Food can make or break a trip, especially in a touristic city like Rome, Italy. You just know there's an abundance of places trying to rip off tourists by offering bad food for higher prices than a Roman would pay.
I was lucky when I visited the city as I had my friend Maria from Heart Rome who took me out each night and showed me where the good restaurants and takeaways were, but if you don't know a local, there's still another way to make sure you find at least some places where you can get proper food and learn about Roman cuisine: take a food tour.
Eating Europe Food Tours
Eating Europe is a company that started out doing food tours in Rome. They rapidly expanded and now also provide tours in London, Amsterdam and Prague. Their goal is to help visitors experience real local food in authentic shops and restaurants, often outside of the big touristic areas. A fan of Italian food, I was excited to take part in one of their Rome Food Tours.
The Taste of Testaccio
Eating Europe has two food tours in Rome. One takes place in the Trastevere neighborhood, the other in the Testaccio neighborhood. As I was already staying in Trastevere, I opted for the Testaccio tour which lasted about 4 hours.
I'm glad that I did because while Trastevere is known for its nice bars and the beautiful church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Testaccio is a real residential area and I probably wouldn't have gone there if it wasn't for the tour.
Our group met at the Piazza Testaccio where our flamboyant guide Dominico awaited us. After a short explanation on what the Testaccio tour would entail, we took off for our first tasting of the day: pastries!
We had our pastries at Barberini, a coffee bar and pastries shop named after the family who started it. It was crowded in there and you could see that this is a place where a lot of locals come to have their daily morning cup of coffee with a sweet.
We all gathered around Dominico for our first treat: Colomba. This is a typical Italian pastry that you can only find around Easter time. It's fluffy, light and sweet.
We thought that was it for our first stop, but then Dominico magically made some small tiramisu cups appear. They were actually cups of chocolate, filled with tiramisu. Delicious!
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After those sweets, it was time for something salty: pizza! Pizza is probably Italy's most famous dish and when you visit Rome you'll notice it's served in two different ways: you have the rectangular pizza plates and the well-known round pizzas.
The rectangular pizza plates are for takeaway (or as a quick snack). You simply tell the vendor how big of a piece you like, he weighs it and you pay by the weight. When you order pizza in a restaurant, however, you'll get a round pizza.
We had our pizza at Volpetti Più, ranked the third best pizza restaurant in Rome. That's quite a feat if you know that Rome has over 5,300 pizza places.
I like my pizzas simple, so these slices with simple tomato sauce and tomato and buffalo mozzarella were perfect for me. While we enjoyed our food, Dominico continued to tell us all kinds of fun facts about pizza and the place where we were having it.
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Meats and cheese
When we'd finished our pizza, we walked around the corner to visit Volpetti, an Italian delicacies store focusing on meats and cheese.
One guy on our Taste of Testaccio food tour had let Dominico know that prosciutto is his favorite Italian food and so he got to taste first. You could just tell by his face that the prosciutto from Volpetti received a big “approved!”.
We also tried salami and two kinds of cheese, after which we had the opportunity to wander around the small store and buy something if we wished to do so. You could tell the owners are very proud of their products and they even offered us more things to try.
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A cultural break
The food to that point in the Taste of Testaccio food tour had been delicious, but the Rome food tours put on by Eating Europe are more than just food tours. The entire time Dominico was giving us facts about Rome, the Testaccio neighborhood and the stores we visited.
He had more in store for us, though: a cemetery!
The “Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners at Testaccio” is actually a beautiful piece of green where a lot of artists, scholars, and diplomats are buried. We immediately recognized two names, those of the English poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley.
A bit of history: Keats only gained fame as a poet after his death. The fact that he wasn't popular while he was alive bothered him so that he didn't want his name to be on his gravestone. He felt that if he hadn't been recognized as a great poet during his lifetime, he was a nobody.
Later, friends of Keats wanted to do him and his works justice and they had a separate stone made which does hold the name of the poet and which you can also find by Keats's grave at Testaccio.
The Non-Christian Cemetery for Foreigners at Testaccio
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The food market
After this cultural intermission, Dominico asked us whether we were hungry again. Curious about what would follow, we all said “yes” and so he took us to Testaccio's market hall.
It was fun to see how our guide really knew everyone at the market by name and how he (and we!) were greeted everywhere.
We learned about typical Italian vegetables, made our own bruschetta with fresh ingredients from the market and tried some delicious Sicilian cannoli, a biscuit filled with sweet ricotta.
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After that little appetizer, it was time for a sit-down lunch. We headed to Flavio al Velavevodetto to try three kinds of pasta: cheese and pepper, amatriciana and carbonara.
I really liked that the Taste of Testaccio food tour also included a sit-down meal. It gave everyone the chance to get to know each other a bit better and to let the legs rest for a little while.
The pasta was pretty filling, so it was good that this came near the end of the tour.
Flavio al Velavevodetto
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I love suppli, but actually knew its Sicilian variant, arancina, before I learned about suppli. The name “arancina” refers to the orange color and the shape of the fried rice balls we'd be trying next: they look a bit like oranges.
Trapizzino has created a wide range suppli, all with different fillings. The classical suppli is filled with rice, tomato sauce and cheese, but the one we had was filled with rice, meat and meat sauce.
I thought I'd do this Taste of Testaccio food tour without any problem, but I have to tell you that I was pretty full after that suppli! Luckily, our last stop would help us digest a bit.
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When in Italy, you have to have Gelato, right? So Dominico took us to Giolitti where they make authentic gelato. He even taught us how you can recognize real gelato. That's important to know because about 80% of the gelato on offer in Rome is fake. I'm wondering if he'd mind me telling you…
Maybe I should first test you: if you know how to recognize real gelato, let me know in the comments! If nobody knows, I'll share my knowledge with you.
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As you hopefully saw, I had a great time on my Eating Europe Rome food tour and would highly recommend it. Everything just worked: everything we tried tasted good, all the places we went to were places I'd never have known about if I was exploring the city by myself and our guide Dominico was a real entertainer.
I'll definitely be joining an Eating Europe food tour again when I'm in one of their other cities.
Where to stay in Rome?
I spent three nights in the vintage Il Boom B&B in the less touristy Trastevere neighborhood.
How to get to Rome
I took a direct flight from Brussels to Rome and then got on the train to the city center.
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I was a guest of Eating Europe on their tour. Partnerships like this allow me to travel more and create new content for the blog. The choice to finish all of the food offered was entirely mine.
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