Roman food and culture in Testaccio

2 Apr

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If you want to rediscover old-fashioned flavors, try our typical and genuine products! at the Testaccio Market in Piazza Testaccio

I haven’t been this excited about a post in a long time.

Let me just start by saying this:


When’s the last time you were able to say that? Personally, I’ve never said it. Until now.

Not that I’m some kind of wacko tomato connoisseur (whoa, had to look up that spelling), but folks, just: wow.

I also had an amazing dish of cacio e pepe pasta (among others), a lively chat with a gelataio about the worst possible flavor combinations one could ever request (coffee and lemon together, apparently), and a variation on a supplì that was simply heaven wrapped in crispy fried goodness.

Before I start in on this, let me clearly state: I realize I’m not treading new ground here, and that in the three years I was gone from Rome, the blogging scene exploded and food blogging here became a “thing”– a mix of trendy and competitive, in which unearthing the most amazing undiscovered food finds here in Rome has become akin to some kind of extreme sport.

That, alas, is not my game, folks. (end disclaimer)

What is my game is doing fun things that celebrate Roman culture, food, and lifestyle. Which is exactly what my brilliant friend Kenny is doing in Testaccio, and doing quite well, I might add. (Y’all remember Kenny, right?)

Kenny was generous enough to invite me to tag along recently on one of his Rome tours in Testaccio. Having never really explored Testaccio gastronomy beyond knowing the “big names” and having a only a very general idea of the neighborhood, I was intrigued.

Without giving away too many of Kenny’s secrets, I will now share with you some photos from this not “three hour tour, three hour tour,” but–bonus!–four hour tour. (Thinly veiled Gilligan’s Island reference was clearly irresistable. As is my irrational love for parenthetical notations.)

Kenny lives in Testaccio and as his website states, he is a man who wears many hats. On the day I joined his tour, he was wearing a dapper tweed one.

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Isn’t he adorable? I know!

There were 11 happy and hungry souls visiting Rome and anxiously awaiting to discover Testaccio’s many gastronomical secrets. I can attest to the fact that they went away more than satisfied. You see, I was spying. I was like, embedded, you know? I can report back that I heard a bunch of the participants say how much they were enjoying the tour. And who wouldn’t?

We met Carmelo, the man who proportedly sells the largest selection and variety of tomatoes in all of Rome. His whole stand is JUST TOMATOES. Hence where I ate aforementioned most delicious tomato of life. Thank you Carmelo! You’ll have to take Kenny’s tour to find out why the locals call him the “tomato poet.” It’s a good one.

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In no particular order, I also discovered amazing cheeses:

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a still-functioning whipped cream machine from the 1930’s:

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a stand selling horse meat (no, no worries, this is not on the tasting menu):

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and–drum roll please–CHEESE PACIFIERS:

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Not to mention a pretty bizarre statue that the stand’s owner simply referred to as a “work of art.” I most helpfully commented that, IMHO (or SLMO, if you prefer), the squash was the most artistic part of the work. Don’t you agree?

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What to say? I tip my hat (as I, too, love them) to Kenny and his well-organized, informative, professional, and above all fun and delicious tour. We tasted ELEVEN–count them–eleven different deliciousnesses (yes, trust me, that’s a word) which ranged from savory to sweet, traditional to non, and all perfectly planned to introduce visitors to a side of Rome they’ll never get if they go on your typical “herd ’em through” tours, mindlessly following someone waving a flag. This, in short, was a lovely experience, and after eight years in Rome, I left with a wealth of new knowledge.

Grazie Kenny, and I wish you much continued success!

If you’re planning a trip to Rome, I highly recommend joining one of Kenny’s tours. Clearly I am not journalistically objective here. But that’s not why you read my blog now, is it?? I get you the good stuff. Period.

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6 Responses to “Roman food and culture in Testaccio”

  1. Rita V. April 2, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    I am about to create a new folder entitled “Rome: The Good Stuff” into which your articles will be saved for my next visit! Thanks in advance!

  2. Donna April 2, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

    Thanks for the tip Shelley! I’ve just booked a tour for our visit to Rome in May.

  3. Un'americana a Roma April 2, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    That is so sweet of you! I am honored to be part of your Rome visit planning.

  4. Un'americana a Roma April 2, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

    Yay! You’ll have a great time. Get there with an appetite! It’s such a fun look at Roman food and Roman culture. Kenny knows everyone in the neighborhood and they all joke around with him. He’s developed some really great ties with the locals and I think it’s an amazing testament to how expats can integrate into the local culture and help it to thrive as well and bring it to people who might not have otherwise seen this side of it (due to language barriers, not knowing about it, etc.)

  5. Betsy April 3, 2012 at 12:01 am #

    Hi Shelley,

    I’m new to your blog as of a few weeks ago and am enjoying it so much. I love that your blog is NOT trendy and that you don’t proclaim to be a “foodie” etc. I also like that it’s not beneath you – as an ex-pat living in Rome for so long – to go on a food tour like this in your city. I will be in Rome for just a day and a half in June and doesn’t it just FIGURE that the full day is a Sunday and they don’t lead this tour on Sundays?? Otherwise I’d be all over it. Argh!

    Anyway, keep up the great posts; it’s a vicarious thrill to read about your daily life in Rome and to learn about that great city and culture through the eyes of another American.

    Oh, and you’re wicked funny, too. 🙂

    Betsy from Mass.

  6. Un'americana a Roma April 3, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

    Aw, thanks so much! And, Betsy is one of my favorite names, by the way. I’ve only met one other.

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