Eating the heart of Rome with Eating Italy Food Tours

You are what you eat, and when in Rome...

All other cornetti are dead to me now

Earlier this month, we had the pleasure of joining a tour around the working class neighborhood of Testaccio, courtesy of Eating Italy Rome food tours. We learned a lot, not just about the food but also about the history and culture of Testaccio, which is very much the beating heart of Rome. 

Led by Sarah, a bubbly well-traveled American, the tour takes about 4-4.5hrs and takes in loads of 'gastronomic' stops. Testaccio is one of the oldest districts of Rome. Positioned over the Tiber near the Porta San Paolo, this neighborhood has been the food market of Rome for over 2000 years, back to when the Roman Republic first built food warehouses for supplies coming in from the river. While a walking tour, the distance between food stops is small. We started off, as all Romans do, with breakfast at a local pasticceria. This wasn't any ordinary breakfast though. We were treated to handmade cornetti, which tasted better than any I've ever tasted (thanks to the addition of a real vanilla pod to each cornetto), and a tiramisu` taster in an edible chocolate cup. The tour was off to a great start!

After this, we went to a pizza place. To be honest, the pizza itself was pretty average (but then I've got a thing for pizza), but the pizzeria was a great place to learn more about 'a pizza history' (sorry, couldn't resist).

When do you think Pizza arrived in Rome? It's been around for generations, right? 

Wrong. Pizza arrived in Rome after the Second World War. Amazing eh?

Why is Roman pizza thin crust compared to Neapolitan? 

Well, they had to ration out supplies after the war and so rolled the pizza dough as thin as it could go (which is also why you never see a pizzariolo in Rome throwing the dough in the air while singing 'When the moon hits your eyes like a...', they'll be rolling it out, and possibly singing a different song). We also learnt a really useful tip. Never order pizza before 7pm. I'm not talking about pizza a taglio (cut slices of pizza), I'm talking of a full pizza. Why? Well, if they're doing it properly, they will cook the pizza in a wood oven. Roman law dictates that they can't turn these ovens on till 7pm. So, if a restaurant offers pizza at lunchtime, head for the door.

Volpetti - where normal people turn into foodies
We then moved onto the foodie heaven of Volpetti, where we tasted various cured meats and cheeses, and then had a chance to wander around ourselves tasting expensive balsamic vinegars and taking food porn pictures.

Interspersed with all the tastings, we also learned about the history of Testaccio. For example, the massive slaughterhouse, where most of the Testaccio-style cooking originates. One way to pay the slaughterhouse workers was in offal, the parts of the livestock, like the tail, ears, and tripe, that weren't used in Roman cooking, These cuts, known as the fifth quarter, or quinto quarto, were taken home to wonderfully inventive wives, who created classic cucina povera dishes, such as Pajata (made from the intestines) or trippa (from the stomach lining).

We also walked through the romantic 'Cimitero acattolico' - the non-catholic cemetery, where we learned about some of the famous 'stranieri' of Rome, such as Keats and Bulgari.

So... which grave is Keats?
The highlight for me though were the pasta dishes. We were taken to 'Velavevodetto', nestled in the ancient man-made hill of Monte Testaccio. The name translates to 'I told you so'. The original owner was a young man from Testaccio who always dreamed of owning his own restaurant. No one thought he had the money and wherewithal to do it, and were quite frank in their opinions. When he opened the restaurant, he didn't really have to think too hard for a name! As soon as we saw bottles of Acqua di Nepi on the tables, we knew we were in the right place. We were treated (and it did feel like a treat, let me tell you) to three traditional Roman pasta dishes - carbonara, amatriciana, and my outstanding favorite, cacio e pepe. They were all absolutely delicious.

That makes already a good food tour right? Well, other than what I've focused on, we also had a quick mafia story, a delicious suppli`, which tasted like a cross between Lancashire hot pot and a cheese ball (in a good way), we were told the secret of gelato (and how to spot fakes), and of course, a trip to Testaccio market, complete with fresh mozzarella di bufala and cannoli.

I could tell you so much more, but I don't want to spoil the surprise!

Pros and cons of the tour:

We explained the pizza after 7pm issue to the Angel. Devastating.
One of the highlights of the tour was the amount of information. I know that sounds strange, but the amount of information was right. I felt like Sarah knew everything there was to know about the area, yet at no point did I find myself thinking that it was too much information, or that I simply didn't care. Even Mrs LazioExplorer, a native, learned a great deal. It was interesting, but wasn't a lecture. Pitched just right. The non-food tour sections, such as the non-catholic cemetery tour, were excellent, and were a welcome break from the food (hey, I like food as much as the next man, but it shouldn't feel like a procession).  

Monte Testaccio - made from broken amorphae
In terms of negatives, I guess the only thing would be that the market was a bit of a disappointment. I'd read so much from other reviews about it that perhaps I was expecting too much, especially since we went in August when many of the market stalls were closed for summer holidays. We were looking forward to the tomato poet, but I guess he was away. So not much of a negative about the tour, more about our timing. The only other negative was that our group was a massive 14 people, which meant we couldn't ask as many questions as possible and meant that we ended up feeling a little rushed, simply as there were too many people in each place (especially Volpetti, where we could have stayed for longer). 

Was it value for money? Considering the amount of food we ate, I think so. The quality was excellent, especially the pasta tris, but thankfully I didn't feel overfull as well. The main plus though was the tour information itself. They really give you a lot of information, and not just about the food of testaccio, but about the people. They cover everything there is to know.

I think the tour is a great way to get to know the neighborhood and Roman cuisine and I fully recommend it for your next trip to Rome, even if you aren't a foodie. The Eating Italy food tours website is here, should you want to know more.

Don't just take my word for it, here's a selection of posts by other bloggers:

Keane Li's Blog
Browsing Rome
Escape Artists
Mozzarella Mamma
Italy Magazine

Photo credits: All photos copyright

Disclaimer: While we were guests of Eating Italy Rome Food Tours, we can't be bought, and all opinions are our own.


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