Tandem Travel Tales: Rome, Take 3

ROME: THE FOOD

If you research the world’s best cuisine, Italy is often considered #1 or #2. The quality of ingredients allows for the city to be full of variety and pride. This is why we’re dedicating a whole post to our favorite food and drink. We had high hopes for delicious food experiences, but we weren’t expecting to find new and interesting bites around every corner.

Beppe and his cheese @travelingintandem
Seriously, look at all of that beautiful cheese.

Steve and I love to learn new things about food, try different ingredients, and meet the individuals that are passionate about the food that they’re creating. At home we often host “dinner parties,” in the informal sense. We enjoy snuggling our friends together in our kitchen, many of whom don’t know one another, putting a beverage in their hands, and letting them help where they are comfortable as we chop through vegetables, mix spices, and talk about what’s happening in our lives. We have some of the most genuine and comfortable interactions with friends and family this way.

So, that being said. Here’s our third perspective on Rome. The food.

MERCATO TESTACCIO

Neighborhood: Testaccio

If Steve and I had one television indulgence, it would have to be travel food TV. After a late night working, we would often come home and snuggle in while watching an episode of Andrew Zimmern or Anthony Bourdain. While I have so many feelings about the passing of Bourdain and the detriment this has on the world of cultural, educational, and empathetic food travel, the credit for interest in Mercato Testaccio actually goes to Zimmern.

CasaManco Mercato Testaccio @travelingintandem
Paola smiling at CasaManco with all of her lovely pizzas.

I’m not sure what it was about this market, but I watched the clip on it at least three times before deciding I had to visit. As we mentioned in previous posts, Testaccio is formerly a working-class neighborhood. While you can see parts of it, including the market, undergoing different aspects of gentrification, the neighborhood overall still embodies authenticity and strength.

Something we appreciate about the market was its organization. While each stall retained its own identity, they were organized by box number so that you could easily navigate the grid and explore prepared foods, raw ingredients, specialty shops, and homegoods.

These are a few of our favorite stalls.

Vini Sfusi alla spina Mercato Testaccio @travelingintandem
Vini Sfusi Di Qualita Alla Spina, at Mercato Testaccio

Vini Sfusi Alla Spina

Box #7
We recommend: Sauvignon Blanc and Prosecco

Dubbed the market’s “corner of pleasure,” you’ll find wine on draft for takeaway at 2.5€ per liter. Locals will show up with their bag of 1.5L bottles and fill them all for a wine-filled weekend. They also serve wine for sipping bar side, if that’s something you’re looking for. With both red and white, sweet and dry, there’s something for everyone. We had great interactions with the proprietor and enjoyed watching him chat with his regulars.

The first time around we tried the sauvignon blanc. Citrusy and acidic, it’s always my favorite white. Before leaving we decided that we might as well top off our bottle, and asked for another liter. Because, yes, we had, in fact, drank an entire liter of wine while walking around the market and trying the food. Somehow it was lost in translation that we were drinking the sauvignon blanc, and he topped our half-liter off with a liter of Prosecco. Ooops.

Regardless, it was still cold and delicious. And we had already tried and enjoyed the prosecco earlier, so it didn’t make for a bad combination. Just a bit more bubbly. If wine isn’t your thing and you’re looking for liquor they also sell grappa, a grape-based spirit. Not so much our cup of tea, but it’s worth a try if you’ve never had grappa.

Mercato Testaccio @travelingintandem
Don’t mind the contemplative look. This photo is just for showing off the bottle of wine.

CasaManco

Box #22
We recommend: Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut, Aubergine & Ricotta Salata, Chicory with Olives & Anchovies, Zucchini Blossom with Anchovies

I’m just going to go ahead and say it. THIS IS THE BEST WE HAVE EVER HAD. Someone in this family business knows what they’re doing and kept us coming back. We visited three times in 24 hours because we just couldn’t get enough of their smiling faces and delicious, fresh pizza. Run by Paola and Andrea, the stand almost always has a line of people ready for a bite of their mouth-watering magic. The variety of pizza available is everchanging, and each time you visit there is a chance to taste something new and exciting.

Something else that we loved about this place is that their pizza is priced by weight and specialty “class.” While this a quality that we really hated when it came to other Roman-style pizzas, it made sense here. The crust, while crispy, is fresh and complimentary to the toppings. Meaning that it wasn’t super dense and therefore reasonable in price.

When asking about a pizza with sundried tomatoes Paola informed us that they individually dried the tomatoes at home on their property just a week before. You don’t find many people anywhere in the world that take that much care in preparing and preserving their ingredients, especially for pizza. If you go to Rome, please go eat allll of their pizza for us.

Mordi & Vai

Box #15
We recommend: #3 Trippa Alla Romana & #1 Allesso Di Scottona

A trip to Mercato Testaccio is not complete without a visit to Sergio. Hosting a humble yet rich and delicious deli-style sandwich stand, there is almost always a wait here. People will line up for a half an hour to taste these Roman Style sandwiches dubbed Rome’s #1 street food since 2012. With twelve menu items and including a vegetarian option, there’s a bit of something for everyone.

The second day we visited the market, we stopped by on our way to the airport bright and early. We were some of the first people to order after opening, which meant no line and a chance to have a brief interaction with the fellas behind the counter. You can tell that people there are passionate about what they do and believe in the food they’re serving.

Sergio has made it his mission to honor “poor dishes of the Roman tradition,” including ingredients like tripe, pig’s cheek, and kidney. And they remain wildly popular while still providing filling sandwiches at humble prices (4-5€). Be adventurous and try something new. Just don’t forget to take a ticket or you’ll be waiting in line for nothing!

Pizzicheria dafabio Mercato Testaccio @travelingintandem
A photo of Steve with his prosciutto at Pizzicheria DaFabio.

Pizzicheria DaFabio Prosciutto

Box #Unknown
We recommend: The Prosciutto

Hand-carved prosciutto off of a house-cured pork leg was a first for us. We were about to leave the market and head to the airport, but only had 4€ in hand when approaching Pizzicheria DaFabio. We explained that we wanted to purchase 4€ worth of meat, expecting to leave with 4-5oz. So we were surprised when he just kept carving and carving and carving, handing us a shy pound of prosciutto that we were happy to eat between then and boarding time.

You’ll notice that we don’t have the Box number listed. They seem to be an elusive or maybe new business that does not exist on the internet. I have a picture of their sign, but they’re not even on the market website. They’re somewhere right in the center and have a bounty of meat and deli-style goods beyond prosciutto.

La Contea Del Pane

Box #16 & #17
We recommend: All of the cookies

Mmmm. Great cookies at a reasonable price. For 3.5€ we walked away with a sampler bag of 15 house-baked cookies. While some were better than others, they were a great change of pace from all of the salty and savor goods we were tasting. And, similar to most bakeries in Italy, they use almond extract in most of their cookies. This might just be my favorite ingredient in baked goods, so they kept me pretty happy while satisfying my sweet tooth.

Foodbox Mercato Testaccio @travelingintandem
Artichokes prepped and ready for frying at FoodBox.

Food Box

Box #66
We recommend: Fried artichoke

Last, but not least, check out FoodBox. They focus on honoring straightforward and simple ingredients in the form of street food from across Europe. We had never seen a deep-fried artichoke, let alone one that is perfectly turned. While it was delicious, simple, and straightforward, their offerings come with a much higher price tag than most in Mercato Testaccio. And they also take a bit longer to prepare, since each item is cooked to order.

PASTA & BREAD

Maybe we should be ashamed for including both bread and pasta in one category. But if we’re going to be honest, we expected to have stellar bread to pair with the pasta while in Italy. That’s not to say it was all bad, because we had great dishes. We just expected Italy to be the land of magnificent bread and pasta.

However, we did have some flavourful, carb-loaded treats. Here are a few that we would recommend.

Albanesi

Neighborhood: Monteverde

One of the many bakeries we visited, we had to visit two time before purchasing anything because the line was out the door the early in the morning. Full of hundreds of fresh baked options, we arrived looking for tiramisu and bread. While we didn’t end up leaving with a sweet treat, we did leave with a fluffy, seeded, whole wheat loaf that we snacked on throughout the day and used it as a nice airport meal on our way out of Italy.

Suburra 1930 @travelingintandem
Steve stealing a photo of grandma and I at Suburra 1930

Suburra 1930

Neighborhood: Rione | Monti
We recommend: Carbonara and Eggplant Parmesan

This is where we stopped for our first meal with grandma. We wanted something a little more upscale, but nothing that was going to break the bank. Suburra 1930 ended up being the perfect combination of the two. Nestled in the Rione district, Steve and I spent hours the previous day walking this neighborhood while waiting on our laundry to be finished post bed bug fiasco. This one caught our eye from outside because there were lovely patio tables nestled into a quiet streetside corner.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to enjoy the patio because of reservations, but we did appreciate the intricate chartreuse velvet interior. The wine was paired well, reasonable, and the portion, while small, was perfect. I was sold on the vibrant, speakeasy interior, which seems to lend itself to a later dinner and drink crowd than the 7 PM dinner we experienced. But the food was delicious nonetheless.

Porto Fluviale

Neighborhood: Ostiense
We recommend: Pasta half portions

Our Airbnb host recommended Porto Fluviale. And while we went back and forth on suggesting it ourselves, it had an enjoyable atmosphere and offered half portions for a tasting. We tried three pasta dishes and the chicory including Paccheri Pasta Alla Carbonara and Mezze Maniche Alla’ Amatriciana. The pasta wasn’t exquisite, but it was a great experience to taste pasta for comparison. And the chicory was one of the first cooked vegetables we had in a week and a half. I think I actually was most excited by this.

Mt. Enogallery

Neighborhood: Rione | Monti

If there was one place in Rome that you need to visit for an honest, local, and charming experience, it is Mr. Enogallery. Actually known more for their wine than food, we stumbled across the small restaurant and tasting room by accident. It was immediately clear that there was something special here. The staff were kind but also happy, which is not always evident in restaurant service. The owner, while present, was casual while still being part of the team. Everyone really seemed to appreciate one another.

We tried two of their red wines. I wish I could remember what they were, but it was evident that they used quality grapes and took care to produce a rich and high-calibre product. And speaking to the food, I’m a bit sad that we didn’t return for a second visit. Both their eggplant parmesan and lasagna were straightforward, classic renditions with a focus on quality.  

PIZZA PIZZA!

CasaManco Mercato Testaccio @travelingintandem
This smile was before we even tried CasaManco Pizza. 

CasaManco

Neighborhood: Testaccio
We recommend: All of the pizza

In case you didn’t read the account above, you need to visit CasaManco. It’s the best pizza we’ve ever tried, available at a reasonable price, and located in a market full of delicious goodies. And because of that, I really needed to mention it again.

Trapizzino

Neighborhoods: Trastevere, Testaccio, Ponte Milvio, and Central Market
We recommend: Parmigiana di Melanzane, Polpetta al Sugo, & Zighinì

Trapizzino is another treat that we have Andrew Zimmern to thank for. I think we’ve all loved pizza at one point or another. And depending on what childhood looked like, you may have had a pizza roll or pocket somewhere along the way. Now take that gooey, nostalgic, microwave goodness and class it up a bit with top notch ingredients and turn your pizza crust into a sandwich pocket made with fresh dough. They call it a Trapizzino.

The original location exists in Testaccio, though we visited Trastevere by accident. I knew they had expanded and made themselves into a bit of a small empire, but I didn’t realize that they had 10 locations, including one in New York City. So if you live in the United States and aren’t a fan of flying overseas or don’t have a passport, you can still have a taste of Roman street food in NYC.

CasaManco pizza Mercato Testaccio @travelingintandem
Zuchinni flower and anchovy pizza from CasaManco.

Roman-Style Pizza

We recommend: CasaManco and Il Pane e i Dolci

The food culture internet tells me that this is an up-and-coming pizza style, making a name for itself around the world. While not our favorite, we did have some really incredible versions of Roman-Style Pizza, including our favorite, CasaManco, and Il Pane e I Doci, found in Central Market in Termini Station.

The thing that makes Roman-style pizza temperamental is the crust. Often baked on a large rectangular baking tray, you’re going to end up with a really dense, thick, cracker-like crust unless you cook at the right temperature and spread the dough thin enough. And given that the pizza is usually sold by weight, you can end up paying for mostly bad, heavy crust. We could go back and forth on this one, but I think it might be the most temperamental and often poorly executed kind of pizza out there. However, when done right, it’s great.

How’s that for a mixed review?

CHEESE AND CHARCUTERIE

I’m going to shamefully graze over cured meats, even though their quality and prevalence in Rome, Italy, and Europe, in general, is extensive. We had so many good meats that I really can’t narrow them down or remember where to get them. Just look for a butcher with quality, cured product. You’ll find what you like and continue on happy as a clam. I will, however, return to our love for the prosciutto at Pizzicheria DaFabio in Mercato Testaccio.

Beppe and His Cheeses

Neighborhood: Regola
We recommend: All of the cheese samplers

I get flashbacks when thinking about Beppe and His Cheese. On grandma’s last night in Italy, we really wanted to try quality European cheeses. So we looked up a cheese shop and ended up spending the evening with Beppe. It only took us 40 minutes waiting for a bus that we didn’t think would ever arrive to get there, but it was absolutely worth it.

Beppe and his cheese @travelingintandem
A picture of grandma with our feast at Beppe and His Cheese.

While we should have known, this is a relatively high brow spot for wine, meats, and their specialty, cheeses. We wanted to try a bit of everything, so we went with their largest cheese samplers, a medium-sized meat platter, a bit of wine, and plenty of water. Who would have thought that when tasting cheese appropriately, they have the potential to totally blow your palate to smithereens? Whew.

We sampled a total of twelve cheeses with Beppe. My favorite part of the experience was seeing grandma deny bleu cheese, finally take a bite of it, and then go back for more. Each of us found a cheese or two that was not for us. And we also found delightful, bright, rich, peppery, earth, goaty, and smelly delights. Mmm. While an indulgence, and at the end a feat, I would do it again.

GELATO

We ate sooo much gelato in Italy, but only a few of our favorites were in Rome. For those who don’t know, gelato the icecream of Italy. The differences? Gelato is churned slower, therefore it incorporates less air. As a result you end up with a smoother texture. It also contains egg, though far less than custard. This gives it the creaminess that everyone loves so much.

Gelateria Romana

Neighborhood: Ostiense
We Recommend: Biscotto della Nonna

Ah. We visited Romana Gelato three times during the two nights that we stay in Ostiense. Don’t make a fool out of yourself as we did. Be sure to order your cone before standing at the counter looking dumbfounded for a few minutes. Once you pay, they’ll walk you through the decision process.

For a small cone, you can choose two of their flavorful, unique gelatos and then top it with homemade whipped cream. And don’t forget to fill the bottom of your cone at the beginning with white or dark chocolate. Make sure you arrive early, and not right after dinner. The line has been know to wrap down and around the block.

Gelateria Romana @travelingintandem
Enjoying the artisanship of Gelateria Romana.

Gelateria Ping Pong

Neighborhood: Monteverde
We recommend: Lemon and Mango Sorbetto

Though everything here is gleaming and it kind of looks future-esque, we were happily surprised by the quality of the gelato. The afternoon that we visited we kept seeing kiddos walking down the block with towering cones of sweet, creamy goodness. After an awesome dinner our final night in Rome we went in search of Gelateria Ping Pong. It was absolutely worth the search. Their sorbets were sweet, tart, and refreshing. And Steve enjoyed his gelato as well, though I can’t remember what he had.

CAFE AND COFFEE CULTURE

As we mentioned in our previous post, “Rome, The Good,” coffee culture is a prominent facet in not only Rome, but Italy as a whole. We bopped around the city a bit too much to commit ourselves to one particular cafe or coffee shop, but I can tell you that we never had a bad espresso or cappuccino during our time in Italy.

Pop up to the counter and order a drink to sip at the counter with the locals. And if it’s early in the day, be sure to buy a croissant, otherwise known as cornetti, to pair with your bitter, caffeinated drink. Most cafes will offer plain, chocolate, and cream croissants. More often than not this translates to plain, Nutella, or Bavarian cream croissants.

Initially, we were excited about the prospects of Nutella everywhere. But it only took a few croissants stuffed full of the peanut butter consistency, chocolatey goodness to recognize that it was a bit overkill and your mouth would feel like the Sahara Desert after a Nutella croissant and espresso. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, I will never say “no” to a cream croissant. I know for some people Bavarian cream or custard baked goods are appalling, but I have always let the haters hate on that one.

And while we’re talking about baked goods, let’s just throw in the beloved tiramisu. I love tiramisu, but Steve categorizes it up there with divine beings. That being said, we ate some really bad tiramisu in Rome-to the point that we couldn’t believe how bad it was. Call us food snobs, but we know what the layers are supposed to be. So when you’re missing the ladyfingers, or the sabayon, or the sugar/wine or sugar/liquor dip, your tiramisu is not to be trusted.

Produce Mercato Testaccio @travelingintandem
A beautiful example of the produce stalls at Mercato Testaccio.

Babylon Cafe

Neighborhood: Monteverde
We recommend: Try a variety of their miniature baked goods

Though it is likely not the best bakery in Rome, we really enjoyed our visit to Babylon Cafe. While it might have been a fluke, we walked away with nine miniature baked goods for 3.5€. We even had them reassure us that we were paying enough for the delicate little beauties responsible for satisfying my sweet tooth and then some.

Initially, we tried to order just three or four miniatures, but through the language barrier, the fellow behind the counter just started adding miscellaneous goods to our box in an attempt to give us the true sampler. They even wrapped the little box up in red foil and sent us away with an overly packaged, though beautiful, box of delights.

Steve thinks you should try the mushroom-shaped cake sitting in an individual pan of boozy, honey goodness.

CHOCOLATE

Grezzo Raw Chocolate

Neighborhood: Rione | Monti
We recommend: 80% raw chocolate

Grezzo gets their own category on this one. While we didn’t mean to visit a bougie chocolate shop, we totally did, and we went back for a second time. The nice thing about Grezzo is though they sell things like truffles and full-sized chocolate bars, they also sell small 0.80€ raw chocolate cookies, as well as individual pieces of their dark raw chocolate. Skip the 70% and go straight for the 80% raw. It’s divine, smooth, rich, and almost crystalline it’s so pure. Mmmm.

SANDWICHES

Another thing that we had plenty of in Italy was sandwiches, but that wasn’t the case in Rome. We had a few takeaway bites here and there that typically consisted of two small pieces of bread filled with cold cuts, cheese, and maybe some LTO. Aside from Mordi & Vai,  Donkey Punch had the only other sandwich that stood out. Unless you consider Trapizzino a sandwich, then it deserves notoriety as well.

Mordi & Vai Mercato Testaccio @travelingintandem
The beautiful spread at Mordi & Vai.

Donkey Punch

Neighborhood: Trastevere
We Recommend: Rolling Stones

We actually found Donkey Punch when looking for a pint of craft beer. The internet told us they had craft, draught beer, but the internet lied. We instead found an original, quirky, counterculture sandwich shop that named all of their sandwiches after famous rock bands. We juggled the idea of a few, but ended up settling on The Rolling Stone, which we were later told is their most popular sandwich.

For all of my vegan and vegetarians out there, skip ahead, because you won’t like this. The Rolling Stone is filled with porchetta, sundried tomatoes, greens, and spicy sauce. What is porchetta you ask? It is an entire pig, skinned and deboned, then re-skinned, stitched back together, bound, and roasted for hours until you get a crispy chicharron skin and moist, meaty inside. Porchetta is huge in Italy because it’s delicious. And some deem Donkey Punch to have the best porchetta in town.

MERCATO CENTRALE

Neighborhood: Termini Train Station

Though relatively new, Central Market in the Termini Train Station has to be the best “food court” that I have ever visited. Usually, when we’re preparing for a plane or train ride, we’ll gather a few snacks. But we weren’t able to do that in Rome. Instead, we were graced with the goodies in Central Market.

If you’re looking for pizza, visit Il Pane e IDoci. Though it’s actually a bakery with more sweets than pizza, the pizza was a tasty and spicy treat on our way to Caserta. Grab a cup of coffee from La Caffeteria, and get a rare but hearty dose of vegetables from Il Vegetariano and Vegano. Unfortunately, these spots don’t have their own websites, but they are easy enough to find in Mercato Centrale.

CHINESE FOOD, THE UNEXPECTED

Restaurant Dumpling Bar

Neighborhood: Monteverde
We recommend: Shumai & Raviolo 7 Verdure

Mmmm. Dumplings. Prior to our trip to Nepal, we were never people to profess love for these little doughy bites of magic. On our final night in Rome, we were honestly tired of pasta and bread and went out in search of two things, Chinese food, and tiramisu. After chasing a few spots the were forever closed, we decided to start at Dumping Bar for a dim sum appetizer.

The intricacy with which each dumpling is made is artisanship. We tried Shumai and Raviolo 7 Verdure Each was divine and left us wanting more. Additionally, they offer a spectrum of homemade sauces to pair with each item. It seems to me that the sauces are rather experimental and might change on a regular basis, so I imagine you’re getting a different variety with every visit. And they had my favorite Italian beer, Birra Ichnusa unfiltered.

@travelingintandem
Our final selfie with grandma before she headed home to Florida.

Cucina Chinese

Neighborhood: Monteverde
We recommend: Crispy Duck Breast, Shumai, and Sweet & Sour Tofu

This is where I am going to say that writing about food in this post has been making my mouth water. Especially thinking about Cucina Cinese. My experience with Chinese food is very Americanized. It consists of sticky sweet and sour sauce tossed on fried chicken and paired with rice in some sort of styrofoam take away container. As a result, you’ll often hear me say, “I’ll eat just about anything other than Chinese food.”

This place left me with a new perspective. We showed up to Cucina Cinese unsure of whether or not they would be able to accommodate us. In total there were about 16 seats in the restaurant and one woman running the show. It really felt a bit like unadorned Bob’s Burgers come to life with Tina as the star of the show and Bob somewhere behind the curtain.

It became clear that we were in for a delicious meal when watching her handle the drinks and flatware. Every individual piece of silverware was polished before being delicately wrapped in a napkin and placed on the table. Additionally, each glass, whether for soda, water, or beer, was checked for water spots and polished before being passed along.

To get the full picture, know that there were no swinging kitchen doors. There was instead one solid particleboard door with a sliding window that mysteriously opened to reveal one completed dish at a time. For me, it embodied an imaginative Communist-era reception desk at a government office. But they made it work. And the things that Bob was slinging out of the kitchen were delicious and wonderful changes of pace from our bread, cheese, pasta, and sauce routine.

APERITIF & DIGESTIF

It seems to me that aperitifs and digestif are staples of not only Rome, but the European drinking culture as a whole. The one that we encountered most often was the Aperol Spritz. Now I’ll be the first to admit that these are not my strong suit, because frankly I don’t often enjoy liquor. However, I understand the appeal.

An apricot aperitif, Aperol embodies sweet, sour, bitter, resinous, bubbly and refreshing all in one sip. It’s something that would be great for a sweltering hot day in the sun. Campari, similar to Aperol, is a grapefruit aperitif. It also comes in the form of spritz and carries a tad more bitter zest than its counterpart.

Last but not least Fernet. A digestif, it is intended to be a post-dinner drink. Though I’m sure people mix it with something, it is most often sipped or shot. It’s interesting to me how popular it is in Europe. At home, I’ve always seen it as more of an industry drink that only bartenders and restaurant staff order. However, I do live in Indiana, so that might not be the norm on the coasts.

Gelateria Romana @travelingintandem
Steve loves to steal photos of me eating. Here’s one of the delicious gelato at Gelateria Romana. The whipped cream fell in my lap right after this photo.

BEER

I’ll keep this one short because the beer in Italy, while good, isn’t anything to write home about. You’re better off chasing the wine and enjoying a product of the region’s quality ingredients.

Beers we liked: Peroni, Ichnusa filtered and unfiltered, Poretti 4, Moretti La Rossa
Not-so-great beers: Birra Moretti and Birra Moretti Toscana and other specialty derivatives

HELLO, BANGKOK!

And with that, we’re going to conclude our time in Rome. We still have three or four other posts to pull from our experiences in Italy, as well as five other European countries, but we’re going to switch it up and save those for a bit later. Instead, we’re going to skip ahead and shed a little insight on our time in Southeast Asia with a post on our first stop, Bangkok. There’s a lot sort to through not only because the city itself covers all ends of the experiential grid, but also because transitioning from three months on the road in Europe to one of Southeast Asia’s largest cities can really make your head spin.

Talk soon!

Brittany

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