A tantalizing assortment of cheeses, salami, prosciutto and other cured meats.
When in Rome…. eat as the Romans eat
Chit U. Juan (The Philippine Star) - March 1, 2020 - 12:00am

It’s always a good adventure to find out how locals eat and drink and the best places to check out local favorites are the markets.

Campo di Fiori

Located in the center of the city, this popular market is a short walk from Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, two tourist-friendly spots but where locals also hang out to just watch people.

At this market, there are still a few stalls manned by locals, although majority now have Italian-speaking immigrants selling the spices, nuts, fruits and vegetables. You will also find some souvenir t-shirts, nice Italian linen clothing in summer and warm woolens in winter amidst the stalls selling seasonal vegetables like artichokes or carciofi and fennel or finocchio.

The place is visited by many tourists who are on the lookout for fresh produce as well as typical Roman cheeses like Pecorino Romano, a key ingredient in the local pasta called Cacio e Pepe. Flowers and fruits abound as well as locally-made sausages and different kinds of salami.

From Campo di Fiori you can walk to the Antica Salumeria across the Pantheon. Here you will find more meat choices to eat on the spot or to take away. You can also visit the famous Cafe San Eustaquio which serves over 3,000 cups of espresso a day. They have two huge espresso machines and just be mindful that the price at the counter is cheaper than if you sit at a table (tavolo). Have your favorite coffee drink – espresso or macchiato – with freshly-baked croissants.

Remember: cappuccino is ordered only in the morning. Locals would have caffe – that means an espresso – the rest of the day.

A short walk from the Antica Salumeria where you can get a porchetta (roast pork) sandwich is one of the oldest cafés in Rome, Tazza de Oro. Have another espresso or macchiato while checking out the different kinds of coffee beans available. The counter has about three of 3-Group Espresso machines – that gives you an idea how busy it can get as each group of a machine can serve two cups, multiply that by three is six cups per machine, or 18 cups in one go! That’s a lot of coffee served each day. Italians roast their own coffee beans, sourced from tropical countries in Africa, Latin America and sometimes even from far away Asia.

In the summer, walk around for some gelato in many flavors. In the winter, I would stick to hot coffee and warm breads.

Mercado di Testaccio

Over on the other side of town near the Aventine Hills is the district called Testaccio where a modern building now houses the old market. Here you can find local street food – pasta, pizza and a sandwich called Scottona made with slow-cooked beef similar to Florence’s Mercato Centrale’s Nerbone. It is the specialty of Mordi & Vai where tourists have already discovered the local specialty. They have many tourists who queue for the slow-cooked beef sandwich variants taken with a glass of local wine.

There are a few pasta stores making handmade pasta and serving them in Romanesque favorites like Carbonara, Cacho e Pepe and Amatriciana. The stores open late in the morning; some storeowners come past 9:30 although the market is open at 7 a.m. Best to arrive early and look around and probably get a bargain.

I had a seller cut me a slice of Parmigiano Reggiano and I had him vacuum pack it for travel. There are also small wine shops serving wine by the glass to go along with your cheese or pizza. Pizza, the thin local kind, is served along with other breads in a panatteria. You can buy the pizza by weight, as many locals take it home or eat a small slice on the spot.

There are several bargain shoe stores selling authentic Italian-made shoes in broken sizes. You may just find your size if you are not particular about styles of last season.

You can even have vegan food as there is a booth or what they call a “box” just for vegans. And in the center of the market is a bar for espresso and cappuccino, a place open at breakfast to serve the store owners. Here I found more local Italian  merchants than in Campo di Fiori. This is less touristy as it is a bit of a walk or a drive from Circo Massimo or the Colloseo.

I had my pasta carbonara, a soy macchiato and even a glass of local red wine all at this market.

If you are feeling like a tourist, head over to one of the best places to have Cacio e Pepe, a mere two blocks from the market. I found Felice a Testaccio, apparently an old haunt since 1936. I got myself a table at midday but I heard it usually it takes weeks to get a reservation at this place. I ordered the famous Cacio e Pepe, a polpette and for dessert, the best tiramisu in a glass. They suggested a white house wine to go with my pasta, and I must say it was the best meal I had during my short stay at the Roman capital.

On my way home, my driver revealed the secret to a good Cacio e Pepe – make sure you keep the temperature of the pasta at 70 degrees or the Pecorino will be gummy if it is any hotter. And, he exclaims, “It has to be Pecorino Romano!”

Another driver suggested two other places for pasta but I did not have much time. Our hosts took us to a famous joint,  La Viletta also in the area of Testaccio. We started with antipasti like mozzarella with tartufo (truffles) and melanzane parmigiana (eggplant), and then ordered our primo piatto. I stopped at primo or first course. Here I had another version of Cacio e Pepe – fortified with freshly-shaved black tartufo.

Whenever you find yourself in Rome or any other Italian city, eat like a local. Drink local wine of the region and try the pasta of the place. So this time I skipped my favorite Vongole as Rome is not popular for seafood. I took my drivers’ and tour guides’ advice.

As they say, when in Rome, eat as the Romans eat.



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