Italy, Food. Food, Italy. They pretty much go hand-in-hand. On our recent trip to Italy we wanted two things: 1) To eat some delicious food and not worry about how much pasta or gelato we were consuming; and 2) To make sure we steered clear of the tourist traps and found out where the locals ate. The best way to do both seemed to be taking a food tour. Food tours seem to be popping up all over these days and as two foodies (and a budding junior foodie), it sounded like the perfect way to explore Rome. We looked around a bit until we found Eating Italy Food Tours in Rome (now Eating Europe.)
Trying to pick a tour was the next obstacle. Eating Italy offers cooking classes and food tours in both the Trastevere and Testaccio neighborhoods. With 8-9 tours a day offered in the morning, afternoon and evening; there were plenty of options to choose from. I’d read about Trastevere and the Trastevere Daylight Tour seemed the perfect way to explore the twists and turns of this charming, yet gritty neighborhood.
I am so glad we selected Trastevere because I fell in love with its narrow cobblestone streets, quaint outdoor cafes, balconies dripping with colorful blooms, doors wrapped in ivy, laundry flapping on clotheslines, antique cars, and food…oh the food. However, if you want to try something different, check out my friend Claudia’s review of the Eating Europe Testaccio Rome food tour.
Note: Eating Italy provided me with a complimentary tour and discounted tours for my husband and daughter. The opinion expressed above reflects my honest opinion.
Eating Italy Food Tours Reviews
Getting to our meeting point in Trastevere was relatively easy. We took a 15-20 minute cab ride from our apartment rental near the Colosseum, but we could have also taken a tram from nearby Piazza Venezia over the river to Trastevere and then had a short five minute walk. When we arrived we met Ana, our tour guide, an expat formerly from Massachusetts. Her background in theater definitely comes in handy in leading tours because she was vivacious yet authentic the entire time, seeming as excited about the food and the places we were visiting as if she too was seeing them for the first time.
I’m not sure how she manages to stay that “up” during multiple tours a day but it made for a fantastic experience. We were introduced to our fellow tour participants; a couple from England, two women from Dallas, and one Australian, making up a group of eight — a great size for allowing us to get to know one another and creating an intimate and relaxing experience.
My expectation of the tour was that we would stop in at a number of places and get a small sample to taste. I had no idea how much food we were about to consume! We started off small but the food just kept coming and many of our tastes were way more than a nibble. So let me tell you about the food…
Our first stop was right next door at a pastry shop that has been in the heart of Trastevere since the 1970s. We were able to sample her delectable bignes (profiteroles) stuffed with light zabaglione cream, made fresh by the proprietor every other day. Ana tipped us off that it is customary for Romans to bring pastries when going to someone’s house for dinner instead of wine. Since we were having dinner with some family friends that evening we actually circled back to the pasticceria at the end of our tour to purchase some more tasty delights to bring to our hosts.
Our second stop was one of many family-run Trastevere institutions that we would visit that day, as this little village is filled with artisan shops that have been run by the same families for generations. The smell of the pecorino-romano cheese hits you as soon as you walk in to this shop crowded with customers picking up their daily cured meats, salamis and cheese.
We were greeted by Roberto, the owner, who had been hard at work since 5:30 am. We sampled (our only real “sample” of the day) pecorino-romano cheese made on Roberto’s uncle’s farm not far from Rome. Around the shop we also took in the guanciale, the cured meat made from a pig’s cheek which I soon discovered is even tastier than bacon or pancetta when fried up nice and crispy; as well as polle de nono (grandfather’s balls), the salumi that looks like a grenade.
Our next stop was right down the street, at a simple takeaway place that we never would have walked in to if not for our tour. The outside was very plain and unimpressive and, even if you peeked inside, you would just think it was an average pizza place. But the locals know better. This place can be jam packed from lunchtime until the wee hours with people picking up pizza or suppli.
When our guide explained what suppli was, a deep fried ball of arborio rice stuffed with cheese, I thought it sounded just like the arancini we are familiar with in the States. And it is similar, but different in a very important way. Arancini, which comes from Sicily, is made by cooking the risotto in broth, but with suppli the rice is cooked in a tomato sauce. The difference is heavenly. Voted the “best bite” of the day by at least one in our group, we can’t wait to try making suppli at home.
That suppli was pretty big but we were just getting started. Around the corner we stopped in to see the local pork butcher, whose shop has been in the family for four generations. Their speciality? Porchetta. I’m not a huge pork fan (unless it is some form of bacon, pork belly, pork jowl, etc), so I’ve never tried porchetta before. My husband made it during a cooking class and wasn’t a fan so all three of us were a little iffy on whether or not we would like it, but ready to give anything a try.
Wow! Antica Norcineria’s porchetta is made with the simplest of ingredients — garlic, salt, pepper, and rosemary — cooked for six hours in a wood burning oven in a village just outside of Rome. It was juicy and so flavorful and we all enjoyed it. Actually, good thing they had extra slices because daddy and daughter both went for seconds.
San Cosimato Market
Since we never found time to get to Campo de Fiori, I’m glad our food tour stopped at an outdoor market. Held in the second most important piazza in Trastevere, the market is the hub of the neighborhood. Although smaller than it used to be, shopping here is still a social experience where you get to know the vendors and they get to know you. We were able to meet some of the vendors and sample cantaloupe melon with two different times of prosciutto, one saltier and one sweeter. I preferred the Proscuitto di Montagnana, the saltier, and the melon in Italy is sweeter and juicier than any I have ever tasted.
You might think that it was time for lunch after all these appetizers, but instead we just skipped right to dessert (or our first dessert of the day anyway). We walked over to Fatamorgana, the gelateria that brought gourmet and organic gelato to Rome. There are over 1500 gelaterias in Rome, but 80 percent of them sell “fake” gelato. You know, that fluffy, brightly colored stuff I used to think was synonymous with gelato (after all, ice cream wasn’t “fluffy”). So if you are about to stop at a place where the pistachio, banana or mint flavors are colors not found in nature, keep walking and find somewhere that uses “real” ingredients, not powder and chemicals. I can tell you that the madagascar chocolate at Fatamorgana is delectable.
Our next stop featured an oven older than the modern republic of Italy. Dating back to the 1860s, the oven at La Renella burns hazelnut shells instead of wood and churns out 6 foot long pizza crusts, to which is added salt, olive oil and toppings for pizza that is sold by the slice. We had a chance to go back into the hot kitchen and see the oven and bakers in action before we “sampled” (and by sample I mean we each got a slice) their margherita pizza, made by squeezing San Marzano tomatoes by hand and adding fresh mozzarella and basil.
When Ana told us it was time for lunch, I think our universal response was, you’ve got to be kidding me! More food? This time, it wasn’t just a taste we were in store for either. Our lunch was hosted at Enoteca Ferrara, run by two sisters Lina and Maria, a chef and sommelier duo, in a historic building dating back to the 1400s. At the very beginning of the tour, Ana asked everyone what food they would want if they were stranded on a deserted island and my daughter said “about a thousand pounds of gnocchi.” Well we weren’t stranded but she nearly got her wish.
We sat down to a communal lunch of gnocchi, spinach and ricotta ravioli and risotto with zucchini blossoms. Each dish was served family style with enough to feed an entire other food tour (did I mention that you will NOT leave an Eating Italy Food Tour hungry?) The food was exceptional and the surroundings were quaint and charming, with a wine cellar to envy. If we were staying closer I would have gladly come back for another meal here.
As full as we were after lunch, a walk through the piazza and down a few of Trastevere’s byways make a bit of room for some dessert. Our next stop was Innocenti, a fourth generation biscuit company making 100 different types of biscotti (or cookies) in its 50 foot oven. I honestly was too full to take more than a nibble.
Spirito di Vino
Our final stop on Eating Italy’s Trastevere Daylight Tour was a very special surprise. We were there to eat, but first we were treated to an unexpected peek into history. As they say, Rome is like a lasagna, with many layers. The original walls of Spirito di Vino were built in 980 AD and formerly housed a synagogue when Trastevere was a Jewish quarter. As we stepped into the restaurant’s wine cellar, we entered another layer and saw a wall that was built in 80 BC, older even than the Colosseum.
When they dug out the cellar in 1849, they discovered a bronze horse statue that was Alexander the Great’s from 4 BC! There was an eerie, ghostly feel to the space but it was still hard to pull ourselves away to the restaurant upstairs for our very last bite of the day. I thought the crema cotta, a creme brulee unlike any I’ve had before, and the glass of zebbibo sweet wine was going to be my “one little wafer” that pushed me over the edge, but once I took one bite I couldn’t hold myself back from finishing the whole thing. Flecked with vanilla, it was so creamy and delicious, I wish I didn’t have to go back to Rome to have it again.
Hands down, our food tour with Eating Italy was my favorite experience during our trip to Rome. I got to explore a new neighborhood, eat some delicious food (including some I wouldn’t have tried otherwise), and learn about Italian food culture. Eating Europe offers food tours in other cities including London, Amsterdam, and Prague, and they are expanding rapidly, so you can be sure that I will look them up in my future travels to eat my way across another city with them.
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