Rome thus far has treated us well – we arrived yesterday morning, dropped our bags off at our hotel near the Villa Borghese park, and immediately proceeded to explore the city until our food tour of the Trastevere neighborhood.
Our first priority was, of course, finding lunch yesterday – and, while Rome is a city of many great restaurants, unfortunately many of them also require reservations, especially on a Saturday afternoon. So, we walked into restaurant after restaurant only to be turned away, until we found a hole-in-the-wall place just far enough away from the Trevi fountain that we didn’t see a single tourist group go by (a rare feat, we’d soon discover). We shared caprese salad, a “Jewish” artichoke (quite popular here, typically just a fried artichoke), and the famed Roman cacio e pepe and a spaghetti with clams. All was delicious (unfortunately didn’t think to take pictures!).
Then, we wandered through what we thought was a charming side street, which suddenly opened into a mess of tourists, hawkers, and very overpriced and mediocre restaurants: we had found the Trevi fountain.
Honestly, the fountain is beautiful, and were there no tourist hordes, someplace I would love to just sit and eat gelato and read a good book. From there, we wandered back towards the hotel, getting lost only ~4 times down assorted side streets, ending up ultimately getting a good view of some of the shopping streets, a couple assorted chapels, and the Palazzo Quirinale. Then, it was back to the hotel to rest before our food tour in the Trastevere neighborhood.
We made the trek down to Trastevere via cab, crossing over the Tiber River and arriving in a clearly ‘different’ part of Rome (a huge plus, given how touristy most of the central city is!). The streets are less crowded, the park filled with what appear to be locals, including the older guys drinking together on benches, a nonna who asked for help crossing the street, and teenagers smoking together in a boisterous clump. Once again, I used Devour Tours, whose food tour model I fell in love with in Spain (both the Barcelona and Madrid food tours were great). As I expected, we had a fabulous time checking out the local restaurants and learning more about Roman wine. We learned:
- Rome is part of the Lazio region, and is known for four types of pastas: cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper), amatriciana (guanciale / pork cheek and tomato sauce), carbonara (with no cream or cheese, only egg yolk!), and gricia (essentially carbonara, but without the egg yolk)
- The word ‘bar’ typically refers to someplace that serves coffee, pastries and spritz-drinks in the afternoons while an ‘enoteca’ refers to a wine bar
- Osterias are typically restaurants, and often sell wine by the bottle or by the glass; historically, osterias would have been someplace where families would fill their large wine jugs and gather to eat together while doing the refill; this later became a place for the proprietors to sell food rather than just sell the wine refills
- The Trastevere neighborhood was initially seen as undesirable by ancient Romans, but was incorporated within the walls of the city due to a desire to increase their defenses (i.e., using the Tiber River as a border would have given enemies ample methods to attack the city); over the years, it’s been a place for freed slaves, outcast Jews, and other minority groups to gather – and now, over time, its becoming gentrified / more touristy
Over the course of the meal, we tried several great dishes:
- A sampler of prosciutto (one typical of the Lazio region, where Rome is from – this has a much lower fat content than the prosciutto di parma we tried in the Emilia-Romagna region)
- Multiple types of pecorino cheese – including one with a delicious ‘hay’ based rind
- A traditional salad with smoked salumi and pecorino
- Two types of bruschetta, one with pesto, bufalo mozzarella, and sundried tomato, and one with a porcini mushroom and cheese topping
- A fried ravioli
- Pasta al’Amatriciana
- Sautéed chickory, which was unbelievably delicious
- Gelato at a very creative gelato shop called ‘otaleg’ – essentially, gelato backwards, which is their philosophy for gelato as well. They take non-traditional flavors, like Panettone or pecorino cheese, and create gelati with those flavors represented. I tried a panettone and stracciatela gelato, and have no regrets!
- Of course it wouldn’t be a ‘wine and food tour’ without the wines! We tried a prosecco, two whites (including a Gewürztraminer, which, despite the spelling, is made on the border of Italy and Austria and technically qualifies as an Italian DOP / DOC product), two reds, and an aperol spritz
My favorite part of the experience was the bar where we got Aperol Spritz’s – it felt like a scene out of a movie about Italy, with people everywhere pushing towards the front, only a couple items on the menu, and generally a great mix of old (including a very elderly woman who pushed her way to the front for a campari!) and young (looked like many college students).
Overall, it was a great experience! On the way home, we opted to walk rather than take another extremely bumpy cab ride, and passed a couple beautiful night sights.