During my recent trip to Rome, Kenny from Eating Italy Food Tours in Rome invited me to join him on his food tour of the Testaccio neighborhood. Testaccio, the working-class, residential neighborhood south of Trastevere, was once home to the Roman slaughterhouses and is still the culinary heart of Rome's offal cuisine. There's more to Testaccio than offal, and many eateries serve up classic Roman dishes and delicacies, and traditional Italian ones.
On our walk, which included frequent stops at both culinary and historical landmarks in the area, Kenny filled our bellies with a variety of delicious tastings, guiding us through the details of each. Like a leisurely Italian lunch, he perfectly paced his servings of information, slowly dishing out anecdotes about the neighborhood, Roman cuisine, and Testaccio's culinary history. He also gave glimpses into the life and personalities of the people who run the eateries we visited.
The Testaccio Market
Kenny, has been in Rome for 4 years and living in Testaccio for over a year. It's obvious that he's cracked the hard shell and found a soft center in many of the rough Roman vendors at the market. We were welcomed with smiles, ciao Kennys, and two tastings.
A tennis ball-sized round of soft & creamy mozzarella di bufala awaited each of us from the salami & cheese stand of Enzo & Lina, a couple married for over 40 years. Even more amazing, they've been working side-by-side at the market for 25 years. We also enjoyed a sampling of tomatoes from Carmelo, known as the tomato poet of the market. He knows all of his tomatoes inside and out and which is best for every kind of dish. He's also been known to give recipes for many, if not all, of his 45 different types of tomatoes.
The high-end gourmet shop is "ottimo," both is quality and price. The Volpetti family knows this, too. After sampling some of their salumi, prosciutto, cheese, pizza and oils, it's virtually impossible not to buy all of it. They're generous with the samples, too. Our formal tasting included percorino cheese with truffles and paper-thin slices of culatello (the much prized cured meat made from the hind of the pig). And, if someone gazed a little too longingly at anything else in the store, one of the men in white coats were quick to provide a sampling of it.
Tiramisu in a chocolate cup
For a little bit of sweet in between savory bites, we tasted a mini chocolate cup of tiramisu from the pastry shop that's been on via Marmorata for 50 years. Kenny also gave an impromptu course on ordering coffee in Italy.
Classic Roman Pasta Dishes at Flavio Velavevodetto
We tasted three classic Roman pasta dishes at the restaurant that's on every blogger in Rome's list of Top 10. The restaurant is built into Monte Testaccio, a 35-meter high hill built up by tossed away amphorae from Roman Empire times. You can see part of the hill and shards of the broken ceramics from the dining room.
Our pasta dishes, with wine, were enough to be lunch, so we took a bit of an eating break to visit the old Rome slaughterhouse and Monte Testaccio (in the first photo collage above). Kenny explained how the name quinto quarto came about and the Vatican's Canonical calendar which determined what foods were eaten when, and to some extent is still in effect today. Meatless Fridays and gnocchi Thursdays along with other day-of-the week meals were based on this calendar.
All that food and there were still two more tastings to go!
Suppli at Pizzeria 00100
We stopped at another much-loved by Romans food shrine, Pizzeria 00100. Our tasting included suppli (fried rice balls) flavored with the Neapolitan Genovese sauce.
After the tour and since I was already in the area, I went back over to Pizzeria 00100 for one of their famous trapizzini. It's a blend of pizza and the little tramezzini sandwiches. They have several saucy filling options or you can order one vuoto (empty). Mine was filled with coda alla vaccinara (oxtail). The pizza had a thin crispy outer crust and was light and airy inside.
Gelato at Giolitti a Testaccio -
Along with the tour and tastings, Kenny provided all guests with a booklet listing his favorite restaurants, and pizza, gelato & food shops throughout Rome. Another added bonus to the tour was that I met a great bunch of fellow food lovers. A few of us met later that evening for another delicious Roman dining experience.
For Roman food lovers, culinary geeks, and offal afficianados like me, Testaccio is our first stop on any trip to Rome. For other visitors, who spend the bulk of their research and time on those other trivial aspects of Rome; you know, those things like historical sights, its ruins, churches, or its art, Testaccio and its culinary delights could easily be missed. With this tour, one doesn't have to miss out nor have to do any research to get a good overview of Testaccio, and visit many of its culinary treasures. Thanks Kenny for inviting me along!
A big thank you also to new friends, Larry and Jessica, whom I met on Kenny's tour, for allowing me to use their photos. All the photos from Flavio al Velavevodetto and the one of the suppli are courtesy of Larry and Jessica.
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*This post is part of Wanderfood Wednesdays. Head on over there to read about food and travel from around the world.