I took soooo many food tours in Rome, I’m not even kidding. I was there for a week, and took a food tour almost every single day, and once two per day. This was that day. May 1 is Labor Day in Italy, and many of the monuments and sites are closed, so it can be hard to find things to do. Luckily I was able to find two food tours for that day, morning and evening. The food and wine tour that I will talk about here was with Raphael Tours and their evening Jewish Ghetto/Campo/Navona tour. At the time (May 2017) this tour cost 85 euros and was worth every penny.
The 6pm start time began at Piazza Mattei, which is a beautiful little quiet piazza just south of Largo di Torre Argentina (the cat colony), and known for its famous Turtle Fountain. The tour started at Pane Vino e San Daniele with an appetizer course of wine and a few other beautiful things. Pictured below, there was prosciutto, and Polenta al ragu di cervo (venison) con parmigiano. Not sure what the third thing was! This first stop was lots of fun because it sets the tone for the rest of the tour. Here, you get to meet the other members of your tour as well as a good introduction to your tour guide. These tours typically last up to 4 hours, so it’s a long time that you’ll be spending with these people, and you always end up being buddies by the end of the night, especially after all that wine.
From there we headed into the heart of the Jewish Ghetto and learned all about the difficult history of the Jews in Rome. Our guide pointed out architectural markers to look for, as well as some of the physical evidence of a long history, including the Holocaust. We also walked through the ancient Roman ruins of the Portico d’Ottavia and the Teatro Marcello, as well as a stop in front of the Jewish Tempio Maggiore di Roma. This whole area is thick with layers and layers of history, and the concentration of it is so astonishing.
Heading over to Antico Forno Roscioli, this was a place that was familiar to me because we also stopped here on my food tour from earlier in the day. This company is especially famous for their breads and baked goods, and the delivery bicycle out front is ready to head out at any moment to stock the restaurants with bread. Here we sampled Menabrea, an Italian beer, along with Pizza co’ la mortazza, which is pizza bianca, the already impossibly-thin pizza, sliced and filled with a little mortadella. So good!
Along with that, we had the simple and delicious pizza rossa and a beautiful spinach pie. As an American, the first time I saw pizza rossa which is literally nothing but sauce, I didn’t think it would be very good. But Italian food is so real, and so simple without all the chemicals and preservatives that are in American food, that it was absolutely delicious. Simple really is better.
We saw so many places with incredible history, but one thing that truly stands out to me 2.5 years later is slipping through a little known cave-like path called Passetto del Biscione which connects via di Grottapinta with Piazza del Biscione, just outside of Camp di Fiori. This little passageway was once abandoned for decades, but has been restored with beautiful frescoes and stonework, and also a copy of a Madonna painting said to have taken on a miracle in 1796. Such an incredible hidden treasure! It did not seem like many people knew about it, even though we were steps away from the buzzing Campo di Fiori. I’m not sure why I didn’t take a picture.
Emerging from this very historic alleyway, we found ourselves in front of Da Pancrazio restaurant in Piazza del Biscione. It looks like a very inviting restaurant on the outside, but what was truly amazing was the underground cellar vaults which were part of the Theatre of Pompey (from 55 BC), which may likely have been the site of Julius Caesar’s murder. That site is heavily contested, but it was definitely in this general area, now underground.
I was really not expecting to have access to such amazing places during this tour, but our group was ushered straight downstairs into the underground cellar and shown into our own private room. How amazing!!
In this restaurant for our main meal we were served a variety of dishes, and wine. Bravo! Such a treat! We had:
- Parmigiana di melanzane, eggplant parmesan
- Straw and Hay (Paglia e Fieno) – A simple, classic Italian dish of pasta, peas and prosciutto in a light Parmesan cream sauce
- Tempura fried vegetables
- Vignorola appetizer which is a fava bean specialty, a Roman stew of spring vegetables (I did not try that as anything that looks like lima beans and peas are my mortal enemy)
Leaving Da Pancrazio, it was time to go in search of dessert! A proper Roman dessert is tiramisu, so we headed to ZUM and were treated to an amazing serving.
After that, of course, coffee. Or normally at that time of night, espresso. We enjoyed our shot of caffeine the Roman way, standing up at the bar. It was raining at that point, just lightly, and it was the only point in my whole trip that it rained. I was lucky!
Our final stop was the same stop of every single food tour in Italy: gelato!! I must have heard a thousand times the speech about what makes authentic gelato as opposed to cheap tourist gelato. The good news is that I definitely have it memorized and will always choose the good stuff. I appreciate the distinction, as there is a gelato shop on every corner of every piazza. It’s helpful to know the good ones!
This tour was amazing and I was exhausted, happy, and more than a little tipsy after all the wine. Luckily the tour ended just steps away from my hotel so I could go right back to my room. Thank you to Raphael Tours and the incredible Roberta!
More Rome food tours here: