We are taking a brief detour from our regular recipe posting today so that I can share with you my incredible, edible and beautiful trip to Italy. It’s hard to believe that just two weeks ago we were stepping on a plane to fly off on a vacation that has been in the works for quite some time. Italy has always been on the must visit now list – how could it not? Between the ancient ruins, the food, the culture, the food, did I mention the food? It’s a cooks paradise.
This trip took us through the cities of Milan, Rome and Florence which I’m happy to say we successfully ate our way through. Today however, I’m going to concentrate on Rome – I’ll share a fabulous food tour that we took from Eating Italy, a few of our favorite meals, my own personal tips for seeking out a great restaurant and lots and lots of photos.
Ready to begin our journey? Sit back, relax and grab something to eat. You are going to be hungry by the end.
While the food might be what you first expect me to start off with, the first thing you notice when walking around Rome is the fact that ancient ruins are literally everywhere. We were walking down a busy street full of restaurants, major shops, plus locally owned and just stumbled upon this site in the center of it. The ruins aren’t just in a central location, they are all over the place and they preserve each and every one of them. Romans build around the sites, not through them.
Rome is a large city, with many different neighborhoods – we stayed and spent most of the evenings in Trastevere – a hip and lively area full of restaurants waiting to serve you.
Walking through the restaurant lined streets of Trastevere in the evening is crowded but not too overwhelming. There are restaurants everywhere you look with outdoor seating and heat lamps to keep you warm on a chilly night. Many places have an employee standing outside beckoning you in to eat at their establishment but Susan’s restaurant tip #1 don’t go to those places. Unless for some reason you researched that it’s an amazing restaurant, I would personally stay away. The tourists vs. local attendance will favor towards tourists and the chance for a subpar meal could be higher. Keep reading for more of my tips on how to sniff out a great place to eat.
The pizza! Oh the pizza! You can’t go to Rome without trying the pizza! As a New Yorker I take my pizza very seriously there are good pizza joints and bad ones. In Rome you can pretty much get a good slice (which is referred to as pizza al taglio) anywhere. Unlike in the states, you don’t just ask for a slice. Long slabs of pizza with every top of topping are displayed and you simple let them know how large of a piece you want. The pizza is then weighed and you are charged the amount. Pizza al taglio is great on the run when you are seeing the sights all day and starting to feel a bit famished. Just run into a shop, buy as much as you need and eat it while walking on the streets.
Our favorite place for pizza al taglio was in Trastevere – it’s a hidden gem but worth seeking out. La Renella not only makes pizza but delicious bread and biscotti (btw that just means any type of cookie) and serves many of the local restaurants. La Renella has been around for over 100 years and uses the same ovens to this day. There is something unusual about their ovens though, instead of running on wood or gas they burn hazelnut shells! I highly recommend you seek out La Renella and grab a slice of their pizza. The toppings are fresh and seasonal. There was pizza with zucchini flowers, fresh vegetables and like mine above with thick slices of potato.
The second type of pizza is Roman-style pizza. A thin, crispy crust with traditional toppings of sauce and cheese. The pies are individually sized and make a meal out of itself. Just like pizza al taglio there are tons of topping options. Remember this though if you ask for pepperoni pizza you will get one with peppers. Pepperoni in Italy translates to bell peppers. There is no pepperoni in Italy, just spicy salami. We loved Pizzeria ai Marmi, also in Trastevere for Roman-style pizza. This place is popular, buck the tradition of eating dinner late and get there early (6:30pm) when they open to make sure you can get a table.
Any time I’m in a new city for an extended time I seek out a food tour. It’s a great way to see and taste a new place at the same time. Much research ensued to find the perfect tour for Rome, I came across Eating Italy Food Tours and knew they were the ones. They offer 3 tours, Day and Night of Trastevere and Taste of Testaccio. The tours are in english and the guides are extremely knowledgable, you will be left in good hands with Eating Italy.
Seeing that all our time was already in Trastevere, I couldn’t wait to explore Testaccio. This neighborhood is just south of Trastevere, it’s a working class area full of locals and family run shops. Testaccio isn’t even marked on the tourists maps, so you know you’re in for a great food experience!
We started things off with the traditional Roman breakfast of cornetti – a croissant like pastry but with less flakes and eggy. Roman breakfast is quick, you grab a cornetto, drink your espresso or cappuccino – all while standing at the counter and in five minutes you are out the door for the day.
Right next to the cornetti are the most amazing tiramisu I have ever tried. I am not a fan of them but at Barberini the shop we were at changed my mind. Chocolate espresso-sized cups are filled with creamy marscapone and coffee. It was incredible and a must to try to make at home.
A short walk took us to Volpetti for a tasting of proscuitto, salami, pecorino al tartfuo (that’s with truffles) and parmigiano reggiano (third photo). Walk into Volpetti and you immediately see all the proscuitto and salame hanging from the ceiling. In the back you can get a taste of balsamic vinegar to see which one you want to purchase and we even sampled a smidge of moscato. This shop has everything, incredible cheese, cured meats, olive oils, olives, breads and even pizza al taglio.
Speaking of pizza al taglio we had a slice at Volpetti Piu along with suppli. Suppli are fried rice balls filled with mozzarella cheese. Not to be confused with arancini that traditional has a meat filling. A successful suppli eating experience will bring out a long string of mozzarella as you bite on the ball, commonly know as al telefono.
I absolutely loved every moment of this tour but my favorite might have been walking into the Testaccio Market. I love visiting markets and snapping photos of the fresh produce, checking out what’s in season, the cheese shops, butcher shops, etc. . . There are 103 vendors at the market and most are family run for generations. The market was originally built outdoors and eventually moved into this newer facility built on top of ancient grounds. There are areas where you can see the ground below with broken terra-cotta pots. Just a little reminder of how old Rome is.
This stop was a chance to taste the fresh tomatoes I had been lusting after with some bruschetta al pomodoro and insalata caprese with buffalo milk mozzarella.
The tour includes cultural stops to allow our stomachs to settle before the next tasting. We went into the beautiful Protestant Cemetery to view John Keats grave which overlooked Rome’s Pyramid. Yes Rome has a Pyramid. It’s a pretty cool sight to see, even with the renovations around it.
The tour does keep you on your feet for a bit and Eating Italy keeps that in mind by making a longer stop at Flavio Al Velavevodetto for a tasting of three pastas and some wine. Served family style we enjoyed amatriciana, carbonara and cacao e pepe. We also had the pleasure of viewing in the restaurant thousands of terra-cotta pots that were tossed (on purpose) into a heap to build a hill.
Speaking of wine, in Italy your best bet is just order the house wine by the 1/4, 1/2 or 1 litre. The wine is delicious and cheap!
In case you get parched while walking around Rome, don’t purchase an expensive bottle of water just stop at one of the many water fountains around the city. The water is clean and fresh and as demonstrated by Braden the correct way to drink from it is to place your finger on the bottom spout where the water comes up and a little hole will spurt water. Never bend over and drink directly from the spout, that’s how the many dogs around Rome quench their thirst (and we did see in action)!
Lastly, but certainly not least we finished with a sweet note of gelato from Giolitti. Like many of the places we visited Giolitti has been around for many generations and some of the best gelato you will find. Be careful though, if they feel like the flavors you have chosen don’t go together they will tell you so!
If you can’t make it to Giolitti our tour guide gave us important tips on how to find real gelato in the city. Yes I said real gelato, many places use a powdered mix and milk to make the gelato. To spot the real thing, this is what you want to look for:
- Color: Mint should be white not green, same with pistachio. Pistachio should be a muddy color, like the nut. Banana should look like a banana not bright yellow!
- Height: A lot of places have gelato stacked up high, this means it has air in it. The difference between gelato and ice cream is the lack of extra air whipped into it. Gelato is dense. If you find a place with gelato piled high, walk away.
If you’ve reached this point, you are trouper. I know this is long but there is so much to write about! As I promised, here are my tips to finding a great place to eat in Rome. Now this is my own personal experience and you might read or experience something differently but it worked like a charm for me!
- First the obvious: research restaurants or ask locals where to eat. We rented an apartment and made sure to ask the owners favorite restaurants the first night we arrived. We made it to two on the list and both were amazing with a mix of locals and tourists.
- Stick with a trattoria vs. a restaurant – yes are there are different names. Trattorias are generally family run, less expensive and the quality is top notch. Between touring Palatine Hill and the Colosseum we ventured into a tourist heavy area for lunch. Many places had people trying to get us inside. Instead I scooped out a quiet trattoria for lunch. Half empty when we arrived, it was fully by mid-meal with regulars. The pasta was delicious and atmosphere warm and welcoming.
- Speaking of sniffing out restaurants, sometimes walking around (for awhile does the trick). You might be hungry and to quench that hunger before dinner stop in someplace for apertivo. That’s Italy’s answer to happy hour. The drink prices increase but a large buffet of food is included. Choose the place with the best looking buffet and you’ll be happy.
- Now with a full belly you can continue to walk around. Look at menus, see the clientele inside. You can usually get a feel if the restaurant is a tourist trap or locally run. Seasonal dishes or specials means they keep things fresh.
Speaking of fresh while walking around deciding on where to have apertivo one night we turned around to discover a small store called Taste Italy Taste Rome. It was a grocery, plus a place to sit down have a glass of wine and enjoy some salame and cheese. All organic with GMO free products it was a real find. That plate about is what they made up for us, crostini with fresh vegetables from a farm they run, pecorino and parmigiano cheeses and assorted cured meats.
I’d go on but I think your eyes might be tired. If you want to hear more about the places we ate at in Rome leave a comment or send me a message! Check back in a few weeks where I talk about eating out in Florence!
Special thanks to Eating Italy Food Tours for providing a free tour for myself and Braden. As always, opinions regarding the tour are my own.
p.s. Just a few more of my favorite photos below!