“Arrive hungry” was the promising advice we were given prior to joining an exciting-sounding foodie tour of Rome’s Trastevere quarter on our brief trip to Rome last week. We’d been invited on the tour as guests of The Roman Guy, a company that runs small group tours of Rome, Florence and Venice, and after a stressful few weeks, I couldn’t wait to spend an evening in the Eternal City sampling all kinds of delicious Italian treats.
It’s a walking tour, which means you can take in all the little details that make Rome so captivating. On our way to the meeting point we were delighted to stumble on this classically Roman scene: a small shop selling who knows what, with an assortment of small vehicles parked against the ochre walls – and an ancient Roman inscription dating to the time of Claudius stuck into the wall! I love that about Rome.
The thing I was most excited about was having someone else to show me around Rome. Having been there so many times myself, it’s always me leading the way and suggesting places to visit; this time, our lovely guide Fiona was in charge and it was great to hand over all the decision-making to her! Fiona is an Australian who’s lived in Rome for 20 years, having moved there when she met an Italian man. We were instructed to meet her in Piazza Farnese, by the fountain opposite the Palazzo Farnese (which, as you might have guessed from the flag, is the French Embassy). We had already found our fellow tour members by the time Fiona arrived; we were the only Brits in a group of lovely Americans who were from California, Ohio and Arizona.
Our first stop was just round the corner from Piazza Farnese: a cheese shop that looked so inauspicious and inconspicuous from the outside that we’d probably have walked straight past it. That’s the great thing about this tour: you get to discover all kinds of hidden gems that most tourists don’t know about.
Inside, the counter was packed with delicious-looking Italian cheeses.
We were led round the back of the shop and given some Prosecco to enjoy with our cheese tasting. We started with the most delicious, creamy buffalo mozzarella, followed by two other mozzarellas. We then moved onto hard cheese, including several Pecorinos (the yellow one in this picture is flavoured with saffron) and a Parmesan. We learned a useful tip: that if you’re buying Parmesan in the supermarket, you should choose ones labelled Parmigiano Reggiano to ensure you’re getting the real deal.
From there we made our way through Campo de’ Fiori, where the open square revealed the brooding skies left over from what had been a cold and rainy day in Rome. We’d had a museum day and had been anxiously monitoring the weather in preparation for the tour, but luckily the rain held off for the evening!
Fiona pointed out this rather wonderful shop selling various Italian delicacies, including proscuitto. I loved the neon lights, too!
One of the streets leading away from Campo de’ Fiori was home to our next stop. I would imagine that the thing most people passing this little side street would spot is the tiny church, which I think Fiona said was dedicated to the patron saint of libraries (only in Rome!). But our stop was the teeny tiny door on the right, labelled Filetti di Baccala.
I must have been past there a dozen times and not noticed it – it’s a proper locals’ haunt. It looks tiny from the outside but it goes back quite a long way.
We were led to the back of the restaurant, given some lovely local white wine and presented with our next culinary treat: salted cod. This is basically very much like English fish and chips, only without the chips, and with a lighter batter.
You get a triangle of paper to wrap up your fillet and then eat it with your hands, like a sort of burrito. Yum!
The locals go right to the kitchen at the back and pick up theirs straight from there. The chef kindly let me take a photo of her at work!
Suitably fortified after the cheese, fish and wine, it was time to head into Trastevere. Trastevere literally means ‘across the Tiber’, so you cross the river Tiber to get to it. This is the Ponte Sisto, built by the same Pope responsible for the Sistine Chapel.
Trastevere is a bit more ‘off the beaten track’, as not many tourists make it over the bridge to get to it. This gives it a more authentically Roman feel, and it’s where the locals go on their nights out. I’ve enjoyed a few nights out there myself over the years, but it’s an area I don’t know so well and I was glad of the opportunity to get to know it a bit better.
Our first stop was a little place called Forno, which specialises in pizza al taglio – pizza by the slice.
I was really pleased that this was included on the tour, as it’s such a lovely Roman tradition. I’ve actually been aware of the concept of pizza al taglio for a long time (I even have a copywriting client who has such a shop, unusually, in London), and I’ve enjoyed many a slice on my trips to Rome. The idea is that you choose the pizza you want and then the size of slice you want; it’s priced by the weight, with different prices according to the expense of the ingredients. It’s perfect for lunch on the go, and I can’t understand why we don’t have more places like this in the UK!
For the tour, we had a choice of four simple toppings, all chosen because they’re popular with the locals. I had one with courgettes on, and Lee had a potato one. As you can see, neither have tomato sauce or mozzarella on them; it may be challenging to British ideas of pizza, but this is actually quite common in Rome! Needless to say, both were scrummy.
Our next stop after that was a small and cleverly-named shop called Tastevere. It specialises in local, organic produce, selling seasonal fruit and veg and a selection of organic wines and other treats.
We were given a choice of red or white organic wine, with a selection of delicious antipasti to go with it. The two meats are salami and mortadella, while the cheeses were (if I recall correctly) types of Italian hard cheese with apple and orange chutneys.
Also accompanying the wine were two types of bruschetta (pronounced “broo-SKET-a”), one topped with finely mashed carrots and the other with beetroot and ginger with lentil sprouts. I’d always thought of bruschetta as being bread with chopped tomatoes on it, so I was interested to learn that the Italians often put different kinds of vegetables on them – whatever’s in season. The carrot worked surprisingly well, though we weren’t quite so keen on the beetroot one!
After that, we had a slightly longer walk to our next stop, which took us through the main square of Trastevere – a square dominated by the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, a church I remember well from the time I spent on the British School at Rome summer school, where we were particularly enthralled by the selection of Roman inscriptions stuck into the front walls of the church (you can just about see them behind the railings in this picture). The square was heaving, as it always seems to be, despite it being a Thursday night.
It was a gentle walk from there to our next stop of the night, a restaurant called Trattoria da Teo, where we were pleased to find we would be dining ‘al fresco’ despite the autumn chill.
The first thing we were presented with was a fried artichoke – a delicacy, Fiona explained, of the local Jewish community. I have never eaten an artichoke before, and I was pleasantly surprised. You eat the entire thing, stalk and all.
That was followed by a couple of pasta dishes, enjoyed over some lovely wine and great conversation with some of the Americans on the tour. The sauce on the left is Amatriciana, made with tomatoes, pecorino cheese and cured pork cheek; on the right, cacio e pepe – cheese and pepper. The latter is a favourite of mine – so simple yet so delicious.
Feeling almost fit to burst, it was time for another walk back across the Tiber – this time via Tiber Island – to an area known as the Jewish Ghetto, where there are more Roman ruins (it’s behind the Theatre of Marcellus) and charming scenes like this: a man preparing artichokes in the street, just like we’d eaten them earlier.
Our final port of call was this gelateria, where a huge choice of flavours awaited us. Fiona advised us that when you’re deciding which ice cream shop to go to, look out for “artigianale” – it means “hand made”.
Yes, that is a beer flavoured ice cream…
…and yes, Lee did try some, along with a licorice one! I had banana and chocolate flavours. It was the perfect way to end the night.
We were on the Trastevere ‘Locals’ Food Tour in Rome, which starts at 5.30pm and ends around 10pm. All the plentiful food and wine is included in the price of the tour, making it great value. There’s a wonderful mix of foodie treats and history, so this tour is great whether you’re completely new to Rome or a seasoned Rome traveller like me (some of the other people on the tour had been to Rome even more times than me, while others had never been before). If this post has whetted your appetite, definitely give it a go next time you’re in Rome – and make sure you follow The Roman Foodie on Twitter for even more mouth-watering pictures!