In my last post for last year I mentioned that, while in Rome, we had stayed in the Trastevere district on the west bank of the Tiber. The name comes from Latin – trans Tiberim – and means to cross the Tiber, which is what you have to do to get there. In the very early days Trastevere was not considered to be part of Rome and the area developed its own distinctive character thanks, in part, to the semi-isolated geographical position and also to the culturally diverse range of people who settled there.
The unique personality of this area persists today and attracts many artists and foreign expats to the hilly, narrow, cobbled streets of Trastevere. (I was tickled to discover that Sergio Leone, the master of spaghetti westerns, and movie music composer Ennio Morricone both hail from the same streets.) Needless to say Trastevere has a thriving food culture and while they do have their fair share of tourist restaurants and cafes they also boast a wealth of traditional culinary secrets – you just have to know where to find them. This is where Eating Italy steps up to the mark.
When I was last in Rome 18 months ago I happily discovered Eating Italy Rome small-group food tours and spent a very interesting few hours getting to know the food secrets of the Testaccio region. It seems that Kenny and his clever crew have been increasing their repertoire and have now added both a daylight and a twilight Trastevere tour to their offerings and when they invited me to check it out I jumped at the chance. In the end, my husband and all three of our kids came along too and all pronounced it an evening of deep culinary and cultural pleasure – and anyone who tries to keep a bunch of teens/young adults happy for longer than 20 minutes knows that is something of an accomplishment.
The tour begins on the Isola Tiberna and over the course of four or so hours takes you in and out of the back streets of this fascinating part of Rome that is slightly off the beaten tourist track, but has plenty to see. We started at the tiny, family-run restaurant of Da Enzo where we enjoyed a treat that I had never tried before – deep fried artichokes. Apparently these are a local specialty which are much anticipated at the beginning of the season – and are truly delicious.
From there we headed to a remarkable restaurant called Spirito di Vino. The menu in this place was so good that we went back there for a wonderful dinner the following evening, but what makes it really remarkable is the secret it holds in the cellar. Rome is a city that has repeatedly built on top of itself – hence the lack of a comprehensive underground transport system. Every time they try to start one they uncover more priceless antiquities and have to stop work on the transport. When the owners of Spirito di Vino decided to dig out the cellar for their wines they uncovered an existing building underneath their own and ancient statues which are now in the Vatican museum. The cellar is deep and dark, but a small opening at the top of it was actually the street level doorway many hundreds of years ago.
After enjoying wines and antipasto there we wandered back out into the streets, discovering the fabulous local, traditional foods of Trastevere and many of the people who produce them. I can’t give away all of Eating Italy’s secrets, but I can tell you that they like to surprise their customers which is why the visit to the now-closed Carmelite pharmacy came as quite a thrill. Run by the Carmelite monks in the 17th and 18th centuries, the pharmacy has been closed up for many years, but not dismantled. The shelves and dispensary look just as they did when the doors were closed and walking in there was like stepping back in time. Photography is forbidden in the pharmacy, which is not open to the public either – if you want to see it you will have to join the tour!
Local food tours are my favourite way to get to know a new town or area and absolutely the best way to ensure that you eat well for the duration of your stay. A little inside knowledge will help you eat like a local, avoiding the banal and over-priced tourist food that is on offer in all big tourist areas. With friendly and well-informed guides, Eating Italy food tours are a seriously fun and interesting way to stock up on that information.
Lambs’ Ears and Honey was a guest of Eating Italy for this tour, but her family were not.