Rome, as the saying goes, was not built in a day; nor a week, month or year for that matter. Like slow food, Caput Mudi, as she was called back in the day when the Caesars (Emperors) ruled the empire, learned to take her sweet time once she became the epicenter of the known world.
Augustus Caesar to Romulus Augustus aside, the Caesars of modern-day Rome are the varied staples of la cucina romana (the Roman kitchen). And, there is no better place in all of Rome to sample her bounty than along the cobblestone of Trastevere, the Eternal City’s quintessential neighborhood just across the Tiber River; and, there is no better way to do so than in the company of 11 other like-minded travel/foodie writers invited to experience Roma in the throes of winter on the third annual #WinterinRome blogging event.
This 72-hour, customized assaggio (taste) of the sights, sounds and savors of Rome is the brainchild of Linda Martinez, owner of The Beehive — an upscale hostel/budget boutique hotel conveniently located just two blocks from the Termini train station — and sponsored by a handful of English-speaking tour operators eager for our collective ink: BonAppetour, Personalized Italy, The Roman Guy, Context Travel and Eating Europe Food Tours, where our #WinterinRome narrative continues.
Led by Mimmo, our effervescent, expat guide from Philadelphia — the owner/operator/lead singer of Tram Tracks, where food, wine and live classic rock combine to create a party atmosphere aboard an antique tram as its rolls through the streets of Rome — we jump-start our early morning get-together with cups of strong espresso taken at Berti’s Antica Caffetteria, our meet-up point along Via Natale del Grande and the first of ten stops on a five-hour foodie tour of the Trastevere.
Quicker than you can say, “Caffe macchiato, per favore,” we move next door to Pasticceria Trastevere, home to the neighborhood’s revered bigne (cream puffs) filled with zabaglione cream that have been prepped by Signora Vera since the 1970s. The locals say they’re divine, and so do we.
Turning right onto Via di San Francesco, we enter into a world of hanging prosciutto (cured ham) and rounds of pecorino romano cheese the size of Pirelli tires at Roberto Polica’s Antica Caciara. A Trastevere institution since 1900, it’s where locals head when they need a cured meats/salami/cheese fix. We’re offered a sample of Roberto’s fine fare and it’s all hands on deck.
Best known for its nightlife, Trastevere is renowned for its hand-held street food, too. And, there’s none better than piping-hot supplì, deep-fried rice balls filled with mozzarella cheese and an optional tomato sauce. These lip-smackin’ morsels are served up morning, noon and night at I Supplì, a hole-in-the-wall snack joint along Via di San Francesco.
“In summertime,” intones Mimmo, “i romani head up to the Castello Romani hill towns to escape the city heat and to also enjoy one of the area’s signature dishes: porchetta.” He adds, “It’s a deboned pork belly, seasoned, rolled, skewered on a spit and roasted to perfection.” Well, it’s not summertime along Via del Natale Grande, but porchetta rules, regardless of the weather, at the Antica Norcineria delicatessen where proprietor Piero Tacozzilli serves up slices of his own farm-raised, slow-roasted, aromatic pork placed atop crunchy artisan bread. According to the man-on-the-street, Piero’s porchetta is the absolute best to be found anywhere in the city.
At the top of Via del Natale Grande we hang a left and stride into Piazza di San Cosimato’s open-air market. Mimmo gathers some fresh fruit from Concetta and Pietro’s stand, while plates of cheese are offered up from Adamo and Emiliano’s 700 delicatessen, so named because there are precisely 700 windows that look down upon the piazza from all of the surrounding buildings. Our short picnic in the square makes it six stops thus far, but our foodie tour through Trastevere doesn’t stop here.
Rumor has it that gourmet and organic gelato arrived on the scene in Rome courtesy of Fatomorgana, a chain of six gelaterie (ice cream parlors) located around the Eternal City. Offering fresh, natural gelato with a gourmet twist, Fatomorgana creates flavors not found anywhere else in the city: basil, walnut and honey, black rice and rosebuds, and chocolate with tobacco, to name a few. It’s a gelato-lover’s paradise at Via Roma Libera 11 as our party of 12 queues for a complimentary cone or cup of Fatomorgana‘s creations. Mmm.
Dessert taken, we now head for il pranzo (lunch). I know, it’s like placing the cart before the horse, but the carrot(s) that Mimmo dangles in front of us to keep us moving forward — past a group of elderly men playing cards, through Piazza Sant’Apollonia, and down a few winding, graffiti-tagged alleyways — is a duet of tried-and-true pasta dishes of Rome: cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper pasta) and rigatoni all’amatriciana (pasta tossed in a sauce made with pig’s jowls), served up quickly by Giovanni at Ristorante Casa Mia in Trastevere along Via della Rinella. The two dishes, prepped to perfection, along with glasses of DOC-rated wine, are just delightful. SALUTE!
Eight down and only two more stops to make, we’re off to see how the cookie crumbles at Innocenti, a family-run, artisan biscotti house that’s been serving up these tasty, twice-baked sweets along Via della Luce since 19-and-29. According to Stefania, the latest Innocenti to prep the dough and run the huge oven, “If you ate our cookies 50 years ago, they taste more or less the same today.” Displaying a tray of just-baked goodies, she adds, “Artisan products like ours require quality ingredients; but, honestly, the most important ingredient is love.”
And we end our foodie tour of Trastevere on a high note as we stroll up narrow Vicoli dell’Atleta and enter a stately house, accented by a loggia and columns, that once served as an 11th century Jewish synagogue, but now is home to Spirito di Vino, an award-winning restaurant that contains Rome’s most ancient wine cellar. According to owner Romeo Catalani, “The cellar pre-dates the Colosseum, which was officially opened in 80 A.D., by some 160 years.” Born-on-dates aside, we tour the cellar way down below, containing fine wines from around the world, then return above ground for a dish of Chef Eliana’s superlative creme brûlée and a glass of sweet vin santo.
For complete information on Eating Europe Food Tours, including four guided tours, cookery classes and wine-tastings around Rome, just log on to their website HERE.
See you in Piazza Colonna when the sun goes down as #WinterinRome continues with a cocktail tour along the cobblestone with The Roman Guy.