As a traveller who eats (a lot), I often base my trips around food. But there is one city I’ve been avoiding.
Truth is, I haven’t been back to Rome in 6 years. Despite miles of impressive architecture, I’ve been culinarily disappointed. With countless McD’s and Burger Kings at every corner, finding real Italian food in Rome is a scavenger hunt. I realize fast-food joints are everywhere these days but I feel like there is a sea of them in Rome more than any other European city. Big Macs and Whoppers have made me less than eager to go back but just as Rome was about to stop calling my name, I met Kate and Maria, two locals who run a walking tour for foodies in Rome. Maria graciously invited myself and Alicia to experience their tour and sample some of their favourite foods in their city. A part of me wanted to go back. I really wanted to change my impression of Rome and I thought I owed this city another shot.
So I landed my two feet back in Rome. Kate took us off the beaten path, across the river Tiber to a district I had never heard of, nor been to, before. Of all the times I travelled to Rome, I couldn’t believe I missed this. It was secret quarter I didn’t even know existed. With map in hand and a good pair of walking shoes, we followed Kate from Eating Europe through a four-hour twilight tour of Trastevere in search of the best food in all of Rome – in an area that didn’t feel like Rome at all.
Prosecco and Antipasto
We headed to Da Enzo on via dei Vascellari, our first stop on our food tour to prepare ourselves for what’s to come. There are two things that Italians believe is the best way to get the belly ready before a big meal. Italian Prosecco – a white, generally dry, sparkling wine – to help cleanse the palettes along with antipasto, a light traditional dish of cured meats sometimes served with fresh veggies or fruit. It reminded me of my antipasto lunch when I was in Tuscany but this time we sampled a plate of fresh melon wrapped in local prosciutto and creamy burrata. Da Enzo felt like I was in my grandmother’s kitchen with old rustic tables held up by wooden beams and where the chairs never match. The walls are painted yellow with shelves that hold up little old-fashioned trinkets next to their toughest bottles of spirits.
Rome’s Oldest Cantina
Who knew, just a few kilometres from Rome’s tourist centre is the city’s oldest wine cellar! Spirito diVino offered us a chance to taste some well-aged local wines and appreciate Italian vino in a 19th century Italian cantina! The cellar itself actually pre-dates the Colosseum! I’ve been to cantinas this charming in Tuscany but I couldn’t believe this one was in Rome!
Every dolce vita needs to have a biscottifico in it! I thought for sure I would turn diabetic just peering through the window at Biscottificio Innocenti! It’s a family-run cookie factory since 1920! This tiny shop (it really is only a couple of square meters wide) has become well-known in Trastevere for it’s traditionally baked cookies which they make with the same cookie machine they’ve used since 1950! Here you’ll get delicious timeless desserts served by the two sweetest ladies in Trastevere!
Signore Roberto’s Alimentare
One of my favourite things about this tour was meeting the locals who live in the neighbourhood. Antica Caciare and Roberto have become legendary in Trastevere. So much so that locals call him Signore Roberto. His small, family-run alimentare on via San Francesco a Ripa has been open since 1900! Locals come here to pick up specialty foods made right in the Lazio region. You can pick up some pecorino cheese, guanciale bacon, vino, or grandfather’s balls. Signore Roberto is one of the friendliest shopkeepers we met in the neighbourhood.
A 150-year-old pizza
Pizzerias are a dime a dozen in Rome but few are as unique as the one I found in Trastevere. La Renella is Trastevere’s rustic pizza shop, where the owner lets you slip in through the backdoor! The oven here is older than Italy itself, dating back to the era of Julius Caesar! Most people think wood or coal-burning ovens are the traditional way of baking pizza but it is actually with hazelnut shells! The result? A pizza with a hazelnut scent that’s crunchy on the outside, soft and savoury on the inside. After so many years, it’s impressive that an oven could still turn out such delicious pizza!
Having grown up on Italian food, pasta is one of those dishes that make my eyebrows shift in a funny way at so-called “Italian” restaurants. It still surprises me when chefs cook them with cream, especially carbonara. Authentic carbonara is made with only 3 ingredients – egg, Italian bacon, and grated parmigiano or pecorino cheese. Because of its simplicity, some say it was used to fuel blue-collar workers during Italy’s unification. In Trastevere, Osteria Der Belli makes carbonara just the way it was invented!
The best gelato in Italy is the kind that comes from your neighbourhood gelateria. In Trastevere it’s Fatamorgana. This artisan gelato shop has endless rows of creamy flavours – classic, non-lactose, and even gluten-free – and each one is churned with 3 basic ingredients of milk, cream, and sugar. Of the dozens of flavours you can get at Fatamorgana, it’s hard to pick just one. If you do, make sure you try the one called Ecstasy. Nope, not kidding! All gelato flavours are heavenly but this one is absolute euphoria! I felt like I was back in Bologna at Gelato University. I ate a lot of gelato when I was there and I even learned there is a culture behind this frozen dessert!
I finally found the best Italian food in all of Rome and it happens to be in Trastevere!
My tour with Eating Italy was more than just a food tour. It was an experience of authentic, local life in Rome, in an area that didn’t feel like Rome at all. For the first time, I didn’t smell any Whoppers and didn’t even see a Big Arch! Not one! Just real people and real food. From the perspective of a local, Kate and Maria introduce you to a neighbourhood tourists rarely go, where you can meet the families that own the shops, hear their stories, and share their passion for food. Their four-hour twilight tour was thee best organized food tour I’ve been on where the guide really digs deep into the culture and community here.
I thought I was ready to give up on Rome but I could actually see myself living here some day.
Is there a city you owe a second chance to?
Thank you Eating Europe for reviving my passion for eating in Rome, and making me fall in love with Trastevere.