As I look over the photos from my trip to Rome, there is one irrefutable fact: I ate.
Okay. I ate a lot.
I ate on the plane. I ate on the train. I even ate in the rain.
In fact the week leading up to my trip, I put in double duty at the gym solely so that I could satiate every food desire I came across without regret. And I did. Sure there were times when I turned food away and decided to be “good,” but the real reason for this was that I simply could not find it within myself to put one more thing in my stomach.
Although I was excited about seeing the architecture and artifacts that I had only seen in the history books, I was filled with pure glee over the food tour we had scheduled months before. The bike ride in Tuscany and the Rome in a Day tour where I would see the Coliseum, visit the Sistine Chapel, and stand inside the Pantheon were fine and dandy, but the tour that had a razor sharp focus on the food of Rome was the finish line I was racing towards.
I may be going out on a limb here, but I truly believe that this post would not be possible if it weren’t for The Eating Italy Tour. Naïve little me was under the (false) assumption that when it came to good food in Rome, it would be like throwing a rock… I can’t remember the analogy. But I just thought everywhere I went would be awesome food. By the end of day 1 it hit me that I was in deep trouble. It was then that I realized that I should’ve done some research on the best places to eat in Rome, but I didn’t. We did pretty good on our own, but if we had left without taking that tour, my feelings toward Roman food would have been “meh.” Thankfully, we had the Eating Italy Tour scheduled. I won’t go into detail about the tour, you can find more information about it here and here. For this post, just know that it was awesome and the majority of the food “oohs” and “ahhs” I had on this trip were compliments of the tour.
So, without further ado, here are my 4 food “bests” of Rome (As of today. This could very well change. If it does, I will definitely be sure to create a new post.):
Best Pasta Experience
I’m a pasta fiend, which of course is code word for connoisseur. Spaghetti. Lasagna. Rigatoni. Shells(?). I know my pasta. You know what’s coming: I thought I did until I went to Rome. Al dente is the preferred cooking texture for the Romans when it comes to their pasta. Squishy soft was my preference. But after a few dishes of pasta cooked al dente, I was sold. I liked the chewiness and its firmness. In fact, I was going to add a number 5 to this list of bests with the title “Best Feeling in My Mouth Experience” just so I could go on and on about my new found love for al dente. I decided against it (for now). I had lots of pasta while in Rome. I went there fully intending to digest pounds of it. Some of it was average, some of it was good, but there was one pasta dish that stole my taste buds.
The vegetarian lasagna at Volpetti Piu had me mystified. Volpetti Piu, like all of the food stops on the tour, is located in the Testaccio neighborhood and is family owned. To my foreign eye, at first glance it was just a lunch cafeteria located on a quiet, side street. You grab your tray, cup, silverware, napkin and jump in line. On my second trip to the diner, I took a chance and ordered an Italian staple: lasagna. At that point, I kept my hopes pretty low for the tastiness of the dish. Those hopes went even lower after I saw the server pop my lasagna slice into the microwave. “Great” I thought. “Just great.” For the heck of it, I also ordered a side of fried zucchini flower (see below). Those had yet to fail me. I said a prayer. Hoped for the best and dug in. It was Ah-mazing! I could not believe how good it was. The best part was that it wasn’t made with red sauce. It was just heaps of what I now believe was melted mozzarella cheese. Talk about heaven in your mouth. It was so fresh. I just knew that Mama Mia made that lasagna with her bare hands no more than hours before it graced my plate. Volepetti Piu, you will never be forgotten.
Best Gelato Experience
For me, ice cream is very tomato, tomahto. It’s all the same. I’m actually not a big fan of the stuff. So after hearing my parents rant and rave about their gelato experience while in Capri, I was excited to try gelato but also thought that it would all be the same. Wrong again. As Sarah, our tour guide, told us there are two types of gelato: 1. Real gelato and 2. Fake gelato. There is a whole bunch of people selling the fake stuff but very few giving out the real deal. While in Rome, I experienced both. But it wasn’t until I had Giolitti’s gelato did I recognize the counterfeit. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to have the real deal!!
There are two Giolitti shops. Only one sells authentic gelato (at least that’s what I heard). In an effort to not get sued for libel, I won’t go into which is which. I will simply tell you about my experience at the Giolitti I went to. I’ll call it my Giolitti. My Giolitti is located in the Testaccio neighborhood (Via A. Vespucci, 35). It has no Facebook page (that I know of). No marketing plan. No guy standing on the corner handing out coupons. All it has, and probably all it needs, is the Mayor’s mark of approval.
Before walking in to order what the tour guide hinted would be a life changing experience, she gave us fair warning: you get two flavors with your order. If the owner does not agree and/or like your flavor selection, he will 1. Reject the selection, then 2. Suggest the proper flavor combination. WHAT! That made all of us so nervous. Someone in the group beat me to the soup Nazi reference, “No gelato for you!” We went in ready for war. The first person in the group placed her order. The owner looked at her and gave a slight burrowed eyebrow. She had chosen wrong. But he was so nice about it. He helped her choose the “right” flavor combination and she was on her way.
Then, after what felt like hours, it was my turn to order. I gave a nice smile and a “hello,” then I went in with full force: “hazelnut and pistachio, please”. Something in my eyes must’ve scared him because without hesitation he scooped up the flavors in the cup. Or it could’ve just been the fact that it was a “safe” choice that didn’t warrant a rejection. Anyway, I quickly took some pictures of what would soon change my life, then I jumped right in… pistachio first. It. Was. Fantastic. The moment my taste buds came into contact with the smooth, creamy flavor, I realized that the stuff I had eaten days prior that characterized itself as gelato was no such thing. This was gelato. The flavor was spot on. The texture was spot on. I tried to slow down to savor the moment, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. That day I learned that all gelato is not created equal.
Best Open Market Experience
Here where I live, we have open markets…that you definitely don’t want to buy food from. So, I was skeptical when we visited the Testaccio Market. The market location is pretty new. The market itself has been a neighborhood staple for decades. Throughout the market there are a number of vendors selling diverse items. There were meats, cheeses, vegetables, clothing. The best part was that the vendors had been part of the market for years. We even met one gentleman who worked with his father as a young boy at the very meat station he owned and worked at each day.
There was so much great food in the market. My favorites included the freshly prepared cannoli, the bruschetta, and my walk-on-the-wildside experience, buffalo mozzarella. All authentic and hand made. I could just imagine myself shopping there each weekend in preparation for the week’s dinner.
Best Lady Parts Experience
Zucchini has a flower at the top of it. Before visiting Rome, I had absolutely no idea about this. While traveling through the city, I was coming across the term “fiori di zucca,” zucchini flower in English, on menu after menu. I was intrigued, but it took me a few times of seeing it to actually take the leap and order the dish. I can’t recall which restaurant I ordered it from first. But which restaurant I ordered it from doesn’t really matter. You can find zucchini flower in probably any Roman restaurant you go to. What does matter, though, is the taste.
Zucchini flower is the female part of the zucchini. Thus my reference to “lady parts.” See what I did there? It’s actually really pretty. In the states, the flower is long gone by the time the zucchini hits the produce section of your local grocery store. Thus my lack of knowing its existence. From my experience, the favorite Roman way to prepare the flower is by frying it, of course. It’s a sweet, crunchy surprise for your mouth. I ran into some really good fried fiori di zucca and some not so good. The key is to get it fresh. Like anything that is fried, it has to be made to order or it will just turn into a soggy mess.
Have you tried any of these??? How was it?? Is there something I missed??? Want more reviews and highlights of my trip? Good! I have more coming. I hope you enjoy my insight on eating Rome.