The Realities of Living in Rome

Just as I wrote about the great things about living in Rome, here are the less than great things about living in Rome.

How hard it is to get things done, like paying a bill. This can take a long time because sometimes you do not have the bill you need to pay, then you have the wrong number, then the wrong amount, then the reminder is sent through a system that you cannot access, and so on. But, once you get the bill, the solution is to get help from your local kiosk by showing them the bill and insisting that you want to pay!

The bureaucracy (actually this can be an advantage at times because speaking loudly enough can sometimes get things done).

The slow internet.

The power outages.

The traffic. It can be deadly. There is double, triple parking on many streets. There is little attention to lanes. Cars often stop at crosswalks but with the pedestrians also walking all over the streets, it is basically a melee.

Not disable friendly. The stairs and steps everywhere. Plus, the cobblestones and broken streets make walking quite difficult.

The heat in the summer. Romans tell me that up until a few years ago, the 90+/32+ days were a few weeks. Now it starts in May and ends in September/October.

Trash, double parking, and cobble stones make Rome a tough city for pedestrians.

The broken streets.

The trash. Rome is a dirty city.

The lack of international food of high standard.

The dubbing of films (which hinders people from learning foreign languages). WTF.

9 Best Korean Restaurants in Rome

There are only 12 so that makes it easier. I am listing the restaurants on flavor, authenticity, and selection.

Seoul Restaurant is old school.

Seoul: This place was filled with Koreans and the atmosphere is more family than business lunch. They have no mandu (dumplings) but otherwise a full menu. The service was fast and the flavors were authentic. Not a wide variety of panchan but at least the kimchi was okay. This is on the south side (also figuratively) of Termini. This newly renovated place is down in a basement and I think it is located where the previous highly rate Hana was once located. I would go back.

Seoul restaurant is newly renovated down in a basement.

Starbaps: This tiny three high table top take out place has five things on the menu (bento box, rice bowls, dumplings, rice cakes, and soup) but the flavor is authentic. But it annoys me that they deep fry their mandu as this destroys any “chew” factor. I go back all the time.

This a tiny place with a few high top tables.

Gainn: Perfectly acceptable place to eat Korean. Elegant enough for a nice meal. Near Termini on the nice side. Probably would take newbies here.

Gainn is a fairly classic Korean place.
HanCook in south Rome.

Hancook: New restaurant, pleasant atmosphere. They are a bit south of the center. The seafood pancake was good, but the bulgogi was bad. It tasted blah. The japchae noodles were excellent. They had no beef mandu (dumplings) but have small deep fried scallion gyoza. They also have pork dumplings in a money sack shape were “sold out” when I visited. The pork, seafood, and tofu stew was spicy and okay. The rice was not sticky Korean rice. The restaurant looks nice but there were not too many Koreans eating there even though the owner is Korean and the waitress is also Korean. She bops around in her mom jean shorts and speaks Italian. Might go back.

At HanCook, the bulgogi looks okay but it has no taste.

Jangbaeksan/Chang Bai Shan: It’s Chinese Korean. Perfectly acceptable Korean food. A bit far out down south of the center of town. Might go back.

Lettuce included at Jang Baek San.

Da Lui Bian BBQ: This place is listed as a yakitori (meat on stick in Japanese) place but the photos show Korean items. The Korean items are all fine. The bulgogi was more like roastbeef so not too sinewy. This place is also near the center of town so convenient. Might go back.

Large but few portions of panchan at Da Lui Bian.

Kombi Ni Ni: is a pan Asian place but they do make some Korean items. Very generic pan Asian but okay if your live nearby. It is actually a Korean owned shop but they are doing well enough that it takes 90 minutes to get the food so it is best to order online. I liked their fried chicken but it could have been fried anything. Good though. The kimbap (like sushi rolls/maki but these are with beef) were good too. No kimchi served with meals/bento boxes. A bit like Starbaps. Too far away to go back to.

Mamma Coreana/Corea: This is a bit like eating at a Korean mamma’s house. They have all you can eat which includes some basics including rice and soup. There are a few a la carte items but not much of a menu. When the food is done, it’s done. This is bare bones, TV on, children running around, businessmen on video calls with wife while eating, kind of place. I might go back.

Arirang is down those stairs…

Arirang: The food was very average, the location and facade make it a hole in the wall. This is the place that I’ve seen from when driving around Termini… I even walked around twice looking for this place with the Korean painted frontage… and then I searched on Google Earth… finally, I found it by reading other lists of Korean restaurants in Rome, but I clicked on the image search instead of the regular search. Read that list here. I would not go back.

I-gio: This is possibly the most trendy of the Korean restaurants. The restaurant is elegant. The food was okay but I didn’t find it good enough to finish or take home. I would not go back.

Galbi: This was another strange frankenstein of a place. The menu is made for Italians. If you want the food served more Korean style, the owner will do so. I wish him good luck, but I would not go here for Korean food. I might go back to grill steak on the mini grill for an Instagram video. Would not go back.

Biwon: Sad. I did not finish the food and I left quickly.

There are two other restaurants listed on Google but…

Kumkan-san: way outside Rome, near Ciampino airport. Temporarily closed.

Rist.coreano: Outside the ring road around Rome. I think this is only for organized tour groups and I don’t think this is really open to the public.

And then there are places with Korean food on the menu:

Raviolieri: It’s not Korean but while many restaurants are trying to get a piece of the “Korean chicken wing” action, this place actual has several pages of Korean items on their menu. The items are fusion Roman-Korean.

Most of the restaurants now make “Korean chicken” wings but they are not. They are chicken wings. Some have sauce. It is not the same as the ethereal rice flour wings of real Korean chicken wings.

The Great Things About Living in Rome

Since the honeymoon is over for me, I thought I’d remind myself of why I chose to live in Rome.

It is Rome. The eternal city. The place that people dream of.

The sun shines almost every day.

The produce is fresh, local, and delicious.

The markets are great.

You can fill up your own bottles at certain wine stores. Even the box wine is good.

The olive oil is great.

Wine is cheap and good.

Romans are generally friendly. Speak English or act like a tourist and you will get a better reaction. Actually, just say hello first.

The taxis are not too expensive.

You can walk everywhere when it is not too hot.

The train system up and down Italy is fast and not expensive. Four hours from Rome to Milan. One and a half hours to Florence.

You can be a tourist in your own town.

Rome is an international city.

Many people speak English.

It is a big city so you can find almost anything that you want.

One can eat zucchini flowers almost every day.

The food is good.

And, if you like Roman history and ruins, this place has them everywhere, including in McDonalds and the department stores.

Later, I will write about the stuff that is not so great. For now, I’ll go out and enjoy Rome.

The Nine Levels of Life In Italy

Some countries are great for tourists. Italy is one of them. Is it this way for everyone? Here is my list of diminishing joy.

The Amalfi Coast.

Tourists: At the top, tourists. To be a tourist in Italy is a delight. All the mechanisms are here, from ATMs, efficient trains, to affordable food to make you spend your money! The average salary in the United States is almost double that of the average Italian salary, making American dollars welcome.

An Aperol Spritz during aperativo.

Exchange students: With the benefit of home and host nation working to make your study abroad semester ah-maze-balls, this is clearly a great place to be. A semester is like a long holiday filled with movie sets, people flirting with you, free things (sample this, take this, have this), and the massive moshpit of AYCE other students all here to find the dolce vita, or meet Romeo, or feel inspired by Raphael, in a land of where wine is part of daily life (and gives no hangovers because of the rules limited wine production to grapes). Every year, Florence receives over 7,000 American exchange students (80 percent women).

The streets are cute here. Even in big cities like Florence. Sorry, “Firenze.”

Digital Nomads: This new group of people will find Italy a great place to be. The limits on sitting in cafes and restaurants is fairly limitless, the Internet speed is not bad, WIFI is almost everywhere and free, and overall prices are not too high.

International organization employees: Life in Italy with the aid of your home and host nation to smooth out the transitions makes life in Italy a cushy place. Depending on how many years one is assigned to Rome, reality may set in.

Some locations just blow your mind. Yes, one of those wine jugs would be a perfect souvenir (it’s the size of a carryon suitcase).

Native born white Italians: Yes, life is sweet. The bureaucracy is just a reminder to slow down…

Students: This includes non-exchange students, Italian and foreign. Being a student in Italy is a life filled with optimism and discounts.

Expats/binationals: For these long term residents of Italy, it is a great place but you still have to deal with the bureaucracy which may drive you absolutely bonkers at times, but then, after a stop at a coffee bar, it will seem all okay.

This pizza can be had at the Napoli train station! Upstairs in the food court.

Long term white immigrants who speak fluent Italian: Life is good, even sweet at times.

Newly arrived immigrants: For those who are not white and do not speak Italian, life in Italy is confusing but it will get better.

The water that pours from the fountains is potable. It tastes pretty good and is usually cold.

There are currently 60 million Italians. In 2019, 65 million tourists visited Italy. It may seem like there is no more room, but actually, there is. Try visiting Le Marche, Abruzzo, Basilicata, Sicily, Calabria… or visit in the off season.

Grocery Stores in Rome

Tuna is a main staple in Italy. This generic store brand is half the price of the fancy gourmet kind.

Grocery stores in Rome are small, but, you will probably be able to find everything you want or think you want. For some speciality stuff, you will need to go to the international stores as the basic chain stores have very little “international” food. While the chain stores are convenient, I actually prefer the little mom and pop stores, but they are dying away.

The entrances to the stores are often quite small.

Pam, Coop, Conad, and Carrefour are the main chain stores in the center of Rome. Carrefour is tiny here, unlike in some places where they are megastores (like in France).

This aisle is fairly wide for here.

For the Wegmans/Whole Foods type stores, there is DOC (by Coop) and NaturSi (some are quite basic and others have a wider variety like the one on Piazza Farnese, which also has a cafe).

It being Italy, one can buy zucchini flowers.

For the bargain chains, there is Todis, Lidl, Metro, and some that I can’t recall the name of, maybe Tiger?

Eggs are not refrigerated in Italy.

The largest combined “super-Target” type stores I’ve seen here are Conad and Elite.

Castroni has almost everything from the far reaches of anyone’s empire.

Most of the local “rione” markets will have everything for basic shopping but markets tend to close by 2 pm. Many of the specialty stores like delicatessens and bakeries have started carrying other products like milk so that you can do much of your grocery shopping there. I can find almost everything I need for grocery shopping at the farmers market on Via San Teodoro, but it will all be made locally, so no imported goods.

Yes, the wine is cheap. They make it here.

The hardest products for foreigners and expats to find in Rome is cilantro and corn tortillas. I notice a trend in “Mexican” food so these products should be easier and easier to find over the years. Again, finding TexMex is a subject that continually follows me around the world. Gringos are obsessed with it.

For international products, Castroni is a shopping emporium with an Aladdin’s den of dry goods, but also refrigerated goods. There are many Asian shops that carry goods from all over the world, including some fresh vegetables.

For those looking for vegetarian foods or gluten free foods, all these are now easily found in most grocery stores. “Exotic” foods require a bit more hunting. Also, sometimes, the store may not have a whole lot of the one product that you want. I consider it a victory when I can buy more than one bottle of my favorite type of milk.

Child-Friendly Restaurant Outings Within Two Hours of Rome

The Farfa Valley outside Rome

Sundays are family day, and long lunch day. If you have children in the two-five year old range, going out for lunch on a day trip outside Rome requires a few things… a place that is safe enough for them to run around (because the goal is to get them tired out), has some entertainments (donkey, chicken, playground, other people), fresh air, a good bathroom (or other area for diaper changing). Oh, and good food and wine for the adults. Italians adore “bambini” so most restaurants will be accommodating. Here are some to try that are not only for children, but rather a place where the adults can enjoy themselves and the children will also be tired (oh, I mean entertained) out.

Cantina Osteria dell’Elefante (this place is only 30 or 40 minutes from Rome): It’s a fantastic place and they have a donkey named Arturo.

Cantina del Drago, Sutri (about an hour away): Enclosed green area, excellent staff and located in a cute little town.

Cantina del Drago in Sutri.

La Cerra (about 90 minutes away): like a hunting lodge. Has a playground.

Il Piccolo Mondo (90 minutes or so): homemade food, family feel, and with chickens to visit.

Lo Vecchio Fattoria (over two hours, almost in Umbria): an agroturismo and large wedding venue with animals and fields.

La Fiocina, near Lake Nemi (only an hour but for the traffic): one has to go down some stairs but the view over the lake is worth it. Then go to Nemi as it is gorgeous.

Lake Nemi

Ristorante L’Oasi di Vescovio (about an hour): there is a church and a large area to run around in.

Le Comari di Farfa (30 minutes): one has to pre-arrange this place but it’s located in the beautiful valley of Farfa just outside Rome, but a million miles away. Loc. Mercato Vecchio, 02031 Castelnuovo di Farfa Italy — it’s where I went on the olive oil tasting tour with Johnny Madge.

I’ll update this list as I discover more places.

Gluten-Free Eating in Rome

Can a celiac eat pasta, pizza, and gelato? Is a trip to Rome even possible?

First, learn the basic phrase for without gluten — “senza glutine” (sen-za glue-tea-neh) in Italian. While there are many dishes that do not include gluten, such as rice dishes, cross contamination can be a problem so it’s a good idea to explain that you have an allergy. Celiacs is “celiachia” in Italian and the “ce” at the start of the word is pronounced as a “chay” so it’s “chay-lee-ah-chee” but you can show the restaurant this phrase from Celiac Travel which explains that you have celiacs and that you cannot eat food made with wheat or wheat products.

Sono affetto da celiachia (intolleranza al glutine), devo seguire una dieta assolutamente priva di glutine.

Qualsiasi cibo contenente farina/amido di grano (frumento), segale, orzo, avena, farro, spelta, kamut e triticale può causarmi gravi malori.

Luckily, the Italians are obsessed with gut health, so they will feel the tragedy for you, and they will understand. Now, on to the places in Rome where you can eat!

Restaurants:

Mama Eat Lab (100 percent gluten free) – They also have another restaurant called Mama Eat but it is not 100 percent gluten-free.

New Food Gluten Free – Ponte Sisto (100 percent gluten free)

Pantha Rei

La Soffitta Renovatio

Ristorante Il Tulipano Nero

Voglia Di Pizza

Ristorante Pizzeria Il Veliero

Lievito72

Sans de blé

Risotteria Melotti — it is a rice based restaurant

La Scaletta

Pub Cuccagna

Ristorante II Viaggio – gluten and dairy free.

Millennium 

Mangiafuoco Pizza & Grill

Taverna Barberini 

Bakeries:

Le Altre Farine Del Mulino

La Pasticciera

Pandalì

Celiachiamo Lab (also a shop)

Gelato:

Fatamorgana Trastevere

Grom

Fiocco di neve

Gelato G Italiano

Frigidarium

Icecream Shop La Strega Nocciola

The Italian chocolate brand even makes gluten-free chocolate

Read a really good article here. Much of this list is from that site (which includes information about AIC — gluten-free accreditation). This site also rates the places. I also looked at this site which gave a good roundup of gluten-free eats in Rome but more importantly, a list of gluten-free eateries at the airport!

Elegant Wine Tasting in Torre in Pietra

This place has atmosphere.

This wine tour is now on my “M’s Adventures Tour” of Rome. The wine tasting at Cantina Castello di Torre in Pietra is a “must” (so punny, sorry, not sorry) on the tour.

It was cleaning day when we were there.

So why another wine tasting? Didn’t I just write about another? Yes, read about it here. The background to all this wine tasting is this. I had a visit from a friend who is a wine enthusiast/expert who came to Italy for a round birthday. I had this wild plan to go on a wine tasting for every decade of his life. He told me that we didn’t have to go that wild, and that surely we would drink wine every day. We almost did. But, we only did two official wine tastings. Which keeps more in line with his celebration, once again, of his “21st birthday.”

Outdoor grill for warmer weather.

Torre in Pietra has an elephant as its logo because prehistoric elephant bones were discovered here when the castle owners expanded the tuff caves in the 1500s.

The reason for the elephant theme.

The vineyard is located north of the international airport (layover? go for a lunch) and cost 35 euro by uber from inner Rome. It is off in the countryside so a bit hard to find.

Castle tower.

The location is also used as wedding destination and includes a chapel just for that reason. Castle, wine, chapel, it’s got it all.

The four wines that we had.

One can go just for lunch but for 40 euro, we had lunch and a wine tasting. All four wines were from their own vineyard. One was bubbly, one was white and two were red. I think. Christian, the manager, presented them and poured while he explained about them. I don’t recall too much about the wines because I’m not a wine nerd. The vineyard is located near the coast so the grapes benefit from the salinity of the air and soil.

Appetizers of meats, bean puree, tomato, porchetta, and plain with olive oil.

After tasting all four wines, Christian said that he would take the white away to the fridge to keep cool. When my friend asked if we keep one of the wines on the table to have with our lunch, Christian responded, “they are not for looking.” We did not manage to finish four bottles of wine as there were only two of us.

The main dining room.

The lunch was the massive appetizer board, carbonara, and tiramisu. The appetizer board included house made porchetta, allowing one’s guests to try that specialty as well.

Cement aging containers. Unusual. Ask about it.

The really good thing was that we started with the meal and the wine tasting before going on a tour of the aging room. This tour does not include walking in the vineyard (no touching grapes) but it does include the bottling area, the aging cellars, and the lunch. The day that we went, it was a drizzly cold wet day, but as we were inside the dining room, we were cocooned in our wine drinking hug.

Christian, the manager (has a degree in agriculture and wine), is half Danish and half Italian, making him this combination of efficient and warm. When you communicate with him before, he is not overly responsive but once you get there, he is immensely warm and friendly.

Christian speaks, Italian, Danish, English, French…

After the lunch and the tour, we bought wine and olive oil. We had house olive oil during lunch and immediately asked about it because the aroma was so heady.

IGT is a lower ranking than DOC but on the way.

Winery hours:

Monday to Saturday 8:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. Sunday from 09:00 to 16:00

Osteria hours:

Lunch every day, no Wednesday. Dinner on Friday and Saturday.

To book:

Telephone: +39.06.61.69.70.70

Email: info@osteriaelefante.it

Antique corker.

As mentioned, the place is also a regular restaurant, Osteria dell’Elefante, so they have a full menu. As I said, this is now on my “must” list so I look forward to going back.

Cork tree on site.

As you wait for your ride (we took a taxi back for 55 euro), we enjoyed the company of the pet donkey, Arturo, the burro.

Picturesque door.

Top 10 Local Markets in Rome

In Rome, people still shop at their local market. Every “rione” (“REE-own-eh”) has a local market (Some rione can be as small as 20 streets by 20 streets). A local market is the kind of place where you will see older ladies in their house dresses pulling their shopping carts. You will never see a lady in a housedress in a grocery store. For some reason, for a certain generation, shopping at a grocery store requires putting on more formal clothing (Another great thing about Italy is that there are so many people in their 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond). A local market will be mostly fresh produce and products with some of the other amenities available out of convenience. Clothing stalls seem to be a big thing that crops up at these markets. Most markets will also have bakeries and places for a quick bite.

In Trionfale. Bring your own bottle and pay for the wine.

Here is my list of top ten markets and why. At the bottom is the market where I like to shop.

The main entrance of Trionfale is the light at the end of the photo.

Mercato Trionfale (“Tree-ohn-FALL-eh”), Via Andrea Doria 3 (you can read about here): This is the biggest and oldest of the neighborhood markets, completely covered, with parking underneath. There are rows upon rows of metal box stands. It’s not the most attractive place inside. Some of the nice things about this market are that there is a stall where you can bring your own bottle to fill with wine, there are zero kilometer produce vendors at the back of the market (useful to know in August when the farmers markets shut for August vacation), and there are international produce vendors at the front of the market (one or two). Trionfale is open every morning, except Sundays. The market hours are 7 am – 2 pm, but if you arrive after 1 pm, many of the stalls will be closing for lunch (But, a warning, the vendors will be hangry). Also, many of the vendors will give you samples and some even speak English (not the samples). At the entrance to the market, there is a stall that usually has porchetta (“pork-et-ah”), the famous pork roast, out for you to buy.

At Trionfale, one can buy dried cod.
Esquilino is a whole different vibe.
Esquilino is very international.

Nuovo Mercato Esquilino, Via Principe Amedeo 184: This market is located near Termini train station. This area of town is the “Chinatown” or Banglatown or whatever one calls the international part of town. The market is much bigger than it appears with what appears to be markets within markets. There are stalls selling produce and groceries from Bangladesh, India, Senegal, China, Kenya, Philippines, Italy, and other parts of the world. They also sell halal food. I have even seen rambutan for sale here. There are also fresh fish stalls and the local coffee bar truly feels like another part of the world where this is a refuge for men (there are women in this one, by the way). The market, as well as the whole area, does not feel as clean as one might like but I guess that adds to the charm. It reminds me a bit of the markets of Bangladesh, which could all have been improved with a change of lightbulbs to something less neon and stark.

Esquilino has markets wihin markets.
Esquilino has a seafood area. Actually, I think it has two or three.
Mr. Main Uddin’s Food Stall.

Nuovo Mercato Testaccio, Via Benjamino Franklin: This market is quite different than all the others, also perhaps the cleanest of the markets, or at least feels so because of the good lighting. The roof allows in light and the stalls are painted white giving the market a new feel. It is also fairly new as it was relocated here in 2012. The old version of this market was the largest butchery in Europe. The unusual thing about this market is that it has many eateries making it like a food hall, a trend that has not really taken off in Rome. Due to the food stalls and the eating area in the middle, this place is popular with food tours and lunchers. Testaccio market also is the location of a recycle food program where the unsold food is given to the needy. This is the most “way trendy” of the places. Lots of food tours and publicity from international magazines and TV shows.

Testaccio market.

Mercato Rionale Coperto Nomentano, Piazza Alessandria: This market is inside an attractive building from the 1920s, with a high dome. This market has both produce, pizzerias, and some stalls with clothes outside. It is not huge but a good size for a local market. You can find almost anything you want in here. I think I bought a paring knife and a bowl. There are several bakery stalls in this market as well.

The clothing stalls outside Nomentano.

Mercato Italia, Via Catania 70: This is a large market in a part of town that is not touristy and not international. Also, it has a bakery run by two young guys who play rock music and make excellent lasagne. It was like visiting Rome as one might imagine it was. Zero tourists. I’ll be back.

One of the central areas of Mercato Italia. I saw the most house coats at this market.
One of the bakeries at Italia market.

Mercato di San Cosimato (Trastevere), Piazza San Cosimato: This market is slightly different from the others because it is outside in a square in Trastevere. There are some permanent box stalls but the majority of the stalls are fruit and vegetable stands that set up some tables and umbrellas every day.

Mercato di Campo de’ Fiore, Piazza Campo de’ Fiore: Surely the most romantic sounding of all the markets, located in a former field of flowers. This is the uber touristy local market. In the morning, the hold-out vegetable sellers are still there, slowly losing out to the ever dominant tourist tat and limoncello vendors, toasted nuts, and fresh-juice-at-five-euro-a-glass touters. This is an outdoor market in a square that was used for executions (people seem to ignore the statue of the hooded figure) because it was the only square without a church (which to me is the opposite reason as far as I can see). The location can’t be beat. Also, some of the vendors sell exotic items like lychee and round cucumbers from Apulia. In the evening, this square becomes a boozy open air bar, sticky with spilt drinks and hair product from the 80s.

Campo de’ Fiore.

Mercato Rionale Monti, Via Baccini 36: This is the smallest and oldest of the local markets, but it is also quite special. In the center, it has a reading area with shelves with books, a children’s area, and a few tables. The book selection is both in English and Italian. This market also has a pasta stall with a window where there is active pasta making in action. Although this market is basically a square, it even has a gift shop, a speciality Apulian stand, a fish vendor, a butcher, baker, two vegetable stands, a basic grocery stall, and a coffee machine that stands in for a coffee bar. This market is also open until the evening on Thursdays and Fridays, making it even more convenient for the locals.

Mercato Rionale Prati, Piazza dell’Unità 53/Via Cola di Rienzo: This is another 1920s building high to the ceiling and attractive. Another market that is not huge but big enough. It is a bit overgrown by the abutting buildings but you can find it if you try.

I think this is the inside of Italia but many of these markets look alike.

Città dell’Altra Economia, Via di Monte Testaccio (not far south from Testaccio Market): This market is part of a much larger event space. The market is in the large open space and comprises ten to 20 market stalls. If you live near here, then one could shop here. Especially if you like the outdoors farmers market atmosphere.

Outside at the City of the Alternate Economy.
All the food stalls are outside at the City of the Alternate Economy.

To read more about the markets of Rome, this site is a good place to start. There are many other local markets but you get the idea.

Every market sells cheese, vegetables, meat, flowers, oil, and anything else you can think of.

Now to the most famous farmers’ market, a zero kilometer market, where I like to shop.

Campagna Amica market. This market is way swish upmarket. The prices are normal but the clientele are quite fancy pants.

Campagna Amica (Coldiretti is the cooperative that runs these markets all over Italy) in Via San Teodoro 76, Sat & Sun, 8-3, sometimes called the Farmers Market at Circus Maximus because it is located nearby: This zero kilometer market is as local as you can get for Rome. Everything produced here, from milk, meat, artichokes, and oil, and all are from within 100 kilometers of Rome.

In the back courtyard, there are a couple of eateries, including a fried seafood food truck. If you follow me on Instagram, then you will have seen that I like to check out this market every few weeks to see what is in season. It is not my local market, but it is all about local food. This market attracts a lot of TV crews and special events.

The entrance to the market at San Teodoro. It’s on a one way street so it’s better to arrive at the corner and walk back.
San Teodoro market is housed in a former Jewish fish market.

As I go to more markets, I may update this article but this gives you a start if you wish to go to a local market. In general, it is better to go to the market at 9 am if you want to avoid the crowds. 11 am if you like the crowds. After 1 pm, forget it.

Italy Is a Film Set

The movies have influenced pop culture so much that when people think of Italy (which is gorgeous to visit on its own merits), people want to visit the towns where films made them famous or were imagined. So which of those places do I hear about most? Italy has a famous film pedigree from long before Under the Tuscan Sun (Fellini, Leone, etc.). But, in more modern times with the acceleration of social media, the obsession with overall mystique about Italy and “the sweet life” is here to stay. Here are some of the films and locations that you may want to visit, not including Italian films.

An enchanted April if every there was one.

La Dolce Vita, Rome, and more specifically, the Trevi Fountain. Anita Ekberg famously so bought in to the idea of the sweet life that she moved to Italy after frolicking in the movie. (This movie introduced the word “paparazzi” to the English language).

Roman Holiday. This film may also make you want to visit Rome. Rome houses Cinecitta, the Pinewood Studios or Hollywood of Italy. A place where one can visit many places and times all in one filming location (and some of the set pieces may actually be real!). At almost any time, there are films being filmed in Rome. Even during the pandemic, the Gucci film was on location in down town Rome.

The Godfather, Taormina, 100 miles east of Palermo, the capital of Sicily.

While this looks like Tuscany, it is actually just outside Rome.

Room With a View, Florence, Hotel degli Orafi was the set for the “pensione” with the view.

Gladiator, in Tuscany Val d’Orcia. The soundtrack and the scenes of the protagonist longing for elysium (paradise) so he could reunite with his family, is some of the most haunting and beautiful cinematography out there. I often want to add Lisa Gerrard’s score to my Instagram posts but I don’t want to add a sad note to the beauty I see.

Tea with Mussolini, filmed in Florence and San Gimignano.

Enchanted April, filmed at Castello Brown in Portofino, on the Ligurian Coast north of the Cinque Terre. This is where the author stayed in the 1920s.

Under the Tuscan Sun, Cortona, but filmed in Villa Laura. This film seems to be the end-all of wistful movies about Italy.

Eat, Pray, Love. Rome and Naples. This book and movie had the added bonus that it was non-fiction so it made la dolce vita seem even more attainable.

The view from bed in Positano.

But, there are other places that could be on a movie pilgrimage. In Positano, one can stay in the hotel (Albergo California) which stood in for an apartment (perhaps even the room!) where the heroine in Under the Tuscan Sun met her romantic interest, Marcello. In Verona, one can visit Juliet’s house! Also, many a James Bond movie and Mission Impossible have had scenes in Italy. Not to forget, Indiana Jones, and now that I think of it, so many more.

The Amalfi Coast, one of the most magical locations, is a popular film location.

All over Italy, there are villages that seem like movie sets. For example, near Rome, is a town called Sermoneta (named after money because it cost so much to buy the town) which is a perfectly preserved medieval town.

To read other lists of movies, read this article. Or this one about films set in Italy. I also found this article useful.

I am sure that I will go to many of these places in the future. It is hard to not trip over them as it seems like most of Italy is a movie set.

All Hallow’s Eve

Today is Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, and tomorrow is All Saints Day, a public holiday in Italy, followed by All Souls Day on November 2. The tradition of dressing up and trick or treating is a new import. All Saints Day is part of the Catholic church in Italy. It is also not Day of the Dead which is a big celebration in Mexico.

These are a type of gourd, or pumpkin.

For those who believe more, for a brief time on All Hallow’s Even and All Saints Day, the dead return to this realm and visit with their loved ones who are still flesh and blood. It’s not scary. It’s a sort of reunion. People will visit their dead family members. Read an explanation here. Like all holidays, it’s build on much older ones. And, of course, there’s a bread for that. The second of November is All Souls Day. Read more about some of the regional foods and traditions here.

The idea of pumpkin as the icon of the Halloween season is also a commercial idea. The pumpkins are a food in Italy and have much more flesh so will be very hard to carve. But, they make excellent food. It is hard to find perfectly orange round pumpkins (but I’m sure that will become a common thing soon enough). As you can see from my photo below, I was more interested in the orange persimmons (sharon fruit so some), walnuts, celeriac (celery root), and the pomegranates.

Green pumpkins in the background.

The impact of All Saints Day in Rome is that the stores may be a bit packed and the traffic bad. How is this news?

Happy halloween!

10 Years of M’s Adventures

Can a blog make your dreams come true? For me, this blog has lead to book publishing. So when my father suggested that I start a blog, he fulfilled my childhood dream to be a published author. Amazing, right? Thanks, Dad.

When I reflect on ten years of writing blog articles and ten years of adventures in food and travel, I feel emotion. I realize all the stories I have heard of people’s lives, the dignity in ordinary lives of hard-working people, and all those other cheesy American ideals. To write a blog is to exercise the very core of the American ideals: freedom of speech, pursuit of happiness, liberty, and the American dream.

The reality of blogging has been many hours writing, editing, taking photos, and thought. It has also included waiting over 3,000 hours for bad food in restaurants, lots of money (my own) traveling, taking photos incessantly, hours uploading, editing, hashtagging, and posting on social media.

Ah, but yes, people want to know one thing. How do I afford it? Please read my “Who Am I?” page.

Many times people (and companies) try to get me to monetize my blog. I laugh at this idea. To monetize a blog requires a certain readership/following (for example on YouTube, one must have at least 1,000 subscribers — I have 12) which I do not have. Also, it would take the fun out of it. Instead, my blog costs me money. Which is really not necessary because a phone camera is all one really needs. One can even blog from a smartphone.

I don’t. I write at a computer. An old fashioned desktop (well, it’s not but the set up is) with a mechanical keyboard because I like hearing the clickety clack of the keys as I type (slowly). I use a Mac and iPhones simply because that’s what I went with and so that’s what I’m sticking with. My keyboard is not from Apple. It’s a “Das Keyboard” that I bought in a kiosk in Vancouver. I use WordPress to publish my blog. I started blogging 15 years ago using Blogspot because it was user friendly. But, I moved to WordPress because that seemed the platform used by professional bloggers. It took 24 hours of hate but eventually I learned to use WordPress. I also find it interesting that almost all social media platforms have begun to resemble WordPress. I guess they got it right.

It was once that a “blog” or weblog was said with some disdain. But, it’s really just a website. It’s an online journal. Like an online book. In South America and Europe, people seem to be less disdainful about blogging. Embarrassingly, some restaurants have given me free food assuming that I was a powerful food blogger. I prefer not to receive anything for free. I like having a normal customer’s experience when I go out to eat.

From my blog, because I have to release my inner marketing demon at times, I have produced mousepads, pens, stickers, postcards, magnets, mugs, t-shirts, and of course, over ten books. I don’t do as much marketing anymore, but I try to keep my blog pages up to date and I work on my books. In looking at the pages of my blog, I am surprised (although not sure why) at how often people read the “about” page which I call “who am I?” — while it’s not a secret who I am, I just don’t think it’s so interesting.

I encourage anyone, anyone, to write the stories you want to tell. Self-publish the books. Everyone has stories to tell and if you can’t tell them as a book, then use social media. It seems like everyone wants to be heard. I have written quite a few books but don’t expect them to be widely read or bought. Some may have a publishing run of ten or 20 copies. But, to me, it’s the joy of writing them that has been the most fun. The production is the journey.

Some of the unintended things that have happened because of my blog is:

My friends wait to eat until I’ve got my photos. Thanks!

My friends often will go with me to places that they say, “is this for the blog?” Yes. Thanks.

And once, I was recognized while waiting for the elevator (through colleague’s photos).

Some unpleasant stuff has happened too but I don’t want to deign to give those unpleasant things the time of day. Trolls and bullies get no play here.

I try to keep the focus of my blog on travel and food. This is a view in Emilia Romagna, near Modena.

What have I learned from a decade of blogging:

  1. Americans (gringos) are obsessed with TexMex food. This is possibly the most common question I get.

2. It’s easy to publish a book. Don’t be held back. Write and publish your words!

3. Don’t write about massage. It brings too many porn hits. Which is too bad because I like massage.

I used to carry my DSLR camera everywhere (where it’s easier to get photos like this one), but I do so less and less.

Almost every day, I check the statistics page on my blog to see which articles are popular and what topics people like. The top searches are to do with Bangladesh. This makes sense. At the time that I was writing from Dhaka, I was one of four expat bloggers writing in English. Even years later, I still receive questions about Dhaka. For a while, I was interested in what countries my blog was being read. I’ve been read by people from almost every country. I think I’m missing a few, but only two or three.

For many years, my article about the Bangladeshi lungi was the most popular. From the search terms that lead people to my article on the lungi, I’m afraid that my article on national dress, with only ankles on display is not what they hoped for (I don’t think I mentioned anything lewd in my article…). I am not tagging this subject for this article because I don’t want to start re-start the mislead hits by those looking for men in lungis.

So, other than that, the most popular article in the past ten years is:

Dhaka-townian’s 100 Eats and the Top Ten Restaurants in Dhaka. Over 22,000 reads of that article/post. When I wrote that article, my blog was the only comprehensive list of restaurants in Dhaka. I even had people write me and ask/tell me that they would use my articles and photos to write their own guide. Imitation is the best form of?

In the past year, the most popular article was an article from several years ago in Bogota about fruit.

Does anyone blog anymore? It was such a thing ten years ago. Now, it has been overtaken by moving words and pictures by way of YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and other video formats.

I have noticed that many bloggers have quit and often leave their blogs as a website. I can see why. It’s sad to see the decrease of readership. My readership peaked in 2014 and has gone down since then. As I mentioned above, Dhaka was a popular topic. No one seemed to care about Bogota (at least not in English) or Lima. But, some of the articles from Bogota are picking up traction, which is strange because I thought the google bots took six months to trawl but perhaps it takes a few years now that there is so much content out there in the vast pacific of the Internet.

For my readers, other than those who know me personally, why should they stick with me when I keep moving. Those who are interested in Dhaka are not interested in Bogota. Of course, my blog has evolved. When I started, there was little content and not much linking. Now, I have accounts on Instagram, Youtube, Facebook, and a podcast. I am not as diligent about keeping all these forms of social media up to date but I try. Yet, I still write a blog article about every week. I try to post on Instagram and Facebook every day. Like any relationship, consistent care is required. But, my readership keeps dropping on my blog while conversely, my followers increase on Instagram. Heck, I even joined Patreon so people can support me in my blogging endeavor… maybe I would do this full time if I could making a living… no, no, no, that way leads to dependency!

When my readership goes down to zero, I may stop. Maybe. Then, it may simply become an online diary. A weblog. Like on the Starship Enterprise.

From Star Trek:

These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise
Its five year mission
To explore strange new worlds
To seek out new life
And new civilizations

…. my blog is twice the age of those space voyages!

So, let’s see where we go. I have plans to sort of “reverse engineer” my blog and write books that are only available as books! Then I can write about massages and other topics that get bowdlerized on the web. But, mainly, I’ll just slip into my comfy shoes and continue to be mad for food and adventure!