If the first thing we think about Rome is ancient ruins of the former Roman civilization, the second is food. Italy has a love affair with food like no other country in Europe. Shared meals are cherished and food preparation is practically a religion. Italians appreciate the subtleties of freshness and quality of ingredients.
While in Rome, I joined the Walks of Italy Rome Food Tour. It was a fun—and deliciously filling—morning out. I’m glad I skipped breakfast that morning.
I’ll take you along with me in chronological order through the tour.
Our group met the Campo de Fiori, a colorful square which morphs from a morning produce market into an evening outdoor dining area. Our tour guide, Simona, arrived with a smile and a crusty loaf of fresh bread. We would need this bread, she explained, to soak up olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Tasting these two Italian specialties would be difficult at 10am without hearty bread.
This is the oldest functioning market in Rome and specializes in two things: fresh local produce for nearby residents and specialty products for tourists. You’ll find several kinds of radishes, mushrooms, arugula, and other veggies depending on the season.
In the section devoted to olive oils, we learned the subtle differences between the varieties and learned the basic types of vinegars, some of which are very expensive. After dipping our bread to sample each, we moved over to the cheese shop. Here we tried mozzarella di bufala, pecorino, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Each of the cheeses was excellent. Simona explained that the mozzarella di bufala is so delicious because it comes from grass-fed water buffalo. The pecorino is slightly different depending on the region, and we were told of fine art that is aging a good Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The Italians are masters at making cured meats. So we drifted across the Campo to Norcineria Viola, a family-run business since 1890. In the back of the shop we bumped into the shop’s friendly employees while they sliced meats for other customers. We stood around a table, shared a carafe of wine and sampled a tray of meats. Capocollo, coppetta, and a variety of salamis made with liver, wild fennel, and white truffle.
As if we didn’t have enough food already, we took a short walk over to a neighborhood pizzeria. The tour says you’ll be experiencing “Pizza-making at an authentic Italian restaurant” and all that is true except you won’t really be “making” the pizza, just sort of throwing the toppings on. That said, it is a good time, and the pizza is delicious. The key to a good pizza involves many different aspects, but the wood-fire oven is crucial.
Stuffed from our pizza, we strolled past Piaza Navona on the way to one of Rome’s best gelaterias. This one served up delicious Sicilian-style gelato. I tasted a trio of hazelnut, pistachio, and vanilla. Tip for finding good gelato: look for gelaterias serving it out of metal trays. This means it’s made in-house. Also, the colors should be dull. This means the gelato is the natural color. Bright or florescent gelato is usually artificially colored or somehow unnatural.
We finished our food walking tour of Rome with a stop at the city’s best coffee shop. I was skeptical that we would be taken to the best coffee in a city that breeds great coffee, but Simona came through. I approved. It was outstanding, and the best I had while in Italy. A way to tell the quality of espresso is by the amount of coffee foam on top. The place: Sant’ Eustachio near the Pantheon.
As we finished our coffee, the group stood around to chat for a while before Simona led us over to the Pantheon and bid us farewell.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary tour from Walks of Italy, but the contents and opinion expressed in this article are entirely my own.
What are you favorite food spots in Rome?