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Exploring the Food of Rome’s Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere

Though Italian cuisine has long been admired as one of the pinnacles of gastronomical achievement, the Romans are not especially famed for their efforts. Typically, Roman food is seen as rather plain, as it is based on uncomplicated sauces and often opts for a minimalist approach to things such as pasta and pizza; for example, pizza bianca has no toppings like tomato sauce or cheese, which may sound to some like a grave crime on the palate. However, to dismiss it without investigating it further would be a mistake, especially because of the varied influences on the local cuisine, among which one of the most notable is Jewish culture from the oldest Jewish ghetto in Europe. This piece of history piqued my curiosity, and I resolved to go on the food tour of Rome’s Jewish area as well as the buzzing area of Trastevere (which literally means “across the Tiber,” the river that goes through the city).

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Even the sign was charming.

I meet Flavia, our tour guide, and the others going on the tour (almost all Aussies!) at 9 a.m. at the Piazza Farnese after running across the city for fear of being late — an activity bound to ensure that your appetite is awakened, believe me — and, after some introductions, we make our way to the famous Campo de Fiori market. There, Flavia shows us around and points out some of the things we will be eating, such as fiori di zucca (zucchini flowers) and guanciale (smoked pork cheeks). After filling our water bottles at one of the many fountains in the city — you have to love Italy for that, and especially Rome, which has over 2,000 — we go into an old grocer’s for a tasting. It starts with mozzarella di buffala (buffalo mozzarella), which blows everyone’s mind with its creaminess and intensity of flavour, far removed from the tasteless industrial rubber we’re all accustomed to. Flavia mentions that it is made from the milk of buffalos from Lazio, the state in which Rome is situated, confirming that this is good, local produce. We also taste salami and pecorino, the latter of which is essential to many Roman dishes, as it is grated on top of pasta instead of sauce and salt.

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A great selection of foods and a wonderful way to begin the tour.

Having whet our appetite, we pop just sround the corner to a forno (bakery) for some piazza bianca with mortadella, a processed ham with pistachio and olive pieces, served in a sandwich form. It doesn’t tantalise the senses in quite the same way as the tastings just before, but it certainly fills a gap. We then move on for a bit of a walk around while we talk amongst ourselves and with Flavia, who is very affable and happens to be going to my hometown in a few weeks, giving me a chance to return the favour and give her some food tips. We stop to admire Pasticceria il Boccione, the legendary Jewish bakery famous for its ricotta and sour cherry pie … though it is not part of the food tour per se, a couple of us go in to get a slice for later. Edit from the future: I highly recommend that you try this.

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A foodie’s dream.

June is not treating us well and it starts to pour with rain just as we dive into the next place for some supplí (fried rice balls like arancini, but with tomato sauce inside, Roman-style) and the delicious fiori di zucca fritta alla romana (fried zucchini flowers). They’re both deep fried and one of each per person is enough. Then, braving the rain after a hopeful but unsuccessful wait for it to pass, we cross the river to Trastevere and go to a rustic restaurant for some bucatini all’amatriciana, a pasta with a sauce made from tomato and pig’s cheek, which gives the dish a strong, smokey flavour. We wash it down with some wine and just chat and relax, all the while bombarding Flavia with our questions.

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Incredible flavors.

The next and final stop is a gelateria on Via della Lungaretta, notable for its multiple single-origin chocolate flavours. After tasting them all, I opt for the darkest, most intense flavour. I am not usually a chocolate ice-cream kind of man, but this caught my eye and it is indeed a cut above the rest. It is with happy faces and pleasantly full stomachs that we say bye to each other and Flavia, and go our separate ways to explore the city.

– Contributed by Joe Wareham

Exploring the Food of Rome’s Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere from Viator Rome



Perfetto! Your Perfect Cooking Class in Rome

Rome Walking Tour and Cooking Class

One of the greatest pleasures of a visit to Rome is eating your way through the city. Sampling local specialties like Roman-style artichokes, bucatini all’amatriciana, porchetta, and cacio e pepe (a “comfort food” pasta dish with grated pecorino cheese and black pepper), not to mention the city’s array of fabulous gelato shops.

But if you’d like to make those mouth-watering memories last longer than your vacation, you absolutely can – sign up for a cooking class in Rome and learn to re-create those famous dishes once you return to your own kitchen.

Some people think cooking classes in Italy are only held on Tuscan farms or other rural locations, but there are plenty of great options for cooking classes in big cities like Rome, too. In fact, for those taking shorter trips and who aren’t already planning tours of more rural areas, taking a cooking class in a city (rather than a more remote countryside locale) can mean less time spent in transit.

There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re browsing your options for cooking classes, whether it’s in Rome or elsewhere.

How long is the class?
Cooking classes can range from a few hours to multiple days, so it’s important to know how much time you have to set aside for a class before you start looking at the options. Again, if you’ve only got a few days to spend in Rome, you may gravitate toward a half-day class rather than one taking up an entire day so that you have more time to explore the city itself. Note that if the class isn’t in Rome’s city center you’ll need to factor in transportation time, too (and if it’s in the country outside Rome, make sure to check on whether the class provides the transportation).

You may like the Rome Walking Tour and Cooking Class, which combines an historic walking tour of the city with a small group cooking class – all in roughly four hours, leaving you plenty of time to do what you’d like with the rest of your holiday.

Is it hands-on?
Not all cooking classes are the same – some are more “demonstration” than hands-on class. You can certainly learn from such demo-only classes, but nothing can replace actually getting your hands dirty with an instructor around to help provide guidance. Hands-on classes may take a little longer, but that’s time well spent. Additionally, if there’s ever an issue with a language barrier, then being able to get hands-on instruction will circumvent the confusion of a misunderstood word.

How many people are involved?
Any student will tell you learning is more effective when class size is kept small, and cooking classes are no exception. Choosing a cooking class with a good teacher-to-student ratio means you’re more likely to get personal assistance when you need it. Plus, you’re likely to have more fun that way, too.

Viator’s Small Group Cooking Lesson in Rome will be no more than eight people, and includes shopping for the ingredients and then turning them into a meal in a private kitchen.

Does it include anything else?
Does the class begin with a walking tour of the local market, so you can learn about choosing what goes into the meal you’re about to prepare? Will you get wine pairing tips to go with your newly-learned cooking skills? Is the class outside the city center, which will give you a chance to see another environment than just Rome? Check out every class listing to see if it includes “extras” that can make the experience richer – that may explain why some classes are more expensive than others, and that added cost may be totally worth it.

The Small Group Cooking Lesson in the Roman Countryside offers a full day of market shopping, cooking class, and wine matching tips, all of which takes place outside Rome for a beautiful change of scenery.

 – Jessica Spiegel

Planning a Trip? Browse Viator’s Rome tours and things to do, Rome attractions, and Rome travel recommendations. Or book a private tour guide in Rome for a customized tour!

Perfetto! Your Perfect Cooking Class in Rome from Rome Things To Do