Monday, 9 July 2012

All About Food

Our guide Luna - an Australian who has lived in Rome for the last 2 years.

Proscuitto hanging in Volpetti's - a wonderful gourmet food store.

Side trek to Protestant cemetery - grave of John Keats

Lina and Enzo Lazzerini gave us delicious fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese from their stall in the recently opened  Testaccio Market

Award-winning owner of Giolitti - "best gelato in Rome"

Machine (panna montata produttore) used to make whipped cream to add to the gelato
What a day this has been. We have been looking forward  to the Eating Italy Food Tour since we booked it online weeks ago. It features eight stops to savour Italian food. The tour takes place in the Testaccio area of the city--a neighbourhood where ordinary middle class Romans live and shop--far-removed from the hordes of tourists - like us!
We called a taxi to pick us up at the apartment; after our experience with unreliable public transport, we opted for a taxi. It arrived within minutes. The driver was quiet and drove conservatively--at least by the standards of most Roman drivers. The only unsettling aspect was his shaven head and a large tattoo on his arm which featured the word HATE in English. We were not subjected to a diatribe on undesirable immigrants, as his skinhead appearance suggested. For all I know, he could be a quiet family man. Like all drivers he talked on his cell phones (yes, plural) while driving. Not withstanding, he delivered us promptly and safely (the key requirement) to our destination outside Zi Elena cafe.
We had time for a walk through the gritty neighbourhood before meeting our extraordinary guide Luna (who bears a striking resemblance to Sandra Bullock). A transplanted Aussie, she obviously speaks flawless Italian and has become knowledgeable about her adopted country, offering ideas, quips, and travel advice about all parts of Italy. She has done her homework and makes the four-hour tour an adventure in food and Italian culture. She often illustrates her information with humous anecdotes and witty remarks.
We began at Barberini (bakery) where we sampled the traditional Italian breakfast called cornetti (like croissants only ten times better!) and had a sample of tirmisu (not a breakfast staple) from a tiny cup made of intense dark chocolate.
The highlight of the tour was a stop at E. Volpetti, a gourmet food store that meets you with a heavenly aroma. We were tempted to move to Rome just so we could shop at this sublime store. We were given samples of food by the family which has owned the store for generations: for example, prosciutto, salame (not a misspelling), pecorino, and a divine balsamic vinegar (a bottle of which will accompany us home).
The tour features a brief visit to the famous Protestant Cemetery by the Pyramid. We took pictures of the graves of the two great British Romantic poets who are buried there: John Keats and Percy B. Shelley. There are cats throughout the cemetery--a woman has made it her life's work to care for them. The spirit of Keats is said to live on through the cats--a cute but nonsensical notion.
Back to the food! The Testaccio Covered Market has recently moved from its old location. While new and very clean, it sits on top of the ancient supply route that brought food stuffs into the city. We made bruschetta from delicious fresh tomatoes (bruschetta al pomodori). We saved some of the tomatoes to eat with mozzarella di bufala from the charming stall of Lina and Enzo.
What used to be the largest slaughter house in Europe (the equivalent of 17 football fields) is now a museum, but we had a quick peek at the overhead rails that used to convey the countless carcasses to various parts of the facility. Some of Rome's most famous dishes originated from the inventive wives of poorly paid workers who were allowed to take home the undesirable bits (brains, tails, tripe--you get the idea). Evidently, the dishes are on the menus of some of Rome's finest restaurants.
As we made our way to Flavio al Velavedodetto for lunch we passed a man-made mountain. In ancient times all foods were brought into the city in clay urns of various sizes. They were called amphora. Because of their nature they could only be used a couple of time before the wine, oil, honey etc deteriorated the jugs or penetrated the porous surface. So they were thrown away by the thousands and the hill (dumpsite) is the result. Today, bars and restaurants surround the base of the "mountain" now called the Monte Testaccio. We were served three pasta dishes: carbonara, amatriciana, and cacao e pepe (pepper and cheese). Wonderful food.
As if that wasn't filling enough, we stopped at 00100 Pizza where we had a unique food--suppli all a genovese. The restaurant was recently the site of a Master Chef Australia TV show. They are egg-shaped risotto balls that are breaded and deep friend. The filling also contains chopped beef. Superb.
Finally we staggered to Giolitti (an authentic gelato store which just won a medal--to win the store has to pass rigorous standards, including being run by a single family for four generations!). Luna gave us a brief tutorial on detecting fake from real gelato before we each sampled two beautifully flavoured varieties.
Clearly, for both of us, the food tour was the highlight of the tour--so far. Stay tuned because we're taking a cooking class when we're in Orvieto.  

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