I went on a fantastic trip to Rome last month and one of the absolute highlights was the food tour that I went on; courtesy of Eating Italy Food Tours. I had never been on a dedicated food tour before, and I couldn’t contain my excitement to explore The Eternal City via the kitchens and eateries of Italians who’ve kept their specialties in the family for generations. What drew me to Eating Italy Food Tours specifically was their focus on Rome’s lesser-known neighborhoods; the kind of places where everyday Romans live and work, where fellow tourists are scare, and where the food couldn’t be more delicious–or authentic.
Reading through the rave reviews of Eating Italy Food Tours online, I had high expectations going in–that still managed to be exceeded. I was seriously impressed by the knowledge of the tour guides, the variety of tastings included, and the story-telling that went behind each and every stop. It was truly an enjoyable experience from start to finish, and one that I would enthusiastically recommend to any traveler heading to Rome.
A Tour Overview
We started the morning with a stop at Barberini; a pastry shop in the Testaccio neighborhood of Rome well-known for its sweet treats. We sampled cornetti–the Italian cousin of the croissant made with less butter, and a dark chocolate Tiramisu cup. The tour guides clearly understood my belief that dessert is completely acceptable for breakfast! They won me over easily.
Next stop had us sampling pizza al taglio, which just means pizza by the slice. While pizza originated in Naples, Rome created pizza al taglio–these are pizzas made in rectangular slabs and sold by the kilo or per 100 grams. Why are they made in rectangular slabs rather than the circular shape we all know and love? To make it easier to cut and sell. Apparently this pizzeria is quite the popular place for lunchtime, as they offer an extensive daily menu and Rome’s version of fast-food in the form of these delicious cuts of pizza.
We later headed next door to the gourmet shop that is jointly owned by the pizzeria. Here, we sampled 10-year aged Balsamic Vinegar (might have died and gone to heaven), Pecorino cheese, and Prosciutto. I knew I’d be a tough critic for the Prosciutto (I’m sorry, but I remain loyal to the king of all dry-cured hams; my Jamón Ibérico!) but the cheese was divine, made from 100% sheep’s milk, slightly salty and robust.
The shop itself was a treasure trove of Italian gourmet food products; it took everything for me to not blow the rest of my vacation budget right then and there! From handling, sampling and smelling everything from salami to fresh gnocchi, I started to feel like Edesia, the Roman Goddess of feasting. I had to get out of there before I spoiled my appetite…
Roman Bites…and Frights?
Taking a breather, and adding in some interesting history to the tour, we were led to the Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigner’s in Rome. Si, I was thinking the same thing…”A cemetery?!” “In the middle of a food tour?” Yes, it happened, and it was rather fascinating if I do say so myself!
We were led through the cemetery first to gawk at the Pyramid of Cestius. Basically, a rich guy, Gaius Cestius, decided back in 12 BC decided he wanted a pyramid-tomb built for himself. All things Egyptian were very trendy during this time in Rome, and being on top of the latest trends, Cestius was set on his final resting place being no exception. Unfortunately for Mr. Cestius, his wealth didn’t last him as long as he thought it would, and he couldn’t pay off the remaining debt on the construction, so his body wasn’t laid to rest there after all. The pyramid is currently under restoration and remains one of the best-preserved ancient buildings in Rome. As for Cestius–well, they say his body got thrown into the Tiber.
The cemetery is also the site of John Keats’ grave. While he didn’t achieve much recognition for his poetry until after his death, he’s now one of the most revered English poets of all time. Interestingly enough, when he died, he was so dismayed at his lack of positive reception from critics, that he refused to put his name on his tomb, and wrote: “Here lies One / Whose Name was writ in Water.” Emo, much?
A Feast For the Eyes at Testaccio Market
After tombstones and tales, I had saved up a good amount of space in my belly for what was awaiting me in the next stop–The Testaccio Market; fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese, bruschetta and my first cannoli ever. What an introduction into this Sicilian dessert: these cannolis in particular were made with 100% riccotta, whereas many other places mix riccotta with mascarpone to cut costs. Not here. This was the real deal, guys, sprinkled with pistachio on top.
We went from stall to stall at the market, our tour guides exchanging warm, knowing smiles and conversation with the vendors and letting us into their world. I drifted off into my own thoughts and imagined living in Rome, doing my shopping exclusively in this market and going back to my little Roman apartment to cook up a fantastic meal.
The next thing I knew, plates of fresh mozzarella were passed under my nose and my daydreaming came to an abrupt halt. The vendors at this particular shop were two sweet, elderly people named Lina and Enzo: they’ve been married for 42 years and working side-by-side in the same stall for nearly the same amount of time. Lina, as she dished out the cheese to the group, also dished out her best marriage advice: “Pazienza!” she exclaimed, “molto, molto, molto pazienza!” giving me a sweet grin. I basically melted right then and there. Now that I had located potential Italian grandparents to take me in, my Roman dream was looking promising!
Stay tuned for part 2 of my food tour with Eating Italy Food Tours.
Many thanks to Kenny and his team for graciously offering me a tour of Testaccio; all opinions (and weight gained as a result!) are my own. The tour is 65 Euros for adults and 45 Euros for children, lasts around 4 hours and includes stops at over 7 places with 12 tastings. Bring elastic waist pants! If you book with them, please tell them I sent you!