Testaccio is a neighborhood in Rome, located south of the Colosseum and Roman Forum area, and you’ll find hardly any tourists. This is where you’ll find where the real Romans live, the working class areas, and the bakeries and markets where they shop. This 4 hour tour was the earliest one I had in Rome, starting at 9:45am. It was hard getting up that morning, since I’d been out late the night before with the Jewish Ghetto and Navona Tour from the night before, which had soooooo much wine. I was really struggling, and taking the taxi down to Piazza Testaccio with these crazy Roman drivers was enough to make me reconsider. But, I persevered.
We dove right into the tastings, with the first stop being a bakery loaded with breads, pizzas, and sandwiches. There, we sampled two kinds of Roman pizza, thin crispy rectangles topped with the most simple of ingredients, and yet they are so flavorful and satisfying. We had the pizza rustica, which is plain with tomato sauce, and the pizza patate–potato pizza!! This is an actual thing in Rome, and it’s quite delicious.
The next stop was a different little bakery, more of a pizza sandwich shop. One very interesting thing I learned is about the pizza bianca….. white pizza. Basically it is a thin crust pizza dough topped simply with olive oil and sea salt…. it is plain, very plain. This is the base for all the other pizzas, but almost impossibly, it can also be sliced in half and filled with any manner of toppings. So essentially pizza bianca can be made for a pizza or a sandwich! It can vary from super thin, to more like a foccaccia, but most of what I saw was all super thin.
We watched this handsome fellow take a super thin slice of pizza bianca, and press it down with his hand on the cutting board, and take his knife and slice right through the middle of the bread. It was absolutely incredible that he didn’t cut his hand, but he has clearly done this hundreds of times. Here we sampled the pizza bianca stuffed with porchetta, which is my favorite.
Next stop was a famous salumeria called Volpetti. Outside we sampled a variety of prosciutto, salamis, cheeses (one of the cheeses was infused with truffles!). Confession: I really don’t like prosciutto. I know, this is a cardinal sin in Italy, but after so many food tours where I was given a gorgeous sample of the best prosciuttos, I just can’t do it, sadly. I wanted to like it!
Then we went inside to look around and view the gorgeous meats, cheeses, and unique Italian products. Here we could also sample olive oils and balsamic vinegars.
I love how the Italians give their pups a safe place to remain outside: Dogpark!
Moving right along, we went to a place completely unrelated to food! The Non-Catholic Cemetery in Testaccio is absolutely worth a visit if you are in the area. It is just magical. I was smitten. The most famous monuments are the Pyramid (wait until you hear the story behind that one!), and John Keats’s grave, but the entire cemetery is a monument to peace and tranquility. In fact, after the tour was over, I went back here just to take a moment to look around on my own and enjoy the quiet solitude. The story of John Keats’s time in Rome is absolutely tragic and heartbreaking.
Another stop on this wonderful food tour full of incredible variety was the Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio. This new, modern, covered market building is bustling with vendors and fresh produce. It has skylights in the roof, so it’s filled with natural sunlight. Here, we were introduced to some local vendors and our guide purchased some impossibly fresh tomatoes and parsley which they chopped up into a delightful bruschetta, and we piled it onto grilled bread with olive oil. The lesson, of course, was to emphasize that the Italians buy everything as fresh as possible, meant for immediate consumption. We sampled soft & creamy buffalo mozzarella that was only hours old. Everything was incredible!
Another delight in the Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio was Food Box! This vendor serves wonderful suppli and craft beer, making a great stop for a snack or lunch. Suppli is served on nearly every food tour I took in Rome, much like gelato. You can’t beat a Roman classic!
Testaccio is a very old part of Rome (but then, what is not ancient about Rome?) One physical reminder of the age of the place is found in Monte Testaccio, an artificial mountain dating from the Roman Empire, built entirely out of clay pot fragments which used to contain olive oil. Seriously! Rome is so amazing. They crushed the pots and then meticulously lined up the pieces in a spiral that eventually formed an entire mountain of very efficiently used space. Eventually they figured out that the temperature inside the mountain, insulated by clay pots, remained at the perfect temperature for storing wine, so restaurants were built into the sides of the mountain so that their wine cellars would benefit. It was at one of these restaurants that we enjoyed our main meal of the tour.
From inside the dining room, you can actually see the layers of clay pots stacked up. It was incredible!
We were served an amazing pasta dinner of the three main Roman pastas: Amatriciana, Carbonara, and Cacio e Pepe. Along with a selection of red and white wines, this was a fantastic meal!
This gave me a great opportunity to determine which of the three was my favorite, and of course it was the Carbonara which I already knew. Cacio e Pepe is delicious but lacking that little bit of kick from the guanciale. The amatriciana has the wonderful flavor of the guanciale, but I missed the creaminess of the egg sauce of the carbonara. In short, I am obsessed with Roman carbonara. This food tour was especially unusual in the fact that there was no camaraderie amongst the participants at all. Normally in a food tour, everyone gets to chatting and becomes friends by the end (especially when the wine gets flowing!). In this case, the entire vibe of all the members was very strange and it’s like people were afraid to talk to each other. I’ve never been on a food tour where the atmosphere was so strange and uncomfortable. Certainly no fault of our tour guide! She made every effort to get people chatting, but it just remained super awkward nearly the whole time. I guess you just can’t predict a group’s chemistry!
In any case, we heading out to the dessert course of the tour, which of course is gelato! One thing you can count on in an Italian food tour is that the last stop will always be gelato. We visited Giolliti which although has the same name, is not the same as the location near the Pantheon that is always mobbed with tourists…… here in Testaccio this family has operated this gelato shop since 1914. One amazing fact about this shop is that it still uses its original whipped cream maker from the 1930s! It is a glorious piece of vintage machinery, and the panna is delicious! I had the tiramisu and zabiaone, of course with the panna. Amazing!
The Taste of Testaccio food tour by Eating Europe is a fantastic one! I was very impressed with the variety and number of tastings in this tour, and the fact that it was in an area of Rome that I likely would not have stepped foot in otherwise made it very special. I loved the fact that this is a real Roman neighborhood where locals actually live and work and shop, unlike so many areas around the Centro Storico, where I spent the rest of my time.