Ever been on a guided tour and can’t seem to stop thinking about it afterward because it was just that good?
That was the Eating Europe Food Tour we took, specifically the Taste of Testaccio tour in Rome. Starting with Antipasti and finishing with Gelato, we experienced a four hour tour that fills up your belly and your soul.
From the moment we arrived into the Piazza Testaccio, the vibe of the neighbourhood was enviable. Locals stood chatting, taking a break from their morning dog walks. Vendors caught up on the neighbourhood gossip, complaining about the rainy weather after weeks of sunshine and warm weather. It was definitely a place where the Romans shop and eat. We were here to soak up as much ambience and hospitality that they were willing to share.
We were met by Emma, our Scottish guide. Emma flew over for a weekend six years ago and has stayed in Rome ever since. Her passion for the area was evident; exhibited by her relationships with those vendors we visited – or even passed while on the tour – she was authentic and warm.
Like all Italian meals, we started with some antipasti from Volpetti Piu. We huddled under the awning outside to escape the wet weather due to the confines of the small shop. We sampled some cheeses and a little prosciutto and salami as we learned the history and methods of the curing processes while we nibbled.
Upon my first bite, I was ready to move to Italy. The black truffle pecorino = bellissimo!
After our savouries, we headed inside for more treats–this time tasting balsamic vinegars and olive oils. With a touch of truffle salt, I was ready to sell my soul for more. Unbelievably good. The only disappointment was knowing I could not buy up all of these goodies and bring these delicacies home.
Our group moved on, all eager to see what else we’d discover. Volpetti’s definitely set a high standard. It would be hard to beat.
But the high standard continued, this time at Mastro Donato.
As Emma explained the history of the Roman way of life, as it pertained to food anyway, we were presented with verdure in pastella or seasonal vegetables, battered and fried.
Fried foods in general aren’t high on our list. The thought of fried vegetables made us hesitant about how this would be.
However, one bite confirmed our desire to move to Italy. Lightly battered zucchini and broccoli, along with deliciously sweet apple, all dusted with a sea salt, had us devouring the contents of this paper wrapped package and wanting more!
Before we left, we were met by the chef. He was as deliciously charming as his food.
Moving on, we headed to the Testaccio Market, recently voted as Rome’s best local food market.
The history of this market is fantastic. Originating over one hundred years ago, it once was held in the Piazza Testaccio. Though the location was moved from old covered stalls in Piazza, it now stands in a building near to the MACRO Museum, where the the energetic atmosphere has remained.
Here we met multiple vendors, including a couple who have been married 43 years. They’ve worked together for most of that time (an amazing feat of it’s own!)
We sampled farm fresh tomatoes, crisp rocket, and pungent garlic which was then spread on fresh oven-baked bread for a delicious brushetta. (My mouth is seriously watering as I write this. I can taste those vine ripened tomatoes all over again in my mind!)
Yet, we still weren’t done at the market. We moved on to Roman street food and hand crafted beer.
By this time, we were done with ‘breakfast’. I don’t remember ever having such a filling breakfast. The joy continued on to ‘lunch’.
As we left the market, we learned more of the history of Testaccio from Emma. She described the workings of the once-robust abattoir of the 19th century, as well as the recycling of the amphorae (or ancient pots that stored wine or olive oil), which were prolific in this area in ancient times.
What’s wonderful about these two events is how effective the Roman’s were in renewal of resources. Whether it was to create the MACRO Museum and Art District from the abattoir buildings or to recycle the abundant amphorae to create the Via di Monte Testaccio, where today they use this hill and leverage the resulting temperature control within the hill. Both renewals have brought this area to life and with vigour.
When we continued on to our ‘lunch course’, it was to enjoy a leisurely pasta offering in a Flavio al Velavevodetto, a restaurant housed inside the amphorae-created hill. There we enjoyed three types of pasta, accompanied with both red and white white.
Keep in mind: This was a 4 hour food tour, but portion sizes were never skimped on from any vendor!
By this time, we were rolling out of the restaurant, ready for an afternoon nap. But, Emma reminded us, we had one more stop. We would finish the tour on a sweet note.
Sweet as in Gelato, of course.
This was not just any gelato either. We were educated on the art of gelato, including how to fake the real stuff, when we visited Giolitti. Giolitti is perhaps the most famous gelateria in Rome. The restaurant has been in business – a bustling business at that – since 1914.
While enjoying our cups of deliciousness, we were shocked to discover that only about 15% of all gelato in Roma is actually the real thing. The mounds you see in gelaterias, where the gelato flavours are piled as high as the sky, are actually made from powder, not natural ingredients (Yuck!)
I have to say that of the food tours we’ve taken, this is by far my favourite.
First of all, the groups are small. You can speak directly to the vendors. It’s easy to ask questions of the tour guide as you stroll from one place to the other. You can also get to know the rest of the group, if you are so inclined, throughout the four hour tour.
For a food tour, the food is of high quality from every single vendor. It’s also freshly made for each visit.
The tour is so well timed that when you arrive to each vendor, you wait only a few minutes while the fresh food is prepared.
Varieties of fresh tomatoes and crisp rocket were freshly cut and tossed at the market, made ready for us to take to a nearby bakery. At the bakery, freshly baked bread was then toasted and oiled before garlic was handed out to us to rub over our slices, to be then finished off with the tomato concoction we brought over. Freshly baked bread and crispy delicious produce never gets old.
When trying the gelato, we were able to choose the flavours we wanted – two scoops no less – and given a choice to also have freshly whipped crema placed on top.
For the price (77 euros at time of print), it’s a great price for all you receive, both in food and in knowledge.
One of the really wonderful advantages with Eating Europe Food Tours is that they cater graciously to dietary restrictions. One of the members of our tour needed Gluten Free choices. When we spoke, she mentioned how difficult it was to find a company that accommodated dietary restrictions such as this. With the Taste of Testaccio, she was given an alternative at every stop. At Flavio al Velavevodetto in particular, she was given a specific plate of pasta that could have easily fed four people.
I have visited Rome three times now and for the first time, I finally understand the joys of this city.
I have been to a neighbourhood where the locals wish each other a “Buon Giorno!” as they pass by.
I have eaten in a restaurant where local families sit around and argue about goodness knows what.
I have walked the market where people shop for the local delicacy of tripe and fresh tomatoes, stopping to chat and catch up while they do.
The Taste of Testaccio is worth the time – and money – to truly get the feel of this wonderfully crazy city that otherwise chews you up and spits you back out the other side. Not in Testaccio though. You will leave feeling as if you have lived and eaten like a Roman, if only for a few hours.
Finally, I feel as if I’ve been to Rome.
NOTE: This was a partially sponsored experience and one we sought out ourselves. We do not promote any brand we have not used or experienced for ourselves. All opinions are our own. Please follow our advice at your own risk.