“You may have the universe, if I may have Italy” – Giuseppe Verdi
As 2017 comes to a close, I am excited to share one of my top foodie experiences in Rome so far: Eating Europe’s Historic Rome Food Tour. The fact that I only have six months left in Rome is very much on my mind. The good news is that I will be moving right next door to Paris – the city where my wanderlust first took root. While, I am more of a butter versus olive oil girl myself (more on that and the heated debates over the best food cultures in Europe later), my time in Italy has been filled with many splendid epicurean discoveries.
Before moving to Italy, I had a massive food-related bucket list to take advantage of living in the birthplace of the global slow food movement. Although I have made considerable headway on this rather lengthy list, it turns out that even three years is not enough and time is ticking away!! Some items covered include:
- Gelato making class
- Tuscan cooking in Siena
- Perugia chocolate festival
- Sampling traditional and innovative chefs’ tasting menus in Rome.
Top among the outstanding items was a food tour in Rome, as I hadn’t found one that matched my schedule and dietary restrictions. Before living in Rome I did not realize how pork-heavy Roman dishes could be. When Eating Italy Food Tours in Rome invited me to try their newly-launched Sunday historic Rome food tour focused on the city’s ancient Jewish quarter, I was beyond thrilled. Finally an itinerary featuring foods that matched my interests! Although I had already visited one of the restaurants earlier, I definitely sampled a wider variety of new dishes with the expertise of our local guide and proud proprietors and learned more about the historical and cultural significance of the neighborhood than I would have on my own.
Eating Europe’s Historic Rome Food Tour
The small group tour starts in front of the baroque 17th century Chiesa di San Carlo ai Catinari, an easy walk from the Roman forum area. From the church, the tour winds its way through the Piazza Mattei/Jewish Quarter area and concludes with a gelato stop near the Tiber river bank. In my opinion, the best way to end any tour in Rome! Stops along the way highlight historic sites, architecture, and multi-generational family-run establishments where you can learn about ancient Roman and Jewish culinary traditions such as fried artichokes.
The day we embarked on the tour can only be described as the wettest day in Rome in 2017, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of our small group of mostly North American and Australian tourists. The rain was much-needed relief for the near drought conditions in the city following a summer of intense heatwaves. Fortunately, our trusted guide Chiara Cortes remained upbeat and helped the group navigate the sights despite the downpour. At the end of the tour, Chiara also provided the group with her personal recommendations for food markets and restaurants to try in other parts of the city.
Sweet Start to the Day at Roscioli’s Pastry Cafe
Nothing says la dolce vita like starting the day with a sweet treat. Despite my love affair with gelato, I don’t like the popular and overly sweet breakfast cornetti (the Italian version of croissants that are usually factory produced, sugar-glazed, and made with olive oil/margarine instead of butter). My aversion to sweet treats first thing in the morning may have changed after trying the “Maritozzo con la panna” on the tour at Roscioli’s cafe. Definitely a dangerous discovery. Maritozzo is a type of sweet bun that is split at the top and filled with creamy panna (Italian version of whipped cream). The panna filling is not as sweet as whipped cream, so it tastes surprisingly lighter than it looks. Chiara explained that the story behind the name is just as sweet. It is derived from the Italian word for husband (marito) and the tradition was for young men to give these decadent treats to their intended fiancées.
Pizza al Taglio at the Antico Forno Roscioli
For our second stop, we moved to Roscioli’s sister property, the Antico Forno. The Roscioli family business dates back to the 1800s and the is considered an institution in the Roman culinary scene. The old bakery, delivers fresh bread and pizza every morning and is also a good place to grab gourmet gifts or the Roscioli cook book. (Tip: Roscioli’s wine tasting menu also comes highly-recommended and has been a hit with all of my visiting wine aficionado friends.)
We tried some fresh from the oven pizza al taglio at the Antico Forno served up by one of the proud proprietors Pierluigi. Pizza al taglio (baked in large rectangular trays and sold by the weight) is the preferred Roman style of eating pizza during the day. (Tip: To moderate air pollution many Italian cities have banned traditional pizza ovens from operating during the day. Chances are if you order a Neapolitan style round pizza during the day it was not made fresh to order. You are better off waiting like locals for the sun to set).
Pizza bianca (a flatbread like white pizza served without any cheese or sauce) and pizza Margherita (traditional tricolor pizza named in honor of former Queen Margherita) are considered two staples for a morning pizza al taglio meal. However, my personal version at the Antico Forno is the one that includes pesto sauce, the intensity of the fresh basil and creaminess of the cheese just elevates the taste profile.
Tour of the Jewish Quarter
To walk off all of the pizza we consumed, Chiara guided us through the remaining Jewish community landmarks such as the Great Synagogue of Rome and Renaissance architectural treasures in the neighborhood. The Jewish community in Rome is the oldest in Europe and is also considered to be one the oldest continuous Jewish settlements in the world (dating from the first century BC). One of the popular architectural sites on the tours is the Fontana delle Tartarughe (Turtle Fountain), a late Renaissance fountain. The 16th century fountain, located in the trendy Piazza Mattei, was finally overflowing with water again thanks to the beginning of the rainy season. In a city with over 2,000 fountains, it stands for its bronze turtles which were added during later restorations and often attributed to Bernini.
Traditional Roman Jewish Specialties
Next we stopped at the heart of the Jewish Quarter at Ba’Ghetto (Milky) to taste some authentic Roman Jewish specialties such carciofi alla Guidia (fried artichokes in the Jewish style), concia di zucchine (fried then stewed zucchini), and sweat dough cakes.
During artichoke season, you will find carciofi alla Guidia on many Roman menus, but hands down the best preparation is at at Ba’Ghetto with Roma Sparita a close second. Compared to the Roman styled marinated/stewed artichoke, carcofio alla giudia has a crunchy consistency similar to thin potato chips.
To keep us dry and warm, Chiara had the freshly-made Kosher Cakes treats brought over to the Ba’Ghetto restaurant.
Ba’Ghetto Milky is one of my favorite restaurants in Rome and focuses on dairy and milk specialties. If you like spice like me you can ask for the in-house Calabrian pepper sauce condiment, but be very careful. It was by far the hottest thing I have tasted in Italy. There is a sister property called Ba’Ghetto (Meat), which specializes in meat and seafood that I still on my list to try.
Craft Beer & Italian Pop at Open Baladin
To wash down all of great food we tasted at the Jewish Quarter, Chiara steered us to Open Baladin, a bright and colorfully-decorated Italian take on pubs. Open Baladin’s highly Instagram-able decor and aim to promote craft beer culture, make it is the perfect spot for a post sightseeing drink or an after work happy hour. More than 100 craft beers are available along with non-alcoholic Italian sparkling drinks. I have grown fond of the citrus flavored Gazzosa, which packs in the flavor of lemons from the Amalfi Coast.
Of course food was involved on this stop as well, but thankfully in more bite-sized portions at this point in the tour. Open Baladin has both a traditional Italian and vegan menu as well as pub-style snacks incorporating popular Roman flavors.
We tried veggie spin on traditional Italian meatballs (polpetti). The cacio e pepe polpetti featured the very Roman flavor combination of Gran Padano (velvety cheese) and pecorino (sharp sheep’s cheese) and black pepper. They were dusted with more cheese and presented with a red peppercorn aïoli.
Artisinal Gelato at Gelateria del Teatro
The tour ended as it had begun on a sweet note with the final stop at the highly-acclaimed Gelateria del Teatro. The founders of Gelateria del Teatro opened their first shop in 2006 at the site of a 13th century staircase. The location used to house a theater, which provided the inspiration for the brand’s name.
I was already on a lavender kick from the Eatly gelato festival earlier in the month and decided to go for the lavender and white peach flavor ( which was AAAMAZING) accompanied by the Madagascar vanilla. What we learned from Chiara is that high-quality gelato producers will rotate flavors based on seasonal availability of the fresh ingredients (so you will see less options and smaller mounds of gelato), while most touristy outlets will stand out for their heaping piles of gelator on display (the florescent colors of the fruit flavored gelato at these establishments is also a giveaway).
In addition to Eating Europe’s Rome food tours, the company also operates tours in Florence, Prague, Amsterdam and London. I may have to sign up for the Brick Lane Flavours of India & Beyond tour to compare the experience with childhood visits to old family-run Bangladeshi restaurants in the UK.
Food Venues on the Sunday Rome Food Tour
- Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria – Piazza Benedetto Cairoli, 16
- Antico Forno Roscioli – Via dei Chiavari, 34
- Ba’Ghetto (Milky) – Via del Portico d’Ottavia, 2A
- Kosher Cakes – Piazza Costaguti, 21
- Open Baladin – Via degli Specchi, 5/6
- Gelateria del Teatro – Lungotevere dei Vallati, 25