I woke up on my first Saturday in Italy, excited at the thought of the Taste of Testaccio food tour later that morning.
Having read about the Eating Italy Taste of Testaccio food tour, I hoped that it would be a good way to ease back into Italian cuisine as well as visiting a residential neighbourhood to see Italian artisanal food producers at work.
It was the first of my excursions during my short stay in Rome. For more ideas on how to make the most of a short stay in Rome please click here.
I stopped being a fan of pizza and pasta during my teens, when I realized how much they loved clinging to my hips. In recent years I discovered that I have an intolerance to wheat based products and suffer an inflammatory response soon after consuming it.
Even before starting the tour I wondered whether I would be able to eat anything at all on the tour. I knew from the East End Food tour in London with the same company, that they were very considerate and usually made substitutions for alcohol and non-halaal meats, and was cautiously optimistic.
The reservation and payment was done online on the Eating Italy website, and for Rome there were two areas to choose from, Trastevere and Testaccio. Looking at the available public transportation, I decided on the Taste of Testaccio food tour as I could travel from Spagna to the Piramide metro station with only one train change.
The tour is offered on every day except Sunday at 9:45am, 10:30am, 11:15am, 12pm and usually lasts about 4 hours.
The meeting point for the Taste of Testaccio food tour was outside a gourmet food shop on Piazza Testaccio. It is at least 15-20 minutes walk from Piramide metro station, past the recently restored Pyramid of Caius Cestius and the Non-Catholic Cemetry for Foreigners.
The tour leader was an engaging German young man who had grown up in Italy and been ‘raised by the Nonnas’. Throughout the tour he kept up an engaging narrative about the area, the food and the people of Testaccio, and even taught us to pronounce ‘Tes touchy Oh’ correctly.
From Pecorino with white truffle to Pizza Bianca with grilled vegetables or bruschetta with sun ripened tomatoes or the iconic Roman pasta dish Caccio Pepe, there was a variety that was consistent in quality and superior flavour.
Volpetti – Via Marmorata 47, Testaccio
We stood outside Volpetti, a premier delicatessen specializing in cured meats, cheeses, olive oils and balsamic vinegars for a few minutes ogling the variety of cheeses and cured meats in the window display. We were offered samples of figs and olives from Calabria along with cheese and a variety of cured meats.
When the shop opened we were invited inside and given a taste of aged Balsamic vinegars. After much oohing and ahhing and a few purchases that we were allowed to collect after the conclusion of the tour, we moved on to breakfast.
Taverna Volpetti (formerly Volpetti Piu) – Via Alessandro Volta 8, Testaccio
This is attached to the Volpetti Gourmet shop but we did stop here.
The place was recently renovated and appears to have become less like a semi self-service canteen and more of a refined restaurant.
Our second stop was at Mastro Donato’s pizzeria to have fresh and crispy vegetable friti. By the time we reached the pizzeria we were all a bit ravenous. Our appetites had been teased to wakefulness by the figs, cheese and cured meats and the smells as we approached the pizzeria were pure torture.
We enjoyed the cool morning air with the cones of hot crispy vegetables that were surprisingly not greasy at all. They were so delicious that when I looked into the bottom of the empty cone I could not believe I had munched them all!
I was the only single female in the group and Mastro Donato was very attentive and cheeky, in a funny and non-threatening way.
I Guerrini – Via Galvani 35/37, Testaccio
This bakery has been in the same family for three generations, producing their delectable Pizza Bianca with locally sourced ingredients. The smell of freshly baked bread wafted down the street to meet us and call us hither.
They had freshly baked hot pizza sheets waiting to be sliced and served to hungry travellers. I enjoyed the dreamiest Pizza Bianca with grilled vegetables.
New Testaccio Market – Via B. Franklin, Testaccio
In the summer of 2012, the Testaccio fresh produce market was moved from the heart of the neighbourhood at Piazza Testaccio, to it’s new home. The modern space is light and bright and houses artisanal food producers and purveyors of cheese and cured meats.
Fruit and Vegetable stand of Paola and Francesca
At our first stop the tour leader bought a few sun ripened tomatoes and we walked over to the bakery where he cut them up and they made a topping with some salt, vinegar and basil leaves.
We rubbed our own toasted bread from the bakery with garlic to make bruschetta. I had never enjoyed bruschetta with tomato because I always found the flavors too bland and uninteresting.
I was blown away from the first bite. The bread was crunchy outside but soaked in the tangy juice from the chopped tomato that had been dressed in vinegar, olive oil, salt and torn basil leaves. Even now I can still taste it.
Prosciutteria di Enzo e Lina
Our second sampler was from Enzo and Lina, a husband and wife team who have been selling cured meats and cheeses from their stall in the Testaccio market for the past thirty years. The buffalo mozzarella from Campania was soft, creamy and milky and perfectly paired with slices of sweet sun ripened tomatoes.
Our final stop in the market was at a gourmet street food stall where the speciality was Suppli; tomato flavored rice balls stuffed with mozzarella cheese. I had never tasted Suppli although I was familiar with Arancina from Sicily and an Indian version of rice with dal.
I was offered a slice of Farinata, a chickpea flour omelete, and to be honest I did not expect much in the way of flavor. I could not have been more wrong in my assumptions, and it turned out to be one of my favorite dishes on the entire trip. For beverages the group drank something that looked like beer and I had a bottle of German apple juice.
Flavio al Velavevodetto – Via del Monte 97, Testaccio
After the walk back from the Testaccio market we ducked into a restaurant located under a heap of rubble, fondly known as Monte Testaccio, an artificial mound comprised of broken ceramic jars used for transporting oil in ancient Rome.
The mound is a wealth of archeological insight into how the Roman economy functioned but is also a source of natural ventilation. The restaurant is serviced by ventilation shafts that make use of the cooling properties of the mound’s structure.
We were offered three pasta dishes; Carbonara, Amatriciana and the now iconic simple Caccio e Pepe sauced with pecorino cheese and black pepper. In addition, there was a simple pasta with tomata sauce for me.
Giolitti – Via A. Vespucci 35, Testaccio
This family has been making gelato since 1890 using all natural ingredients. On the way to the gelateria our guide warned us about the owner, Armando, who had no patience for Gelato novices, and we were given ground rules ahead of time.
Armando has very definite opinions on what is authentic gelato and what is fake, as well as what flavors can be combined when you choose more than one scoop. We were warned in advance not to mix fruit and dairy gelatos as the flavors naturally clash.
As a parting nugget of wisdom the tour leader repeated the owner’s warning about commercial gelato.
- Real gelato is made is made with real milk and other ingredients and not powdered mixes.
- Real gelato has natural soft colors like off white or cream for banana, light yellow for lemon and earthy natural green for pistachio.
- Real gelato is made in small batches and not whipped, so you will never see it piled higher than the container that it is sold in. To add volume chemical stabilisers are added to fake gelato.
PLACES OF INTEREST
During the food tour we visited two urban sites along the route from I Guerrini to the Testaccio market.
Pyramid of Caius Cestius
The pyramid structure was built between 18 and 12 BC as a tomb for wealthy Roman magistrate. It was one of only two pyramids built in Rome after the conquest of Egypt in 30 BC.
It was subsequently incorporated into the wall of Aurelian, helping to preserve it through the centuries. It has undergone numerous restorations over the millennia, the most recent being by Zuzu Yagi, a Japanese fashion tycoon who sponsored the most recent cleaning and restoration to the tune of 2 million euros. The most notable feature of this pyramid is that it is much steeper than the famous Egyptian counterparts.
Non-Catholic Cemetry for Foreigners
The cemetery is also known as the Protestant Cemetery although it was the burial place for all non-Catholic Christians as well as Jews, Muslims and the deceased from other faiths in Rome. It is set against a hill amongst cypress trees and other botanicals.
It is the burial places for luminaries like the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats. The tour leader told us the tragic story of Keats’s voyage to Rome to recuperate from tuberculosis, the quarantine and bad weather and his eventual painful death. At his insistence he was buried with a nameless tombstone that reads ‘Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water’.
This food tour was an introduction to an authentic Italian residential neighbourhood where locals meet for breakfast, lunch and dinner or shop at the market. Be prepared to never look at gelato in the same way again.
There is a lot of walking so wear comfortable shoes and always carry an umbrella and your bottle of water.
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