Tourist Information for Rome

Rome is a great place to be a tourist. I’m not a tourist, but I get asked a lot of questions… so here is the info, all in one place. Even more info on the official site for Rome. I start with the most “must-do” places and what is nearby. First, COVID rules are on this site. As you can see from the map below, most of Rome is within a two-mile/three-kilometer radius, but you may end up walking ten miles/14 kilometers criss crossing it! Or 28,000 steps, for those counting steps.

Most of the green dots are tourist attractions. From tiramisu to gelato is about 3 miles/5 kilometers.

Vatican City: For the museums (the entrance is on the side of the Vatican) including the Sistine Chapel, buy tickets online. For St. Peter’s Basilica (and to climb up the dome), get in line inside the plaza at the Vatican. Open most days except Wednesday when they are only open for one hour.

Castel Sant’Angelo: It’s a museum, mausoleum, has those angels on the bridge, and you can walk to the Vatican from here.

Coliseum and forum (they are combined as an open-air museum). Buy tickets here on the official site, although there are many tour companies that sell tickets. Most people are okay with the two-hour tour (which can run on, but you can leave). Open 9 am to 7:15 pm every day, with last entry one hour before closing. Times change during the winter. While over here, check out the neighborhood of Monti. It’s up the hill from the forum (above the Colosseum, on the map).

Centro historico/Historic center — Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Spanish steps (which is near Via del Corso for shopping/people watching), Alter to the Fatherland (called the wedding cake — it’s impossible to miss. Also on the piazza where Mussolini gave his speeches, and located between the center and the forum): All free but you may need to get a timed entry for the Pantheon (open 9-7 every day but last entry at 6:30 pm). While you are in this part of the city, try to walk down Old Government Street (Via del governo vecchio), as it is picturesque in parts. I like Forno Monteforte cafe/bakery which is on this street but way down. If you have time, when you are near Monti or Trevi, visit Quirinale, the palace of the president.

Campo de fiori market: You will probably run across this when wandering around downtown. Open from 8 am to 2 pm. Overly touristy, but hey, this is Rome.

Jewish Quarter: It is famous and quaint. There were Jewish people living in Rome before the time of Christ. Look for the small brass cobblestone plaques marking where Jewish people once lived before being taken in WWII. If you need an address to locate it, go to a cheese store called Beppe and His Cheeses, Via di S. Maria del Pianto, 9a/11.

Trastevere: This is an area that was once a separate small town. Now filled with students and artsy types. It’s adorable. These days, it’s too crowded for me, but it’s probably a must-see. Get gelato at Otaleg.

Campodoglio: Is the hill with the Capitoline museum and the mayor’s office. But, I like it for the view of the forum. Free and great at sunset.

Circus Maximus: Free. It’s a huge area that was once a sports area. Near my favorite farmers market. If visiting on a weekend, I would recommend the local zero kilometer market to see the foods (fresh cheese, meats, oil, fruit, and breads — all produced within 68 miles of Rome) available. The market is closed in August.

La Bocca della VeritΓ  (address is Piazza della Bocca della VeritΓ  18) – Mouth of Truth: Made famous by the film, Roman Holiday. It’s near the Circus Maximus. Open 9:30 am-5:30 pm. I think it’s free or you pay a small donation.

Keyhole of the Knights of Malta/Aventine hill/orange garden (good for a view and at sunset)/rose garden: The Aventine hill is beside the Circus Maximus. Open all the time and free but especially popular at sunset. The keyhole allows you to see three “lands” — the Knights of Malta’s garden (the Knights of Malta are an independent entity), Italy, and the Vatican. And according to a local, you can also see a fourth kingdom — heaven.

Ask for this place to get to the keyhole and walk down from there.

Borghese museum and gardens: The Borghese Gallery houses masterpieces by Bernini and Caravaggio, among others. Tickets are 27 euro and there is timed entry all day from 9 am to 5 pm (they close at 7). The parks is called Villa Borghese and it is free. It includes the national gallery, zoo, a lake, rental bikes, and so much more. It’s the green lung of the city.

Baths of Caracalla: Open for concerts in the summer. Closed on Mondays.

Baths of Diocletian: Closed Mondays.

Testaccio Market: This market is visited by many food and travel shows. Open 8-4 or so because it also has lunch options.

Trionfale Market: Open 7:30-1:30, located near the Vatican, this is the largest of the produce markets in Rome. There are many local markets all over Rome but as a tourist, you probably won’t visit them.

There are many churches and museums to visit as well especially if you want to see some of the masterpieces in a quieter setting. But, that’s a much deeper level of tourism than your first, second, or third visit. Here are some other things to do on visit two or three.

Via Appia: The famous road is a park just south of Rome (there are many bit os this road outside Rome) and it can be a fun outing.

There are things to do outside Rome as well making for good day trips. Here are some ideas:

Naples for a day (boardwalk, museum for the items from Pompeii, pizza, downtown). I wrote about this here.

Pompeii: Info on how to get there and buy tickets.

Wine tasting lunch at Torre in Pietra: I love this.

Sabine valley wine tasting/olive oil tasting: I also love this.

Plus, as a tourist in Rome/Italy… gelato, tiramisu, wine (ask for the local — Italy has more varietals than France — some so local that they are only grown within a few miles of the place you try it), prosciutto, or pizza, every day. See my list of where to eat.

Now some practical matters.

Money

Euro (each country in the euro zone makes their own euro but you can use them all over the euro zone) is the currency. There are ATMs all over the city. You can also exchange money all over the city. Most places take cash and credit card, but vendors pay a fee for credit card use so I usually use cash if it’s under 25 euro. Most grocery shopping and meals are under 30 euro and I don’t find Rome to be excessively expensive.

Tipping

The general rule is that you do not need to tip in Italy. Americans have a reputation as good tippers so many places will expect that Americans will tip well. But, you do not have to tip at all. Most restaurants will already have included a “service” or “pane/bread” charge to your bill, usually around one to three euro per person. If you think the service was excellent, you can leave a tip of a few euro or ten percent. No one should make you feel wrong for not tipping. Nor for leaving one or two euro. Lots of places like gelato shops, will have a tip jar. You can use that if you want to tip them. Again, no obligation to tip.

In taxis, you can round up to the whole euro. Otherwise no tipping in taxis. At hairdressers, beauty salons, massage therapists, etc., you can leave a tip if you thought they were good. But, it is not expected. Never more than ten percent. If you go on a tour, like food tour, you can tip if you want to, but again, you do not have to.

Transportation

From/To Rome airport (FCO is the airport code because the airport is in the town of Fiumicino about 30 kilometers/18 miles from Rome): There are buses that go direct from the airport to all over the city for as little as five euro. Also, the Leonardo Express to/from Roma Termini train station for 18 euro. Taxis have a fixed rate to the walls of old Rome. 50 euro from Leonardo da Vinci Rome airport and then meter. There are private limo services starting at 50 euro. Read more about this here. The SIT bus stops near the Vatican which is convenient if you are staying in Prati. Most buses and trains connect to Roma Termini.

Getting around: Most of what you will want to see in Rome is within a three-kilometer/two-mile radius. But you may get tired of walking. You can buy a 24-, 48-, 72-pass that will let you use all buses, trains, trams, and the Metro. Some passes also let you get into museums for the same price.

Taxis: Taxis are white and you should not flag one down… supposedly. There are taxi stands all over the city. You can also download the ItTaxi app and order a taxi to your location. Even as a tourist. You can pay with cash or credit card in all taxis.

To travel by regional train (to Naples or Florence, for example), there are two train companies, TrenItalia and Italo. You can download their apps and purchase tickets from your phone. Or buy them at the station, but remember to validate!

Phone Card

While there is a lot of WIFI and you can download maps, but if you want to buy a phone SIM card, TIM sells them for 45 euro for the first month and nine euro after that. So if you are here for more than a week, it might be worth it. Other local companies are Vodafone and Windtre.

Water and bathrooms

The water is free from the fountains. Perfectly clean and cool. Learn how to drink from one of the “nasone” fountains. Bathrooms are harder to find. Generally, you need to use them at a restaurant or coffee bar.

Safety

Rome is safe, also at night. But, don’t let your credit card out of your sight. Wear all your valuables on the front of your body, from groin to armpit. Anything on your back will be pickpocketed. Thieves are the biggest danger. Oh, and the traffic.

Accessibility

Rome is not a place for wheelchair users. It can be done, but there are so many steps and crooked cobblestones everywhere. Mostly, there are stairs everywhere and no ramps.

Language

Italians speak more English than every before. I doubt in Rome that a tourist would need to learn Italian, but a “Buongiorno” is always appreciated. If pressed, use Google translate. Plus, most of the service people in Rome speak English (many are from Bangladesh and the Philippines). Also, there are more tourists in Rome than Italians, so ask another tourist. They probably have the answers, as they are going to the same places.

This photo of the Trevi Fountain was taken last year, empty due to COVID.

Having now lived in Rome for over a year, my conclusion is that Italy is an awesome place to be a tourist. As I learn more practical tips from my visitors, I’ll update this article.

I Dream of This Ice Cream – Was It That Good?

The style is retro.

Recently, some friends and I were discussing ice cream and gelato, again. One of my friends reminded me of that place in Denmark that we had visited… I was sure that I must have blogged about this place… But, somehow I had not. So now I will.

The ice cream place that is still on my mind is called Ismajeriet, and it now has two locations in Denmark.

One day, several years ago, when visiting Copenhagen, we were at a lunch party. After eating smoerrebroed (open faced sandwiches), a cooler tub was taken out of the freezer, and inside were four flavors of ice cream from Ismajeriet. It was so delicious that we had to visit the actual shop. My friend and I grabbed bicycles and off we went, in search of ice cream. This was a few years ago when the shop was located out among the summer houses of Amager, the island south of Copenhagen. The Ismajeriet (translates to “the ice cream dairy”) has a large selection, including sorbets. The style of the shop was in a retro design (a bit like an ice cream parlor of old) but the ice cream was fresh! I was delighted to see that they had many flavors, including licorice (I understand that licorice is an acquired taste but I acquired it a long time ago). The shop also has sorbets.

Licorice and mint flavor.

Why is this in my dreams? Because it was so creamy. The ice cream has a high fat content so it is creamy, really ice cream. Cream is the fat part of milk and fat on the tongue adds a creamy texture when it melts. In contrast, most gelato is made with milk. Gelato’s creaminess is derived from how it is made. Some gelato is actually ice cream (which must have a fat percentage of more than 3.5 percent). There are gelato shops where they will advertise that their plain flavor is “fiore di panna” (panna = cream) and not the usual “fiore di latte” which is the “milk flower.” Basically, calling something the “cream flower” is like saying that it is the “cream of the crock” — the best.

In Denmark, gelato is quite popular now, but the Danish style ice cream lives on in places like Ismajeriet. In Italy, one can add whipped cream on top of one’s gelato (most places will do it for free and it should be unsweetened freshly whipped cream). In Denmark, that is the norm. Another thing is that the Danes like to add a “floedebolle” on top. This “cream ball” is a meringue topped wafer covered in chocolate (the one in the photo has coconut flakes on it) that can be eaten on its own, or used as the cherry on top of the ice cream cone.

One thing that the Danes and Italians share in relation to their ice cream/gelato is that any time of the year and day is a good time to eat it. In Italy, gelato shops are some of the food shops that are open almost all day long, some open as early as 8 am and close after midnight.

As for Ismajeriet, I will be back some day to see if it is as good as in my dreams.

Spontaneous Edibles

Whenever I see a leafy green vegetable being sold at the market, I ask what it is. The answer is always “cicoria” (chicory greens in English). I am beginning to suspect that this word is a catchall.

Chicory greens for sale.

Wild greens are quite fashionable these days with trendy restaurants basing their menu around what is brought to them by their forager. Foragers are like superheroes, able to identify edible things in the wild. Ordinary people would class most of the wild greens as weeds, like the dandelion. Dandelion translate to several names in Italian, including dente di leone, tarassaco, and la soffione. Once, one vendor told me that what he was selling was “tarassaco” so I began to suspect that the other vendors were all using a generic world, cicoria, for “greens” or lettuce.

In English, we call these wild greens, “foraged greens” or “wild edibles” but in Italian, they call them “spontaneous” edibles. How lovely is that?

Arugula for sale.

Many of the wild greens look like cultivated greens. Arugula (rocket in British) is also popular here and looks similar to dandelion leaves. A famous Roman salad is puntarelle salad, in which the stems of the leaves are used in a salad. Puntarelle is a type of chicory. As I said, always chicory.

But, maybe in English, we should call weeds, spontaneous plants? Or opportunists? Optimistic plants?

Restaurant Recommendations from a Roman

These recommendations are from a Roman friend (hence why the plural forms are in Italian), including emoticons. I am working my way through this list so only have comments for those places that I have tried so far.

A maritozzo, a brioche bun stuffed with whipped cream. This one from Forno Monteforte was decorated with berries.

BAKERY Panella – Via Merulana, 53   and   Via dei Gracchi, 262 πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹very ancient bakery in Rome, bread, pizza, cakes, dishes, bio, biscuits … yes, I agree. They had lots of variety and items that I had never seen before.

Campo de’ Fiori – Piazza Campo de’ Fiori, 22  πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹πŸ‘Œvery nice and noisy bakery to buy warm pizza alla pala, bread, cakes, biscuits … it’s so so so so famous. It does have lots of stuff and they are accustomed to tourists so don’t even try to speak Italian in there.

Forno Monteforte – Via del Pellegrino, 29 πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹bread, bar, enoteca, cakes –  very friendly  … my favorite so far. It’s elegant, recently featured in Vogue Italia, and quite delicious.

Monteforte bakery.


DELI

Natura SΓ¬ – Piazza Farnese, 99 -100 only  Bio  food   the store is ok,  but people are  πŸ˜”πŸ˜ž … It is the organic store for Rome.

Castroni – Via Cola di Rienzo, 196/198  πŸ˜€πŸ‘Œplenty of delicatessen, and  sweets, best in Rome … this is an emporium, a treasure land for ingredients and products from all over the world.

Le Sicilianedde – Viale Parioli, 35  all food is typical from Sicily and next door there is  the Gelateria the ice creams and pastries are……πŸ˜πŸ™Š


GELATERIE 

Ciampini -Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina, 29 πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹
DaRe – Via Bisagno, 19  5 mn from my home very, very tasty icecream πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹

Gelateria dei Gracchi – Via dei Gracchi, 272 … They do have real vanilla flavor. It’s not glamorous and I wish they would make fresh gelato for the evening.


Pizzerie

Emma – Via Monte della Farina,28 πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹  the best pizza in Rome … I don’t know. The pizza was thin which is the Roman style. The restaurant is a large, but light, cavern underground. Very touristy as it is a stone’s throw from the Roscioli bakery.

Mora – Piazza Crati, 13   pizza and  tuscany restaurant πŸ˜‹


Trattorie

Da Bucatino – Via Luca della Robbia, 84 – very noisy restaurant but the food is fine, typical roman cuisine … I liked this place. The waiter was a bit too fast and not so good at upselling but the food was good. Because the location is in Testaccio away from the tourist center, the crowds are not quite as bad here.

Hosteria Grappolo D’oro – Piazza della Cancelleria, 80   food and fantasyπŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹πŸ‘Œ… right near the Campo de’ Fiori. Food was fine but nothing I would go in search of.


Enoteche

Il Goccetto – Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 14 wine, wine and very friendly place πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹

Del Frate – Via degli Scipioni, 122  excellent enoteca and very nice restaurant πŸ‘ŒπŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹

The place of my heart:

Hotel Locarno – Via della Penna, 22   Beautiful liberty hotel from 1922,   with original furnishings, there is small nice garden and lovely roof garden,  the cocktails are super😍😍 and in winter they light the fireplace, also the restaurant is quite nice πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹


And in the end: Hotel de Russie – Via del Babuino, 9  very luxury hotel,  but don’t  miss visiting the garden is absolutely beautiful and maybe to take a coffee, or cappuccino or even a cocktail, with credit card……πŸ™ˆ

I have other lists so I will publish them later. Eventually, I’ll have my own list of top restaurants, but for now, I’m not sure…

Exotic Fruits of Italy

Speaking of markets, and as I am currently writing a book about fruit, here are some “exotic” fruits now grown locally in Italy. Italy has some famous citrus types (read about popular fruit types here or here), including one which was introduced to this area 23 centuries ago (long before the formation of Italy as a country).

Annona (custard apple): A quick google search brought me to the annona, a cherimoya or custard apple, that is now being grown in Calabria, a southern region in Italy.

Bergamotto (bergamot): I mention this because people may not know that this is the citrus that is used in Earl Grey Tea. Ninety percent of the world’s bergamot oil is produced in Italy. As far back as 1709, the bergamot has been pressed to extract the essential oils, for use in perfume, most famously Chanel No. 5.

Diamante citron in Italian or esrog from Calabria (etrog). This citrus is essential in the Jewish sukkot ceremony and has been grown in Italy since the the third century BCE (before current era).

Cacchi or lotta (persimmon or sharon fruits): Introduced to Italy in the early 20th century, these are grown in Campania.

Orange persimmons behind red pomengranates.

Ficodindia dell’Etna (prickly pear): the fruit of the cactus. The black pits inside are very hard and peeling this fruit can hurt your hands.

Kiwi: This brings to mind that the kiwi is now grown in Italy. Italy is the second or third largest exporter of kiwis. I see kiwis at the market all the time in Rome. They grow them right outside Rome so they are even at my zero kilometer market that I mentioned last week.

Melograno (pomegranate): Supposedly Persephone ate six pomegranate seeds when she was in the underworld. Her mother, Demeter, the earth, made a deal with the god of the underworld to let her go. But because she had eaten six seeds, she could only be above ground for six months of the year, and that is why we have the six months of spring and summer. Pomegranate seeds are like jewels and work well in salads and on meats, but the juice is what most people like. To remove the seeds, one can whack the cut pomegranate with a wooden spoon and the seeds come rat tat tatting out like shots.

Cotogna (quince): The cutest name for a fruit that is so sour. It is better as a jelly or jam to be eaten with cheese. In Latin America, this is often paired with fresh cheese and the fresh milky mildness of the cheese goes well with the brown gummy bear texture of the cooked quince.

Finally, a native exotic.

Nespola (medlar): This is exotic but native to Italy. These strange dried looking fruits are winter fruits that are only ready to be eaten when they are soft and wrinkly. Then you peel them and eat the mushy brown interior. The taste is sort of like a fruit paste or dried figs. Just not as tasty.

The medlars are above the chestnuts. These are not ready to be eaten as they are not wrinkly.

And finally, if you want to read about the “equatorial” fruit growing now happening in Italy, read this article from Euronews.

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’UnitΓ  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.

CittΓ  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.

Parmesan, More Than A Cheese

These balls of cheese weigh more than 90 pounds.

Parmigiano-Reggiano is more than a cheese. No Italian refers to it as a cheese. They call it by its name.

Getting weighed and squeezed into shape.
Inside the metal girdle is a plastic cartouche with all the markings.

To be the real deal, it can only be produced in a few areas around Parma, Reggio, Modena, and Bologna. You can read about the consortium that controls it here.

But, the other very similar cheese that you find around there is also good. It’s called Grano Padano and in a way, it’s better on pasta. Leave the real deal for eating on its own.

Brine bath.

Going on a parmesan factory tour is a study in alchemy. How milk (from two different milkings) can, with a few ingredients, and many turns of the wheel, be turned into something that plays a symphony on your tastebuds, is pure magic.

The professor demonstrates how to test the cheese.

We went on a tour at the Red Cow creamery in Reggio Emilia. Our guide was a wise professor. He had been making parmesan for more than 60 years, and he still got equally excited about it every day. The tour cost 5 euro per person and was conducted in Italian. At the end of the tour, the professor had us try different ages of Parmesan. Wowza.

It has lots of stamps of origin but it probably sounded wrong and so has been scarred to mark that it is not for export.

By the time we got to the factory (10ish), the parmesan was already at the “getting swung in clothe stage. We saw a lot of balls of white curds being transferred from one cloth to another and rocked back and forth by two guys. Then we saw where the girdle with the shape and writing is applied. Then the salt baths. Finally we were in the aging room.

So old that only presidents’ eat them. Next to it an “AB” one that will not be exported.

We saw parmesan so old and crystalized that only presidents get to eat them. We also saw parmesan wheels that had scoring around indicating that they were not perfect but still saleable. Then we saw those with “AA” stamped on them. These are the perfect ones that have been x-rayed. These are only ones that get exported.

Yes, we had to wear hairnets, shoe nets, and net robes to protect the parmesan.

These cheeses have 30 percent protein and no lactose.

In the old days, parmesan and other hard cheeses were the “meat” for many Italians.

Balsamico, A Sweet and Sour Dowry

Italians love food. It is an integral part of their family structure. This is evident in the story of balsamic vinegar. In Emilia Romagna, Italy, balsamic vinegar started out as a daughter’s dowry. No gold, no houses, just the sweet product of 25 years of nurturing. This is no longer the case, but in some families, the balsamic production continues. Some also make it when they have a son.

Traditionally, when a baby girl was born, her father would make a “mother” barrel of balsamic vinegar. There is sometimes a misconception that the grapes used to make balsamic are left over from making wine. Not so. The grapes are crushed into a “must” just like in wine making, but then, a mother yeast (like sourdough starter) is added to the mother barrel. From this mother barrel, a “battery” of progressively smaller barrels are filled.

Normally, one should wait till the daughter got married, or 25 years to started imbibing in the balsamic. If the woman got married before she turned 25, she could decide to leave the battery in her paternal home or take it to her new home. On the old battery frames, one can still see the name of the girl painted on the frame, as these are passed down through generations.

So you aren’t supposed to eat the balsamic before 25 years. But, this rarely happened. Also, the balsamic evaporates. To fill up the evaporated balsamic, the smallest barrel in the battery is filled from the next big one and so on. The largest of the battery barrels is then filled from the mother barrel. Which is itself filled with fresh grape must.

The ladder up to the first floor of La Vecchia Dispensa’s tower is almost vertical.

This is how one gets “100 year old” balsamic vinegar (where a percentage of the balsamic is from a barrel made 100 years ago). I tried it and it was too musty for me. The barrels used can be old whisky casks and the barrels can be made from many types of wood. The bunghole of the barrel is loosely covered with a stone and/or a lid with a doily. The acid from the balsamic eats away at the stones so it’s cool to see how strong those bacteria really are.

Now, to what it’s called. In Europe and Italy, one must call real balsamic, “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena” — if it’s from Modena which is one of the few places where the real stuff comes from. The bottles are distinctive so that it’s hard to copy. There are many fakes. Most of what is sold is fake. The real stuff will not be sour and bite you when you try it. It won’t make you gag. The real stuff is subtle and sweet. With a slight tang. It will be complex. It’s also not impossibly expensive. 25 euro for a small bottle. But that’s the kind that one sips on a spoon or drizzles on a piece of parmesano reggiano.

One can still see graffiti from prisoners from when this was a jail.

Most of the acetaia (ah-chey-tie-ah) will sell salad vinegar products that you will like. Real aceto balsamico is not for salad. That’s how you can make it last a long time. Salad dressings are better with apple cider or red wine vinegar. Balsamic is too strong. Also, all those thick balsamic sauces in squeeze bottles are not made with the real deal.

Going for a tasting at a real acetaia is eye opening. It really is. We went to three. La Vecchia Dispensa is fantastic as a destination. Great tour, tasting, and shop. It’s in a fancy building and the tower is medieval (it was a jail/dungeon before), in the picturesque Castelvetro (one can also go on the less expensive tour that does not include climbing up into the claustrophobic medieval castle tower). The tour guide also speaks English, well.

At Acetaia San Matteo, you get a family feel and the son-in-law who shows you around is enthusiastic but doesn’t speak English. It’s marvelous but almost has a Swiss chalet feel. We also went to the a place that claims to be the oldest (they claim that their family has been selling it for 400 years) but the museum is now in a new, from 2017, farmstead. Also, their vinegar wasn’t tasty. And the place had a slight theme park feel. Too touristy. Enough about them. Go to Castelvetro and La Vecchia Dispensa.

When we were in the tower for our tour with La Vecchia Dispensa, we could see the photos of the families who maintain their balsamic there. It’s a heartwarming idea of familial love.

Oddly, or perhaps not, most of these places also sell jams and other products.

There is a lot more to aceto balsamico than I imagined. It was also a delight to go to the acetaia with a balsamic fanatic. When we got to the San Matteo location, my Italian wasn’t up to explaining things so I just blurted out “we are balsamic fanatics!” We were welcomed with a big grin.

Agroturismo – Farm Bed & Breakfast

Italy is famous for its agroturismo, a bed and breakfast on a farm. To qualify as an agroturismo, the farm must actually be a working farm. Many of these places will also have animals. Many are family owned. You can search this site or use other sites, like Google, to find a stay. Some of these farms have a minimum stay and during the peak summer season that may a minimum of a week. Because these farms are actually farms, often someone’s family homestead, the guest accommodations may not as fancy (or air conditioned) as at a hotel.

Wow, Sotto i Sassi, wow.

The concept of an agroturismo was started as a government scheme over 30 years ago, as a way to help the economy and tourism, which is 13 percent of Italy’s GDP. During the pandemic, I have been told, that the quality of the cleanliness has gone up at these farm stays.

Recently, I stayed at two that contrast quite a bit but seem typical of what’s out there.

One of the bedrooms in the apartment “room” that we had.

Sotto i Sassi: Located at Via Castellino 171, Guiglia. Near Modena. You can book them through the usual places like booking, airbnb, tripadvisor, etc. but my tip to you is to whatsapp him (Matteo Bizzini): +39 337 331 802. He speaks English.

The family farm is located up some narrow lanes in the countryside and you may get lost getting there. Use a GPS. And go left around the parking lot with the bench at the end of the road — the road continues to the left but, BUT, do not go up in the field. Not yet. Prepare time to find the place.

Once you get there, Matteo will greet you and help you to your room. The rooms are decorated stylishly like something out of a style magazine. There may be steps. During the pandemic, the breakfast part is a basket placed outside your room in the early morning. The onsite restaurant is not open every night but it’s an excellent restaurant with lots of outdoor (under the trees and stars) dining. The food is so good that it’s a place that people eat here for the food, even if they are not staying at the B&B. Convenient for not having to drive home after dinner, as well. Matteo takes a genuine interest in your stay with him. At dinner, he gave us a taste of his family’s balsamic.

Outdoor dining at Sotto i Sassi.

The grounds are free for walking around and there are some majestic gobstopping views. The air is clean and as it’s the countryside, you can hear the animals in the early morning. Sotto i Sassi is the kind of place that I imagined an agroturismo geared for slightly luxury customers. Lots of photogenic locations, nice bathrooms, kitchens, good food, not so fancy that one can’t figure out how to turn on the light (actually there were a lot of lighting options), but nice enough that you felt that you were staying at a deluxe farm. Some antiques and some modern design. Plus, the personal connection to Matteo, always just one whatsapp message away.

Some of the buildings are Sotto i Sassi.

Then there is the other sort of experience… The sort of experience where you feel like the hosts were gulag forced into exploiting their inheritance to keep it in their family. A place where the hosts are shackled by their amazing farmstead but can’t enjoy it because they are constantly changing sheets in the rooms. Corte Olfino was such a place. Their website makes it look cosy (I have not posted any photos here of this place — it was cute in a tired sort of way — be a bit suspicious of the website photos) and emailing with them makes it seem like they speak English. The couple who run the place look so unhappy. Well, she does. He seems oblivious to how miserable his wife is. She is harassed and stressed looking all the time. If this beautiful farm is her inheritance, I almost feel sorry for her that she can’t enjoy it.

The majority of the customers are German and they give the place a high rating. The place is interesting looking, like a small village, and the rooms are clean. But, the checkin process and accessing WIFI was difficult. I only found the WIFI code because someone left if on a scrap of paper on the table in my room. Some of the rooms are up in a tower from a fairytale and have a dungeon-like lock that makes it quite annoying when tired (mine had a modern key). The breakfast was fine and included the usual cake (yes, the Italians seem to think that tourists eat cake for breakfast), and toast, ham, eggs, and cheese (Is it this that makes them have higher ratings? The hard boiled eggs? The ham? Apparently it’s the price point and the cleanliness). Yes, they have animals including a llama, and maybe this is why people like this place. The prices were around 68 euro per room per night. So not so high. But, the overall prison feel given off by the house-poor owner made us uncomfortable. Also, the rooms had no sound insulation so one could hear everything going on in the neighboring room.

We felt no need to stay and left early. They owners did not seem surprised and did not want to know why (I paid for the whole stay even though we left early, but I wish they cared why we left early). I guess they don’t need my business. I wish them well and hope that they enjoy their farm when the cash cows are not there…

The doors at Sotti i Sassi are a photo-op waiting for you.

A word about air conditioning. A place like Sotti i Sassi doesn’t have it but even during the heatwave of the summer, the rooms cooled down by evening. Corte Olfino had AC but we also didn’t need it.

The season is over so you have six months or so to research where to stay next year.

12 Seasons of Roman Vegetables and Fruit

Romans truly eat by season. They get excited by what is only available at certain times of the year. Of course, all year, there are imported vegetables and fruit in Rome, but the Romans still find joy in the seasonality of fresh vegetables. And, it seems like chicory is always in season…

Three types of asparagus with the expensive wild version in the front.

Cicoria (chi-CORE-E-ah) or chicory is “Italian dandelion” and is a bitter green leafy vegetable that looks a bit like spinach. If you live in the U.S. and want to plant some for your self, this farm sells the seeds.

January: puntarelle (puhn-tah-R-ALE-eh), or cicoria di catalogna or cicoria asparago (although no one in Rome uses these names) is in the chicory family but looks more like a thick stemmed dandelion. The Romans eat the white stems, cut to curl up, in a salad with an anchovy garlic dressing — like a zero-carb caesar salad. No cheese. In other parts of Italy, puntarelle are cooked. In Rome, only the trimmings are cooked as part of a general vegetable stew. But, the white inner stems are the treasure.

The first stage of the preparation of puntarelle.
Puntarelle ready for dressing.

March: agretti, asparagi selvatici (wild asparagus), fava beans, and artichokes. Wild asparagus are slimmer and have a stronger taste. Agretti (Salsola Soda, opposite-leaved saltwort, opposite leaf Russian thistle, Roscano, or barilla plant) is almost unknown in the English speaking world, although recently becoming a bit of a thing with chefs.

Agretti
Peas and fava beans are both eaten fresh and raw when young. Fava beans are eaten with pecorino cheese.

April: Strawberries, agretti (monk’s beard), peas, beans, and small artichokes.

May: Peas, beans, spring onions, garlic chives, etc.

June: Apricots, peaches, green beans, potatoes, etc.

July: Melons, peaches, plums, nectarines, pears, lettuce, etc.

August: This was hard to figure out as most of the markets close in August… but at the back of the Trionfale market, there are still some zero kilometer farmers who sell their produce. So it’s all about peaches, cucumbers, pears, walnuts, water melons, cantaloup melons (called so because they were grown in Cantalupo just outside Rome), lettuce, grapes, nectarines, plums, and apples.

Apples

September: Pears, apples, figs, melons, lettuce, broccoli tops, pumpkins, pumpkin greens, plums, peppers, chiles, peaches, and grapes.

Pumpkin greens

October: pumpkin, potatoes, gourds, squash, nuts, cabbage, lettuce, and peppers.

November: potatoes, clementines, and nespole/medlars.

Medlars which one eats when they are brown and toffee like.

December: puntarelle, artichokes, and clementines.

clementines

Every restaurant will have “seasonal vegetable” on the menu and it will always be cicoria/chicory greens. Very healthy. One of the nice things about living in Rome is that it is possible to eat pesticide free food and in a perpetual β€œfarmer’s market” all year round. I have to admit that I’m excited for artichoke season after not having artichokes for six months.

Ten Gelato Places To Try in Rome

So here it is. My list of gelato shops to try in Rome. This is not the definitive list but I’m getting tired of trying gelato…

Gunther, Via dei Pettinari, 43: Gunther has three locations but this is where you will usually find him. He makes the best vanilla (from Madagascar) and his gelato is extremely creamy. He also lets you try lots of flavors until you find the ones that you want.

Gracchi, Via dei Gracchi, 272: old school but go early in the day when the gelato is fresh.

La Romana, various locations: big chain but still good gelato.

Neve di Latte, Via Federico Cesi, 1: two locations, and I’m fairly sure that the staff are hired for their looks.

Banana flavor should be brown as the bananas oxidize.

Come il Latte, Via Silvio Spaventa, 24/26: I have a suspicion that this place was started by an American. Great affagato.

Otaleg, Via di S. Cosimato, 14a: famous place in Trastevere. The name is gelato backwards but the gelato is straightforward.

Frigidarium, Via del Governo Vecchio, 112: located on one of the most picturesque streets in Rome.

Fassi 1880, Via Principe Eugenio, 65-67: Oldest place in Rome. One of my favorites because it’s out of the tourist frenzy.

Gelati Gelati, Via Cicerone, 20: I’m fairly sure that this gelato is made by the gruff guy working here. The pear compote was unusual and the grittiness worked.

Cremilla, Via di Porta Castello, 39: Almost like soft serve. Near the Vatican.

I will probably write another article when I go to more places but as I’ve been to over 30 so far, I’m in need of a break from gelato.

Bologna the Bountiful

Bologna is called “La grassa” or “the fat” city. The correct translation should be “the bountiful” as the fat represents richness. I learned this when on a food tour with Cook Italy.

The plaque explaining where the salami makers created “the fat” myth about Bologna.

The origin of the name comes from Bologna’s production of bologna, or as they call it here, mortadella. To be a protected status mortadella, there is a required number of fat squares in each.

Rich delicious mortadella.

Normally, to preserve meat, before refrigeration, is to salt, dry, or cover with fat. Bologna invented the boiling of this meat product and the city became famous for it. Hence why in the United States, mortadella is called bologna or boloney.

Bologna is also famous for its covered sidewalks, over 70 kilometers of them. Also, the red brick. But, mostly, Bologna is famous for being a foodie city. The city anchors the food valley (which is also motor valley) of Emilia Romagna.

Bountiful Bologna is often overlooked by tourists. That’s kind of nice. There are many foreigners in Bologna because Bologna has the oldest (still functioning) university in the world (started in 1088). True, the center of the town is a bit crowded but slip down a side street and you can soon imagine your own medieval scholarly wanderings. Or just shop.

So next time someone calls Bologna fat, you know that it’s bountiful. Enjoy it for yourself. More later about where to eat, shop, and stay in bountiful Bologna.