We’re a bit a obsessed about food. In our Philadelphia office there’s an entire desk devoted to snacks. And, when we do “team building” exercises at Context you can bet that there will be a multi-course meal and some wine involved. So, we’re in our groove when people ring up with questions about where to eat in our cities, and how they can get an immersive culinary experience. Often these questions focus on Rome, still our most popular city. Here are some quick tips for putting together a satisfying foodie experience in Rome. First, the food blogger scene in Rome has blossomed and matured over the last five years, which puts some pretty fantastic resources at a traveler’s fingertips. I would try downloading the Rome Food App from influential food writer (and former Context docent) Katie Parla or Elizabeth Minchili’s Eat Rome App, both of which feature up-to-date restaurant listings and other food tips. Parla and Minchilli both actively write about Roman food for such outlets as Saveur and Travel + Leisure, and these apps pretty well cover what’s hot now.
The key to Roman cuisine is ingredients, and the fresher the better. So, it makes sense to schedule a trip to a market or two while here, especially if you’re staying in a local apartment and are doing some of your own cooking. The Campo di Fiori market is one of the last open-air markets in the center of Rome. It’s been transformed by tourism and lost much of its lustre. Still, with it’s central location it’s worth a stroll.
More diehard foodies, though, will want to venture to the Esquilino market near termini or the famous Testaccio market, which has recently been moved indoors into a more sterile environment. These are two of the biggest, most important markets in Rome. On our Rome Market tour, however, we venture to the Trionfale market in the Prati neighborhood, a residential part of the city. In our view this is one of the more authentic markets where locals still shop; and it’s big enough to provide a comprehensive experience of the Roman market tradition.
Food provides a unique lens through which to experience a place. So, we often suggest coupling a food tour with one of our art or history tours, in order to get a fuller sense of how Romans live and the traditions that have shaped them. In my view our Savoring Rome tour is the best. It takes us through the center of the city, sampling the best gelato, coffee, and pizza bianca in Rome—and probably the world. Although not a family tour, per se, I’ve taken my kids on it, and they loved it. (Though, fair warning, they ate most of the pizza bianca.)
A super cool option for longer duration experiences is food writer Maureen Fant’s multi-day archeo-culinary tours through her company Elifant Tours. Maureen, who leads our Food Culture of Rome tour, is a trained archaeologist and renown chef & writer. She’s teamed up Liz Bartman, an archaeologist from New York, to lead these trips; and we’re hearing great things.
If time allows, taking a cooking class with a real Roman chef is a smart way to immersive ourselves in Roman cuisine. We offer a four-hour cooking class with a local chef in the Aventine neighborhood. Another popular option that we’ve heard good about is Andrea Consoli’s Cooking Class in Rome.
Restaurants in Rome can be tricky. What may have been a great trattoria 5 years ago, may now be touristy and less interesting. It’s good to acquire some detective skills in order to avoid the schlocky spots. For example, a 20-page menu in 5 different languages is a good indicator that an eatery has lost its focus. We love the Food Police series of videos that our friends at Cross-Pollinate apartment rentals put out a couple of years ago that run through the basics of sniffing out frauds.
The best place for solid restaurant lists are the various bloggers and food writers. They each have a slightly different approach and opinion. But, all of them are out there regularly eating their way through Rome and sharing valuable insights. Some of our favorites are: