Rome is known worldwide for its amazing attractions such as The Colosseum and Vatican City. But, if you want to experience its rich culture, wonderful people and especially its mouth-watering cuisine you should visit one of the local neighborhoods.
My husband and I spent four hours eating our way through the neighborhood of Testaccio with Sarah our Eating Italy Food Tours guide.We enjoyed samples at seven different locations.
Testaccio is a working class neighborhood located southwest of the city center on the east bank of the Tiber River. Much of the Tiber River trade took place here in ancient times as food and other supplies were funneled to the nearby Colosseum. Tourists need a map to find the area since it is not a major attractions.
We met Sarah at the Piazza Testaccio. She explained that the purpose of the tour was to enable visitors to learn more about Italian food as they enjoy tasting samples from neighborhood shops, meeting local merchants, and learning a little about the history and culture of the area.
Eating Italy Tours was founded in 2011 by Kenny Dunn after he developed close relationships with area merchants, many of whom were third generation owners. Our group of a dozen tourists walked around the neighborhood stopping at various businesses and eateries to visit, eat, and possibly shop. There was no pressure, but sometimes after some tasting, we wanted more to take along.
Our first stop was the Barberini Pastry Shop where we sampled a cornetto and tiramisu. I keep telling myself that neither had any calories.
We next visited Volpetti Piu, a pizzeria and self service restaurant and sampled their Pizza Margherita. Sarah told us that this shop was the number three ranked pizzeria in Rome. She also filled us in on the history of pizza starting with its development in Naples.
We next visited the Volpetti Deli Shop which many locals consider the top Roman gourmet food store. It has been a family run business for 40 years and offers 150 varieties of cheese, 30 different sausages and a large variety of specialty foods.
Alesandro gave me a sample of balsamic vinegar which was the most flavorful I have ever had. It is expensive but worth it for its exceptional quality and taste.
Sarah then led us to some local sites so we could work up an appetite. We visited the Non Catholic Cemetery. She explained that the cemetery, founded in 1716, is one of the oldest continuous cemeteries in Europe. It is the burial spot for many foreigners and is the final resting place for Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists. It is the burial place of John Keats and contains the small pyramid of Cestiun built in 15 BC.
Our tour took us past an abandoned soccer stadium and then into the local Testaccio Market. Locals have been going there since ancient times to purchase fresh produce and other food items.
On our way to lunch, we stopped at the closed Testaccio Slaughter House. This facility was open from 1914 to 1975 and employed 5,000 butchers . It is now home to a museum.
Although we had already been snacking for the better part of two hours, we were scheduled to have lunch Flavio al Velavevodetto. This restaurant along with several others is located adjacent to a huge mound known as Testaccio Hill or Broken Pot Hill. The hill, formed by stacks of broken clay vessels, measures 135 feet high and covers the equivalent of a city block. It provides a perfect place to store wine bottles and is great fodder for the archeologist.
But we weren't done yet. Next we visited 00100 Pizza. Sarah told us that this spot had received great accolades from the NY Times. I could see why they did.
It was time to conclude the tour with dessert which of course had to be gelato. While we consumed our generous portions at Giolitti, Sarah told us how to spot real gelato. Consumers need to be wary of gelato that does not lay flat in the container and be sure that your pistachio flavored gelato is not bright green color. Armed with this knowledge, I could then consume three portions of authentic gelato a day in Italy.
The summary - in Sarah's own words.
This was a really unique enjoyable tour that afforded us the opportunity to see the non-touristy part of Rome, catch a little history, and sample some tasty food. Our guide was interesting and pleasant. She seemed to genuinely enjoy sharing her knowledge and encouraged us to ask questions. She clearly had good relationships with the shop owners and other staff at each location.We felt that we had a chance to get up close and personal with Rome and some of its delicious aspects. Eating Italy Food Tours conducts similar tours in Trastevere, another section of Rome and this year launched Eating London Food Tours. For information more contact Eating Italy Food Tours.