Testaccio: A Taste of Rome

My first thought on my last short visit to Rome was, why did we never live here? Florence is only an hour and a half away by train but Rome feels like another planet away. It’s a different region, a different lifestyle, a different set of people and traditions. Different food.

I have to admit, my main reason for wanting to spend a few days in Rome a couple of weeks ago was purely to indulge myself in its tasty food, and more specifically in its tasty offal. Don’t turn your noses up until you have tasted it, but Romans really know how to make anything taste incredible.


I was lucky enough to be staying with some friends who live on the edge of Testaccio, Rome’s rustic little slice of gastronomic heaven. It wasn’t always seen that way though. At the end of the nineteenth century, Testaccio became the home of Rome’s slaughterhouse, a huge structure of 25,000 square meters. Rome’s poor farmers and peasants became the hard workers and residents of the industrial, flood-prone and mosquito-ridden area. The slaughterhouse workers were given part of their salary in the unwanted offal or the quinto quarto (the ‘fifth quarter’). In turn, the local trattorie became well-practised at turning the undesirable cuts of meat into delectable, hearty and delicious dishes, which they still do today.

It is a fascinating area, not only for its market, undoubtedly the favourite of the city (though, controversially, to be moved to a new structure of the old, converted slaughterhouse soon), its fantastic gastronomie, trattorie and food culture, but also for its unique “mountain”.


More a hill than a mountain, and more an archaeological site than a hill, Monte Testaccio is an artificial hill made up of somewhere around 25 million carefully broken up and carefully placed terracotta vessels that once held olive oil, wine and grains that came off the boats delivering at the nearby port. The amphorae are still clearly visible around the sides of the hill and many of the restaurants and bars that circle it have glass-covered niches or walls displaying the unique insides of Mount Testaccio.

It’s somehow a fitting backdrop – these layers of history that Rome is unavoidably full of – to this somewhat unglamourous but entirely characteristic neighbourhood that feels miles away from the acchiappaturisti restaurants of the centro storico.

It’s here that I’ve come to meet Katie Parla for a chat about the local food and a taste of delights such as suppli – arancini-like balls of rice, meat and cheese, crumbed and deep fried – and the so-called ‘trapizzini’ at 00100. A hybrid between a pizza and a tramezzino, the ‘trapizzini’ are filled with Roman stews like manzo garofolato (clove-scented beef), coda alla vaccinara (oxtail, a Roman classic) and lingua (tongue) con salsa verde. What strikes me most about Roman food is that every dish, from is packed with absolute flavour.

Katie is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to Roman food and a fellow offal enthusiast, so I know she is the one to ask about the main thing I have come to Rome to try – pajata, the intestines of milk-fed veal which reveal a tasty, cheese-like cream inside when cooked. They are either simply grilled or tossed through rigatoni and tomato sauce. Katie directed me, amongst others that she suggests here, to Flavio Velavevodetto. It did not disappoint.

The next night, around the corner, we dropped in on Elizabeth Minchilli’s favourite spot in the city for carbonara, where a stracciatella soup – comfort food that I cannot say no to – and lamb sweetbreads also went down very well too.

Luckily it’s never too late to rule out living in Rome one day.

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29 Responses to “Testaccio: A Taste of Rome”
  1. Zita says:

    Wonderful post, Emiko! A few of my friends are going to Rome today! I wish I could go with them and visit all the places in this area!

  2. The first photo is just wonderful…

  3. oh you make me want to go to Rome and try offal !
    The pictures are all wonderful again.

  4. This is what happens when you live so close to a city: I really need to explore it properly, just like you, otherwise I will miss all this amazing flavour festival!
    I absolutely adore the first picture!

  5. Jessica says:

    It’s so funny you wonder why you didn’t come to Rome more often, when I often think that about Florence. I suppose one gets sucked into the subtitles of their own city. The photos in this post are gorgeous and make me want to go down to Testaccio immediately and get a trapizzini. Good luck with your adventures in Australia!

  6. Rosa says:

    Gorgeous pictures (I particularly like the first one) and great post! Thanks for sharing.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  7. Katie Parla says:

    Emiko, it was so lovely to share a meal with you and Marco. I am super impressed by his appetite by the way:) Best of luck in Melbourne and i am so happy we were able to meet before your departure. When you come back to Rome (to visit or to stay) you know you’ve got a partner in offal-devouring crime. XO

    • Emiko says:

      Katie, it was wonderful to finally get together, can’t thank you enough for all your words of Rome food wisdom and generosity! Marco was definitely trying to impress you, haha! Definitely will call for a catch up next time we’re in town. Thanks again xxx

  8. Emiko – Love the way you’ve captured one of my favorite areas in Rome, both in your words and photos. It was also so nice to run into you at 00100 – the trapizzini and the suppli were so delicious, weren’t they?

  9. Emiko, what a lovely post! I heard you were in Rome since Kathy ran into you and Katie at 00100 (Rome is tiny!) I’m in Florence now, and was just thinking that of course I should have gotten in touch with you while I’m here. I guess all the lampredotto I’ve been eating has made my brain fuzzy. I love your blog, and these photos (as all of them) are gorgeous. Hope to meet up. If you are around, I’m here tomorrow. Maybe a quick coffee in the morning?

    • Emiko says:

      Hi Elizabeth! We have just missed each other – I was on my way to Australia! But I will be sure to get in touch to meet up when I’m back. You didn’t know this, but you were with me wandering the streets of Rome (by way of your Eat Rome app!), it was fantastic!

  10. Zia Elle says:

    Lovely post, lovely way to write about Rome and Romans. Absolutely wonderfull your pictures!!

  11. Amanda says:

    So glad you liked Testaccio… it’s definitely a foodie’s paradise! Next time you’re in the neighborhood, make sure to check out this brand-new Sicilian bakery that just opened on Via Marmorata. Just might be my new favorite spot for cannoli in Rome. http://www.revealedrome.com/2011/11/sicilian-pastries-in-rome-italy-sicilia-e-duci.html

    Thanks for a great post, and beautiful pictures, too!

  12. Angie says:

    Yours and Katie’s are my favorite blogs about food in Italy so needless to say, I love this post. Makes me miss Rome, too, which always has been one of my favorite cities. (Sshh, no one tell Florence…)

  13. Mellissa says:

    Wonderful post Emiko! You make our little neighbourhood look and sound even more wonderful than it is! Hope all is well in Australia with you guys.

  14. s says:

    such beautiful photos. i lived in Testaccio for a year- i see (i think) you have photographed my favourite bar- Cafe Linari! *joy* i went to this bar for many, many years. went back there this summer and was disappointed to see that they had renovated it :( i felt like i had gone back to my old home and they had changed it. hope you tried their coffee. Il Bucatino is a gem of a restaurant there and Passi has delectable baked goods- hope you try it next time youre there. enjoyed your post so much. x s

  15. Sara says:

    Your photos are absolutely gorgeous!

    I wish this post had existed when I was in Rome a few months ago – I somehow managed to not visit the Testaccio area, and it seems like I missed out on a great food experience there! Oh well, I’ll just have to return to Rome soon…

  16. Giulia Mule says:

    I was born in Rome and Testaccio/Garbatella is by far my favourite part of Rome! I love the way you have photographed some details that I don’t even notice anymore!

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