A Taste of Testaccio in Rome Italy

I sat on a bench in the piazza taking in the scene. Locals walked their dogs or chatted to one another in the spring sunshine. I was in the neighborhood of Testaccio for a food tour and was relishing my escape from the masses of selfie-stick toting tourists in central Rome.

Having skipped breakfast, I was also beginning to feel a hunger pang or two.

Testaccio is a working-class area which has a rich culinary history and is consequently home to some of the best eateries and food shops in the city. Many of them have been run by the same families for generations. At the arranged time I went over to meet Chiara, the friendly guide, and was introduced to rest of the group.

We made our way to our first stop, a small bakery called Panificio Passi Srl.

From the modest exterior, unenlightened passers-by are completely unaware of the delights that lie within. Tempting sweet and savoury treats were crammed behind the glass counters and the bakery bustled with locals. We sampled two pieces of pizza - my favorite was topped with potato and the double helping of carbs worked surprisingly well.

As it happened to be Father's Day in Italy, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to try a rather delicious freshly-baked pastry which is associated with the celebration. Bigne de san Giuseppe translates as cream puff and the centre oozed with a luscious custard-like filling. Chiara explained that every festive occasion in Italy has a type of food identified with it.

With hunger pangs satiated, a short walk took us to Masto, a tiny, but charming deli/restaurant where we were presented with an assortment of cheeses and prosciutto along with a glass of Merlot. The exuberant host told us all about the origin of the samples placed before us. Having tucked into the savory selection, the tasting concluded with a nugget of Italian dark chocolate flavored with nutmeg.

In order to give our already full stomachs a break, we made tracks to the nearby Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners to indulge in some history. The pretty graveyard is situated on a hill and is the burial place of English poets, Keats and Shelley as well as a plethora of artists, sculptors and authors. From the cemetery, there is a fine view of the Pyramid of Cestius, a monument dating back to 12 BC and a sight which would look more at home in Cairo than The Eternal City.

The original Mercato Testaccio dates back to 1914, but moved to new premises in 2012 and is now housed in a modern building with over one hundred stalls. Beneath the market, there is an archaeological site which is currently being excavated. Chiara bought some tomatoes at the fruit and vegetable stall and we headed to a bakery, La Contea del Pane. We were given some bread which we rubbed vigorously with garlic and topped with succulently fresh tomatoes before devouring -- DIY bruschetta Testaccio-style.

Our next stop was Prosciutteria di Enzo e Lina, a stall run by a cheerful husband and wife team who provided us with buffalo mozzarella to accompany the remainder of the tomatoes. Everyone knows what a great combination tomatoes and mozzarella are, but this was the best I had ever tasted. The mozzarella was freshly made and unlike anything I had ever bought in a supermarket.

We completed our tour of the market at Food Box, where we tried suppli, a local speciality. Like a croquette, but cooked with tiny pieces of meat, rice and tomato sauce, they have a mozzarella centre. This scrumptious snack was washed down with a refreshing craft beer.

Testaccio's former slaughterhouse is a mere stone's throw from the market. Back in the 1800's, the butchers at the slaughter house were paid in part with the offal (internal organs, tails, feet and tongue) of the animals they slaughtered. Dishes were inventively created from the otherwise unwanted parts, and are still served in restaurants in Testaccio today. These days the former slaughter house is home to MACRO, a contemporary art museum.

Monte Testaccio is situated opposite the slaughterhouse and is no ordinary mountain. In ancient times, such items as olive oil, honey, wine, sugar were transported in terracotta pots which were then destroyed and dumped. The mountain is the result of the fifty-three million broken pots, known as amphorae. Some of the restaurants which are built into the hill have interior glass viewing windows, through which fragments of the pots can be seen. One of these restaurants is the renowned Flavio al Velavevodetto and it was here that we dropped in for lunch.

As if we hadn't already had our fill of delectable Italian cuisine, we were served with three different types of pasta accompanied by a choice of red and white wines. Sitting together at the table gave the group the opportunity to have a chat and learn a little about one another's lives.

Chiara had proved to be an excellent guide. Enthusiastic and knowledgeable, her passion for the neighbourhood and its food was evident. She was clearly on friendly terms with all of the people we met during the course of the tour, making the experience so much more enjoyable.

What Italian food tour would be complete without some gelato? To round off our foodie walkabout, we paid a visit to Giolitti, a traditional cafe serving an extensive range of genuine gelato (in relation to fake gelato made from a powdered mix which is sold at many establishments in Rome). We were able to choose two flavours and I opted for crema and mixed berries topped with whipped cream. A perfect end to a tour of a fascinating neighbourhood.

The Taste of Testaccio is the original tour of the delicious food tour operator Eating Europe. Perhaps I'll soon eat my way through another of their cities.

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Sue King, originally from Brighton on the south coast of England, has been pursuing a life of adventure and living out of a small backpack since 2012. She has visited or lived in over fifty countries and her favorites to date are India and Mexico which she loves for their colorful vibrant cultures.
Photos courtesy of Sue King.

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