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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:

I CAN HONESTLY SAY I HAVE OFFICIALLY EATEN THE BEST TOMATOES I’VE EVER EATEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE.

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.

Eating Italy Food Tours in Rome
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Pizzeria Florida

30 Mar

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Now, if you’ve only just recently joined us here, don’t go and get me confused with a “foodie blogger” or whatever that whole subsector of bloggers is called. That world is far out of my league.

No, folks, I just humbly eat food like a normal person and tell you if I like it or not. I have no qualifications for doing so other than tastebuds and the ability to blog.

My current vote for favorite “scissor pizza” in Rome is Pizzeria Florida at Largo Argentina, right across from the depot for streetcar #8, unfortunately not named desire.

Pizzeria Florida excels for many reasons:

1) It’s cheap. I like the pizza below with buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomatoes, but since I’m frequently poor-ish, I have to avoid it because it’s heavy. You do know that pizza al taglio (as Jessica lovingly refers to it way back in 2006: “scissor pizza”) is sold by weight, do you not? Therefore it’s a crime how much a pizza this loaded down with mozzarella can generally cost for just a slice or two. Not so at Pizzeria Florida. I think it goes for €1,30 for 100 grams. You can get a good helping for just a few €.

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2) It’s freaking delicious. How do they get their crust to be so incredibly flavorful, crispy and soft at the same time without being super greasy? I don’t know but it is heaven. The ingredients are fresh too.

3) It’s always crowded, thus testifying to its excellence.

4) It employs a number system. God bless them, every one.

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As you know, Romans do not know how to properly line up, so elbowing and sometimes shouting becomes a necessity. The first time I entered Pizzeria Florida I knew it would be a challenge. However, when the servers starting shouting out numbers like they do at the hospital when you’re waiting to deliver your pee cup (sorry for the yucky association when discussing food, but it is so), I knew I had found a true winner.

No arguments, just civility: I was here first, you weren’t, therefore, it’s my turn and not yours.

They are super friendly here too and there’s a ton of regulars.

In short, I love them, and therefore, so should you.

Amen.

Pizzeria Florida
Via Florida 25 (Largo Argentina)

The Best Coffee in Rome

23 Feb

No, it’s not Sant’Eustachio. And no, even though I like them better than Sant’Eustachio, it’s not Tazza d’Oro, either.

It’s my ongoing, never-ending, visceral passion and true obsession for Cafffè Camerino’s caffè completo.

All those who know me well enough tell me that I’m obsessed.

Exhibit 1: My original post from 2006.

Exhibit 2: When I introduced my BFF Sara Rosso, aka Ms. Adventures in Italy, to it this past summer (and we all got to see how smart she is in geography, too!)

Exhibit 3: When I read Sara’s “How to Order an Italian Coffee in Italy” and realized that the complete coffee she was talking about was “MY” complete coffee, I felt very proud of my shameless promotion and happy that it impressed her enough to include it.

Fine, fine, I own up to it. It’s a torrid affair.

The caffè completo, in short, is an espresso with a dollop of perfectly bitter dark chocolate paste (thicker and more chocolatey and way more sophisticated than anything like Nutella), wrapped all around the little spoon which they place inside the transparent glass, so the chocolate gets all melty in the espresso which they add next, then fresh whipped cream on top, and cocoa powder dusted on that.

Don’t add sugar, for the love of God! Just stir that chocolatey goodness in, then lick the choc off the spoon, spoon the whipped cream, stir it around…

I often think of the infamous scene in “When Harry Met Sally” when I drink this coffee. You know the one. The “I’ll have what she’s having” one.

I am so obsessed with this coffee that I feel constantly compelled to blog about it, but in the spirit of not being totally redundant, instead of another photo, today I took a video with my morning cornetto (with apricot jam super sugary yumyumyum).

No, clearly I am not normal. What of it?

Did you hear how possessive I got when he didn’t realize it was mine? It’s like I was about to throw down. Do you hear my “mmmm” at the end? I was like shaking with anticipation.

I think the only next logical step from here on out is either ask one of the barista guys on a date or try to get hired there.

Those being my options, I think I’ll just keep paying my €1 and try to leave my obsession alone. Trust me, it is, in the words of Ferris Bueller, so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

Cafffè Camerino
Largo Arenula 30 (in front of the 8 tram depot at Largo Argentina)

PS For the total indulgent sweet tooth experience, grab a gelato at Corona Gelateria next door. You will not be sorry! Especially in the summer when they have lemon with basil…OMG. People, hold me back!

Mamma Che Pane

16 Feb

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Ahhh, love. Yes, love when Carnevale rolls around and the fried crispy powdered sugar covered deliciousness of frappe comes back to Rome. Ooooh I could eat these all day. It’s like when you eat too much candy corn and get a stomach ache. I eat these literally until I don’t know when to stop. They only come out around February because they’re to celebrate Mardi Gras, Carnevale, however you want to call the period of gastronomical debauchery prior to the Lenten season.

Check out how cute these two are! This is Adele (ah-DEH-lay) and Valeria, showing the good stuff they’ve got going at Mamma Che Pane.

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Look at Adele, how adorable she is! She is demonstrating the typical Roman hand gesture for “buono” when food tastes yummy. You stick your index finger in your cheek and turn it. No I don’t know why. It just is so.

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As if the frappe weren’t enough to make me weak in the knees, how about all this:

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“Accoppiati con Nutella Ferrero” — first, they specify that it’s “Ferrero” meaning ain’t no sad imitations around here, we use the real deal. Second, they call these cookies which are sandwich cookies with Nutella in the middle “accoppiati” (coupled) which in the spoken Italian I’ve heard used as the equivalent of “mating,” therefore qualifying them as the best-named cookies in Rome, as far as I’m concerned. I’ll take 5 mating cookies, please.

But wait! There’s more!

Smiling Nutella, anyone? Yes, please.

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How about buy 10, get two free? An Italian version of “cheaper by the dozen”?

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As I was snapping away, Adele says to me “Hey! Try this! It’s foccaccia with prosciutto affumicato!” Tip: taking pictures in an Italian forno will sometimes score you freebies. Weee! I ended up buying some. It was absolutely amazing.

Bread, bread, mamma che pane!

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Plus they have an entire section of meats and cheeses that I didn’t even have time to get to. Man… so much yummy stuff to eat, so little time.

Mamma Che Pane
Via Aristide Leonori 78
00147 Roma
Hours
Mon-Sat 9:00 – 13:00
Mon-Sat 16:00 – 20:00

Burger Rex, or, JC Havin’ It His Way

15 Feb

I don’t know why I find these things amusing, but I do, so there you go.

There’s a big, I mean huge, shopping mall not far from where I live, and leave it to my son to yell out as we approach: “Hey mom! There’s a Burger King!” Well, that’s novelty as far as I’m concerned. Let’s hit it.

As we walk in I get a chuckle out of the “King Drive.” Let’s call them “king drives” in the States instead of drive throughs. It makes it all so much more, well, regal, no?

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There were carefully placed paper crowns adorning the entire restaurant, every table, everywhere. This Burger King was so spotless you could practically eat off the floor. Not that I would, of course. I mean, not that I would after the obligatory 10-second rule. Those first 10 are probably about as healthy as the amount of germs I normally inhale living in a home with a four year old and two toddlers who all go to nursery school, therefore I say: why waste a perfectly good fry or two?

Here is the reluctant prince: look how forlorn! (Yes, I just used forlorn in a sentence. I’m that good.)

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But he was damn happy when we got a plastic whale with BK stickers that we could “brand” it with. Nice. I give you, the Burger King whale:

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Vince took this picture of me as I helped him hold my cell phone camera. I am rocking that paper crown, or maybe not.

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But truly, the height of my BK in Rome experience of course was the ol’ Ceez himself, all decked out with his BK sippy cup.

Oh, good citizens of Rome, have it your way!

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Italian Christmas Treats

25 Dec

Merry Christmas everyone!

I just got off the phone with one of my dearest friends, a magical friendship that was born when Gina came to live in Rome back in 2007 and rented one of the apartments I used to rent to tourists. Through thick and thin in these past years, our friendship has stayed strong, and it got me to thinking that for a festive and sweet Christmas, I should share some of her amazing Italian dessert recipes with you. (She’s a pastry chef in NYC).

There are so many good articles already out there with lovely things by Miss Gina, I’ll list them here. Take your pick and head for the kitchen! Buon appetito e Buon Natale!

Beautiful Italian Christmas Cookies: Crostoli, Castagnaccio, Anginetti

Mosaic Biscotti

Bittersweet Chocolate Cookies

Hazelnut Cake

Panforte

Toasted Almond Cake

Cocoa Snowflakes

Yogurt Cheesecake with Pinenut Brittle

Ricotta Cheesecake

McDonald’s in Rome

22 Oct

Yeah, yeah, get over it. Not only do I go “slumming” in the heart of Mediterranean cuisine, I like it! Actually, truth be told, I probably wouldn’t even really bother with McDonald’s here if it weren’t for that marketing invention to beat all marketing inventions: the holy Happy Meal. God. Parents, you know what I’m talking about. It’s like, who gave a flying eff about the Happy Meal before having kids? But then… whoaaaa. By the time they can feed themselves a french fry, suddenly your house is jam-packed with useless little thing-a-ma-jiggys everywhere, all these Happy Meal toys. Don’t even get me started.

So today I had a little mamma and son outing and we were going to see a movie at the big cinema in Piazza Repubblica. So McDonald’s was the natural choice (it’s next door). And, little did I think I’d have one of my cultural moments in the Mickey D’s. But lo and behold…

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Tell me, where else are you going to be drinking Coca Light (aka Diet Coke) from a paper cup and enjoying a tiramisù at the same time?

I know, it’s just wretched, isn’t it? And yet, love.

Meanwhile the fun never ends. About 2 minutes into our meal, Vincenzo says, “Mooommmmm! I gotta pooooopppp!” Right. Great timing, no? Don’t ask a four year old to “hold it” just don’t. The bathroom is downstairs and here’s my first thought, I kid you not: “If we leave our food here on the table, a gypsy (excuse me must be politically correct: Rom) might come and eat our food.

God, I know that must sound awful and racist and whatnot. But a girl had already come right up in our faces begging us for money. So, you know.

I was torn, but in the end “MomIgottapoop” won out, and we made it to the WC and back with all our food in tact.

Then at the end Vince decides he wants an icecream cone. Love this. So we go and wait in line for like 5 minutes, and when we get up to the register, the girl says, “Oh no! You have to order ice cream cones from THAT register!” Only in Rome, right? Here’s me, easy as can be, oh, ok! Like that’s the most normal thing in the world. I’ve become pretty blissfully Zen this time around. I think because I expect crap like this, it doesn’t get to me anymore.

So we go to the ice cream cone/coffee register. And the guy in front of us orders four sundaes, with a twist you’ll never see in the States. He asks for them to be drenched in coffee, which is a thing you can have here in Italy, “affogati nel caffe,” which just made me think, only in Italy. (I’m doing the whole “Royale with Cheese” scene thing from Pulp Fiction, right?)

Start at :43

Anyhoo, while I’m watching the dude collect his four drowned-in-coffee sundaes, guess what guys? The Rom girl starts munching on our Chicken McNuggets.

So, you see, my worries were not unfounded.

Luckily, however, I had confirmed prior to leaving the table that Vincenzo had, in fact, finished his nuggets. So I just calmly walked back to the table, collected our stuffed Smurf doll and Vince’s jacket, and kept waiting for our cone.

McDonald’s in Italy. You don’t have Royale with Cheese, but you do have Tiramisù with Coca Light, and that’s good enough for me.

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He’s lovin’ it.