Eating Italy Food Tours in Rome

Posted on August 7, 2012


After discovering that there are such things as food tours 2 years ago after a trip to NYC, I always make a point of researching food tours when I travel.  After almost two years of being grounded, I finally have my chance to visit Rome.  Easily googled, I discovered Eating Italy food tours in Rome.  Rome being the eternal city, I know that there is much to squeeze in the short time that I was there.  But I also wanted to get to know the true Italian lifestyle.  Walk onto streets where there are more locals than tourists. Discover those places where locals go.  Seeing the positive reviews on, I knew I found what I was looking for.  Despite all the vestiges of greatness all around me, I would say this tour was the main highlight of my trip.

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Not wanting to be late, I jumped on the Metro Line A at about 7:30am to go west to the Piramide station.  Looking at the Metro map I see Colloseo as a stop before Piramide and I did a quick peek at this Roman majesty.  It is really overwhelming that such grandeur was easily accessible in Rome.  For a minute I considered getting in queue to see inside but I decided against it and proceeded to the tour’s meeting place.

From the Piramide station, a 10 minute walk would get you into the heart of a neighborhood called Testaccio. This neighborhood’s claim to fame was it was the portal of the food industry in ancient times.  With a history of old buildings like Rome’s biggest slaughterhouse, remnants of a 2000-year-old food warehouse and a man-made mountain of broken amphorae (terracota jars), it was a foodie’s entry to Rome’s gastronomic secrets.  Still about an hour early, I sat by our meeting place at Oasi Dela Birra.  Trying to past time with coffee, I caved in for the cafe’s coffee special.  I thought it was just an espresso shot with whipped cream but it turned out to have two different cremas after the shot of espresso,  a good dollop of whipped cream, shower of cacao and two wafer sticks.  A bit decadent too early I would say.  It made me a bit guilty as I knew I was going to indulge in good Italian food for the whole day.

Testaccio was indeed devoid of the tourist frenzy that was most of Rome.  Through the walk I made to get to Oasi Dela Birra, it was quiet and locals go to their normal routine.  There was no hurried pace and people stopped to greet each other at the streets.  An old woman joined me at my table and tried talking to me.  Despite explaining that I know no word in Italian, she kept on smiling and talking anyway and somehow made me understand that she was waiting for a friend.   In a few minutes participants in the tour started arriving and I found out that 6 were Canadians and 2 were Americans.  The guide, Domenico Scola, was an American himself with Italian roots and has lived in Rome for the last 11 years.  It suddenly felt as if I was back in Toronto around peers as I understood and didn’t have to struggle with language.  I just knew that was a big plus.

Domenico started the tour with cornettis and tiramisu in a chocolate cup at Barberini’s.  The cornetti was airy and flaky and the tiramisu was marscapone heaven, on top a tiny espresso soaked biscuit all uniquely presented in a chocolate cup.  Dessert before lunch was always welcome in my book :)

We then moved on the next door which was one of Rome most popular gourmet shops, Volpetti’s.  Since opening 39 years ago, this gourmet shop has been a local favorite as they carry only the finest of products.  What made it such a memorable stop was that they were very generous in letting us taste different cheeses, balsamic vinegars, chocolates and cured meats.  I must confess that I was overwhelmed.  To say that this store was an eyecandy was an understatement.  I could stay there a whole hour and I still would not see enough.

After the whirlwind that was at Volpetti’s, we walked in a Pizza Al Tagglio where Domenico shared the history of how Pizza Margherita came to be.  On cue, the chef arrived with our slices with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.  To bite into that slice was so good, hearing the crunch and smelling the fresh waft of basil.

Taking a break from eating after the pizza, Domenico took us to see the Piramide and non-catholic cemetery in the area.  Injecting wit and humor into his lessons of Roman history, Domenico kept everyone engaged into the tour.  It was as if traveling with a group of friends, being able to talk comfortably as we went through the cobble stones and epitaphs.   The cemetery has two popular residents, English poet John Keats and the husband of Mary Shelley, author of Dracula which made the stop really interesting.

After that brief quiet interlude in the cemetery, we moved on to visit Testaccio market.  Sitting on a 2000-year old warehouse, it was not unusual for a business to be two or three generations old.  We first stopped by the local butcher, Domenico giving us insights on the regular cuts of meat that one can find in Roman cuisine.  In the same market, we stopped by a bakery, a local produce vendor, a fishmonger, a meat and cheese vendor and a pastry stall.  Of all that what have best impressed me was the sense of community when the vendor meets Domenico.  It made me miss my family back home.  As to what we have enjoyed in the market, I would point you to the slideshow.  It is just too much to describe.  But if you really want me to pick the one I enjoyed the best, it has to be the bruschetta.  Domenico made sure that we all pronounce it the right way.  Italians say it as brusˈket.ta, not as brushetta as we popularly do in North America.  That might be hard to correct in Toronto but I did try to remember it the whole stay in Rome.

From the market, Domenico stopped by what used to be a soccer field.  He then gave us a lecture of who to root for and the funny thing was a pedestrian corrected him to root for another team.  Rome has two teams and fans of each team were equally passionate.  Rome’s love for soccer was really deep-seated as this pedestrian seems to be an octogenarian.  It was quite unexpected that she had a lot to say about it and she had a good banter with Domenico why her team was better.  It was really amusing to see, I was in stitches trying to contain my laughter even if I did not understand a word that they were saying.

After that hefty debate about Rome’s football teams, Domenico brought us to Monte Testaccio, a man-made mountain of amphorae.  This was the city’s solution what to do with millions of olive oil amphorae that was too porous to use as containers.  Instead of throwing it away, they have built a mountain out of it and made commercial spaces underneath.  One of these spaces were the popular pasta restaurant Flavio Al Velovevodetto.  Here we got to try three Roman staples, carbonara rigatoni (pecorino cheese, pancetta and eggyolk), cacio e pepe spaghetti (pecorino cheese and black pepper) and amatriciana rigatoni (tomato sauce, pecorino cheese and pancetta).  It was served with carafes of red and white vino and it cannot get any more Roman than that.  Despite the amount of food that was on the table, what you see in the picture was the only pasta I ate.  At this point of the tour, I was starting to feel full.

Would you believe it that Domenico still had two more tricks up his sleeve?  After that meal he brought us to 00100 Pizza for a popular late night snack called Suppli, Roman risotto balls with chunks of beef and mozarella cheese.  It was absolute heaven.  I have a love for this and it was the best one yet that I have tasted.  If I was not so full, I would have picked the leftover one that Domenico was offering.  But really, there wasn’t any more room.  I have to leave space for the gelato.  But before we walked in Giolitti’s, Domenico sat us down the patio chairs right in front of the gelateria.  He gave us a good understanding what was a good gelato.  It sure did help after the tour as I tried to steer clear of the ones that did not look like what we had.  As we were eating the gelato, Domenico broke into a song singing For Strong Winds for the four Calgary residents in the party.  I must say that was the cherry on top of the icing of the cake.  Turned out that Domenico sings professionally and the treats just kept coming even in the form of an impromptu Neil Young song.

As I know I would have more food tours in my future travels, this food tour in Rome would be hard to top.  Bonissimo Roma!  I hope those coins I tossed at Fontana de Trevi would get me back to Rome soon. :)