After the great weekend at The Beehive in Rome, here I come with more reasons to visit the Eternal city in Winter. I had the opportunity to discover the real flavors of Roman cuisine thanks to two excellent tours with Eating Italy and Casa Mia Food & Wine Tours.
Testaccio neighborhood, the pulsing heart of Roman food
It was my first time in Testaccio area and I was quite surprised by its market, shops and long history. The Italian name Testaccio comes from Latin mons Testaceus and literally means “pile of potsherds” – monte dei cocci or monte Testaccio– where potsherds stand for fragments of amphora. As a matter of fact the area was located near the ancient Rome harbor called Emporium; at that time food was transported and stocked in amphora, that over the centuries broke into more than 25 millions fragments forming the mons Testaceus.
Amphora are the symbol of Testaccio, that is a working-class and lively neighborhood renowned for its colorful and loud market. The historical market was relocated few years ago from Piazza Testaccio to Via Galvani next to mons Testaceus transforming it into a modern covered market. It’s open from Monday to Saturday from 6am to 3pm. There you can find almost everything, from clothing to furniture, but above all local and seasonal fruit and vegetables and real streetfood.
In the market don’t miss the Prosciutteria di Enzo and Lina, married for 30 years and selling the best prosciutto of the market, and the suppli of Supplizio; chef Marco Morello prepares these fried polpette filled with rice, cheese and meat, following the original Roman recipe. Actually, do you know that suppli means surprise? This is because originally people didn’t know what was inside, since where prepared with left-over food.
In Testaccio you also find the historical shop Volpetti, that I would call the Roman boutique for foodies. Here you can find the best products from Rome and Italy such as pecorino cheese with black truffle, salami infused with Barolo wine, supreme aromatic vinegar from Modena and much much more. It’s the typical Italian gastronomia. Just around the corner Volpetti opened Volpetti Più, i.e. a tavola calda or self-service cafeteria where you can have a slice of real Italian pizza al taglio.
If you’re more into desserts, cakes and sweets than you should stop at Barberini Cafè and have a cornetto alla crema, croissant filled with custard, together with an espresso or cappuccino. If you love ice cream then visit the historical Giolitti ice cream shop. Giolitti family has been serving one of Rome’s best gelato since 1914: just few selected flavors made with fresh and seasonal ingredients following the family’s secret recipe.
Last but not least Flavio al Velaveodetto. The restaurant is renowned for its typical Roman dishes like carbonara, amatriciana and cacio e pepe. It was built into the side of Monte Testaccio and from the glass-wall you can see part of the pile of potsherds of Monte Testaccio.
I discovered all these great places and tasted some great food thanks to Eating Italy Food Tour. This food tour was a good balance between food – we ate a lot! – and culture, very much as our guide Douglas announced, i.e. food, food, food, culture + food, food, food, culture + fun. Douglas, a brilliant entertainer and food expert, gave us lots of useful information and tips about food like how to recognize the real Italian gelato: first look at the color since ice cream color should be milder than the fruit itself and pistachio doesn’t have to glow in the dark, second gelato should not be presented in a pile because it should not be frozen, but creamy.
This 15 sec video by Ashley of No Half Measures sums perfectly up this exquisite food tour!
The Jewish Ghetto, where the Roman cuisine was born
On the first day my fellow blogger Sasha of Stai al Borgo made me noticed that Roman cuisine is pretty much fried. I had never realized that before, but she was right and the reason comes from the history of the Jewish Ghetto.
The Roman Ghetto was established in 1555 in the old Rione Sant’Angelo, one of the most undesirable areas in Rome at that time, and was locked by large doors – you can still see the original marble jamb on the corner of Piazza Mattei. Jewish people had to live in just 4 walled blocks and were about 3.500 inhabitants living in inhuman conditions. They were not allowed to own properties and could do only poor jobs.
The gates of ghetto opened at dawn and closed at sunset; when outside Jews had to wear a yellow badge – yellow cloth for men and yellow veil for women – to be easily recognized as Jews. In these terrible conditions Jewish people invented the Roman cuisine. As a matter of fact they could get just offal, scrap and some local vegetables that they grow outside the ghetto. Therefore they started to fry most of the food, in order to make it eatable.
One of the most famous Jewish food is Carciofi alla giudia, i.e. two-times fried artichokes. This old and traditional dish is one of the most famous recipes nowadays and you can taste it at renowned restaurant Nonna Betta, where even chef Anthony Bourdain came in 2005 to try the artichokes. Here the video.
Walking along the narrow streets of Roman ghetto can be quite touching. On the ground in front of most of the houses you can spot small golden plaques: they report the names of those who were deported by Nazis on the night of October 16th 1943. I was really touched by the words of our guide Eleonora Baldwin of Casa Mia Food & Wine Tours, whose family experienced that horrible event.
Even though the Jewish community had a terrible past, people that live here are very joyful and festive, like the ladies at Forno Boccione. This historical bakery whit no-sign – this is because they don’t want to pay taxes for the sing – is located at the corner between Piazza delle Cinque Scole and Via del Portico d’Ottavia and it’s the best kosher bakery in Rome. They prepares only traditional kosher food like Pizza di Beridde, or pizza ebraica, that is a pie stuffed with candied and dried fruit originally prepared for circumcision parties and given to guests in small bags as a gift.
3 Food-related reasons to visit Rome in winter
Winter is certainly a great time to visit Rome, as I’ve explained here. But if I haven’t convinced you yet, here other 3 good reasons:
- winter is the season of artichokes – if you want to try the Roman artichokes the best time of the year is from November to March
- get a piece of hot pizza bianca – this is the original streetfood of Rome. It’s a salty kind-of-bread that is just the perfect merenda during cold winter days
- Carnival treats – winter is also the time of Carnival that in Rome means castagnole, sweet fried dough filled with ricotta cheese or jam
Do you need more reasons to visit Rome in winter? Then read 7 reasons to visit the Vatican Museums!