talk like a true Italian, pronouncing Bruschetta correctly, which is broo·skeh·tuh (CH in Italian is K in English).
L: I have to say Masto was my favorite stop. We were greeted by Rita, one of the owners of this restaurant/alimentari (grocery store). Right away you can feel her passion for local and fresh ingredients. She also had a lot of pride in the food they serve. Masto is a place that would be good to go to with a group of friends and share charcuterie and small plates with a very good selection of wines from different regions of Italy.
The ambiance is very calming and inviting and the food so so delicious from the cheeses to the Italian deli meats. A great accompaniment to the wines that Rita chose for us!
Just wanted to say thanks to Rita for making us laugh and feel right at home in your restaurant! We left with big smiles, this is definitely a place I would go back to for sure!
Mattatoio, Monte Testaccio, Piazza Testaccio
L: Mattatoio is an interesting place. Today it is a museum, school for music, and an art museum. This space is the size of many football fields and back in 1890, when it was completed, it was a slaughterhouse up until 1975 when it was moved to an Eastern suburb.
They say the reason it was moved was because of the smell. As a result, enough people complained hence moving the slaughterhouse elsewhere.
I can only imagine the stench on a hot 40 degree Celsius summer day and cuts of meat hanging and not to mention what dripped down onto the cobblestone, unbearable in my eyes. I could not imagine what the workers went through day in day out, however, it was work and one that paid enough!
L: You will find these 'fontanella' (water fountain) on many street corners where you can fill your water bottle with fresh cool water. A blessing in summer in Italy where you can have temperatures into the high 30's and even into the 40's!
N: Fontanella is also called "nasone" by the locals, which means large nose. There are approx 2.500 nasoni all over Rome! Think about saving money and plastic! Do you know that there are different ways to drink from it, other than filling your water bottle? You can drink from the spout, of course. Additionally, most nasoni have a hole located at the top of the spout, allowing to drink from the fountain by blocking the bottom hole and forcing the water upwards. Try, it's fun!
"Flavio Al Velavevodetto", a Traditional Roman Restaurant
L: Luke took us to this restaurant as the tour was just about at the end. Nicoletta and I were very excited to try this restaurant. It just so happened that we saw a YouTube video where three Roman chefs (one was Flavio) were teaching how to make a proper Carbonara and critiquing some other chefs that had done this pasta dish. Couldn't wait to try how he makes it!
A little story behind the name. It sounds very Italian and charismatic as the culture is, however, when translated it says, Flavio I Told You So. Seems like a funny name for a restaurant! Not really, there is a story.
Flavio was a chef with a dream to have a place all his own. His friends always teased him and didn't think he would ever achieve his dream. One day he invited his friends to a restaurant for dinner and it was there that he told them that it was his. He told them 'I told you so' and there you have it.
L: There were three types of pasta to try, all Roman specialties. Cacio e Pepe, Amatriciana, and last but not least Carbonara. They were all amazing. Cacio e Pepe with homemade pasta (tonnarelli), the other ones with rigatoni. All accompanied by a really good red wine of the region called 'Cesanese'.
Oh, I wanted to talk about where this restaurant is located. It is literally a cave in the depths of the mountain of Testaccio. The neat thing is there is this window wall where you see layer upon layer of clay pot shards. You might be thinking what is the relevance of these shards well I am going to tell you.
This mountain (Monte Testaccio) is not a natural phenomenon. It was made in ancient times by the people of this area. They used clay pots to store their food, however, found out that because the pots were so coarse inside they were very hard to clean hence a potential health risk. So what did they do? They crushed them and piled them up hence a lot of clay and the result, a mountain.
Back to this window wall in this restaurant. They found out that the mountain with these layers of clay was kind of like a humongous air conditioner. I tried, I opened one of the windows and this cool windy draft hit me. Truly amazing and another testament of Roman technology!
If you are ever in Rome I would highly recommend trying this restaurant.
Piramide and The Protestant Cemetery (Cimitero Acattolico)
L: Our next leg before hitting up a Gelateria was a bit of a history tour. We went to a famous Protestant Cemetery. It has a specialness about it and this calm tranquillity.
You will be greeted by many cats who call this place home. They are protected here and well taken care of. Nicoletta was quite happy to encounter these furry creatures and if any of you don't know, she is a true cat lover in every sense of the word!
There are quite a few famous people buried in this cemetery such as John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelly, and many more.
L: You may be asking what is that pyramid in the picture. It is the tomb of Cestius. An Egyptian pyramid built between 18-12 BC, located on the perimeter of the cemetery surrounded by these beautiful Cypress, Mediterranean, and Pomegranate trees.
Cestius was a Roman Senator and General during the Principate. One thing about Rome, no lack of ancient historical sites and ruins. So much to see!
Giolitti, historic Gelateria
L: Italians love their gelato. This was the last stop of our tour and why not a famous gelateria called Giolitti. The place has been there since the dawn of time and the perfection achieved through time and effort is prevalent.
N: There are many gelaterie (ice cream shops) in Rome, but not all are created equal. I have my list of the best artisanal ones and I only have gelato there.
One thing it can help you recognize a good gelato place is to have a look at the display first, and the color of the gelato soon afterward. Overflowing gelato in the tubs is a sure sign that it’s not the real deal. And if you see that pistacchio (one of the most popular flavors) is a bright green color, turn around and find another gelateria.
The flavors I chose were pistacchio (pisˈtak.kjo) and caffè (pistachio and coffee), a great pairing. Yes, they will tell you, or raise an eyebrow, if the flavors you choose are not a good match, lol! Oh, and when they ask you: "Panna?" that is if you want whipping cream on top of your gelato, say yes, it's free and so good!
N: In the end, all I can say is, as a Roman myself, there is no better way to really live like a local than attending a food tour, especially the ones that take you off the beaten tracks.
Hope to see you in Rome sometime soon, and that you find these tips helpful. I highly recommend Eating Europe, much more than a food tour! They run many other food tours in Rome including in Trastevere, as well as in other Italian and European cities.
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[Disclaimer: We were offered a free Rome Food Tour by Eating Europe. All opinions expressed are our own]