You don’t have to go to Italy to know how amazing Italian food is. You’ve likely experienced a fabulous Italian wine, olive oil, pizza bianca or even a spicy penne all’arrabbiata somewhere in your town or travels. However, I think we can all agree that eating food in Italy is one of the best things about visiting Italy, right? And where’s the best place to enjoy an Italian food tour? Rome, of course.
Trastevere food tours get a lot of love for showcasing the fabulous food and restaurants in that vibrant Roman neighbourhood. And it’s well deserved, the food there is fantastic. But I want to direct your attention south and east, to the rising star on the Roman food scene, the Testaccio neighbourhood. It’s just a hop, skip and cab ride across the Tiber River, and if you love food in Rome, you’ll want to keep reading!
The Testaccio Neighbourhood
I had the pleasure of experiencing a food tour in Testaccio thanks to Monograms Travel. It was one of the optional tours I arranged during my time in Rome. My Monograms local guide booked the tour with Eating Europe, which hosts local food tours across the continent.
I loved this opportunity with Monograms because it allowed me the independence to customize my Roman holiday, just like I did in London. I could do things that I really wanted to do, on my own. I have no issues with traveling solo as I did on this trip, but I appreciated the chance to be in a small group wandering the streets on a food and wine tour. Who wouldn’t?
You can get to Testaccio by walking (it’s about 30 minutes from the Colosseum), metro (get off at Piramide station), or by taxi or Uber. A note about cabs. I found them much cheaper than Uber every single time. Cabs are plentiful, the drivers really know the city and rides were 50% cheaper than Uber. I have no idea why but there you go.
Our host was Michele Volzone, a local Testaccio resident who’s operated the tour for the past five years. He introduced our small group to his community in an intimate way that highlighted the authenticity and great food of the working-class neighbourhood.
‘Testaccio is a neighborhood of locals who live and work here,’ said Michele. In fact, it’s one of the areas that has the most Roman inhabitants living and working in it. During our tour and apart from our small group, I didn’t hear or see any other non-Romans during our three-hour private food tour. How perfect is that?
Of course, the neighbouhood has come a long way since its days as Rome’s meatpacking district. From 1891 to 1970, many of the locals worked in what was once Europe’s largest slaughterhouse, which impacted the air and environment of the community in a pretty pungent fashion.
Today, the abbatoir has been converted to a museum and Testaccio’s industrial history has given way to a liveable community of working families and great restaurants. Enjoy this taste of some of the best restaurants and food we savoured on our Testaccio food tour Rome.
Testaccio Food Tour Rome
The Enoteca Palombi/L’Oasi della Birra
This food supply store, beer oasis, subterranean wine bar and restaurant has been in the same family for nearly 100 years. The local institution was the perfect place to begin our culinary wanderings, with toasts of Aperol Spritz and nibbles on my new favorite snack, tarallini.
Shaped like tortellini pasta, these savoury crackers are the perfect snack food and are completely addictive. Yes, of course I bought a bag to bring home.
Masto means master in the owners’ Amalfi dialect, and it’s here where our culinary trip through Testaccio actually took us from the north of the country to the very south of Italy, through the power of food.
During the day Masto is a busy delicatessen, but in the late afternoon and evenings it transforms into a popular dining spot. In addition to some wine tasting, we were served a generous variety of charcuterie on a taglieri, a large wooden cutting board.
The meat and cheese selections ran through Italy – from spicy cheese in the north to mortadella and prosciutto from Lazio, anchovy paste from Amalfi and organic chocolate from Sicily.
We learned that olive oil and pork cheek are central to the local Roman cuisine, especially in preparation of its pastas. The cured meat is used in carbonara and amatriciana pasta sauces, and olive oil is in well, everything.
This elegant family-run restaurant specializes in traditional Roman pastas (cacio e pepe, gricia, amatriciana and carbonara) as well as roasted meat dishes with its wood-fired oven. Angelina has a shared lounge, garden, and a large and airy outdoor terrace, perfect for a dinner under the stars.
We sat and paired a beautiful red Cab Franc wine (bonus, our guide Michele is a sommelier) with coda alla vaccinara – a culinary tradition of Roman oxtail stew braised with tomatoes in a slow simmer for five hours.
This was (and remains) an authentic Roman and popular poor man’s dish as the oxtail was considered offal, known as the fifth fourth (quinto quattro). It’s rich and deep and tastes incredible as the meats falls off the bone.
We sopped up the sauce with pasta alla gricia, whose special ingredient is guanciale, cured pork jowl. The savory, fatty pork is rubbed with salt, lots of pepper and spices before aging for at least three weeks. This treatment lends incredible flavor to the pork and when paired with cheese, it’s pasta magic
Needless to say, we devoured every smidge of the delicious meat and sauce. We were getting pretty stuffed on our food tour Rome! (Tip: Be sure to wear stretchy pants.)
The Rome street food that has taken the world by storm (it’s now in the US and soon in Japan), the triangular trapizzini are a blend of old and new Italian cuisine. The trademarked Trapizzino (and restaurant of the same name) is unique due to its combination of pizza bianca pocket filled with savoury classic Italian home cooking. This Testaccio location was the first one to open in Italy, so it’s got the OG chops.
We chose to fill our pockets with chicken cacciatore, eggplant parmigiana and meatballs in tomato sauce. You can get vegetarian fillings with chickpeas or squash, as well as the specialty trippa alla romana. I’m not a fan of tripe but this would certainly be the choice of my Italian father.
We stood in the street outside the store and wolfed down our trapizzinis. The soft absorbent bread on the inside absorbed all the juice and sauces while the exterior of the triangle remained crispy. It was sandwich heaven. A local German Shepard sat patiently nearby, waiting for any leftovers or fallen chunks of chicken. Of course, he was rewarded.
Get a true taste of local life at this bustling glass-roofed market that sits on a Roman archaeological site. With 100+ artisanal and fresh food stores selling 1,000+ products, the market attracts a mixed crowd of locals shopping for dinner, families eating lunch, couples drinking wine, and curious foreign foodies.
Wander the food stalls and taste the local Roman foods like supplì (stuffed rice balls), tripe, oxtail, and carciofi (artichokes) alla romana if it’s in season.
The Testaccio location of this award-winning Italian gelateria has been churning out (see what I did there?) superb gelato since 1914. This neighbourhood location is more chill than the touristy location near the Pantheon.
Gelato is not ice cream. It’s more milk than cream and when churned without air becomes more dense than regular frozen desserts. At Giolitti, be sure to pay first, then order a scoop of the most popular flavour, zabaglione, and pair it with fresh whipped cream mixed on an early 20thcentury mixer. Delicioso!
A food tour is truly one of the best ways to experience and appreciate a place. In a country with a cuisine as deep and rich as Italy, in a city as historic as the Eternal City, spending time eating your way through Rome is really a must do. Take our advice and skip the trendy. Veer off the beaten path towards the lesser known neighbourhoods of Rome and take a bite out of Testaccio on this fantastic food tour, Rome, Italy.
Interested in more Roman food tours? Check out these tasty tour options.
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Photo Credit: Claudia Laroye; Shutterstock
Disclosure: The writer was hosted by Monograms Travel. As always, her love of Italian food and tarallini crackers are honest and her own.