One of the best ways to experience the culture of any country is to indulge in the local food and wine. If you’ve been reading the Besties Do Italy series, you’ll have realised by now that our visit to Italy was very much about enjoying the wonderful Italian food and wine. Just a couple of days into our trip, while in Rome, we were fortunate enough to do an evening eating/walking tour of Trastevere (pronounced trast-ev-eray) . It was similar to a progressive dinner, and we were escorted by Sarah of Eating Italy Food Tours.
Setting out on our gourmet food tour of Rome
We met at 5.30pm outside San Bartolomeo Church on Isola Tiberina, or Tiber Island, which is the only island in Rome. The island is also home to a hospital, which was founded by Spanish monks in 1582, and remains operational today. We met our guide Sarah, together with the other members of our group of 10, who hailed from Sweden, Germany and Canada.
Together, we crossed Ponte Cestio, a bridge/walkway joining the island to the Trastevere district, on the southern side of the River Tiber. Sarah directed down to Via dei Vascalleri, where we found our first stop, Da Enzo. Here we enjoyed a glass of chilled prosecco (Italian sparkling wine), accompanied by Carciofi all Giudia, or deep fried artichokes. This is the traditional Jewish method of preparing artichokes, where they are deep fried twice, unless the leaves become brown and crispy. Yes, we ate quite a few artichokes while we were in Italy, as everything is eaten seasonally and mostly from local sources. When in Rome…
I must say, I wasn’t big on artichokes until we went to Italy, but these were delicious. Italy is responsible for growing almost two-thirds of the world’s artichoke supply, so they are a very popular vegetable for Italians.
Discovering the history of Trastevere
While we sat and ate, Sarah told us about some of the history of the Trastevere district, which was a popular area for Rome’s Jewish population in the past.
We wandered down Via dei Salumi and around into a narrow laneway to find our next stop, Spirito di Vino. This family-run restaurant is housed in a building said to be the oldest synagogue in Italy. Obviously, it’s no longer a synagogue!
We were led down into the ancient cellar, which was like walking into a refrigerator. There was room after room filled with wine, all of which was wrapped in plastic to keep any dust or other particles from settling on the labels.
We enjoyed some delicious pre-dinner treats washed down with a glass of lovely red wine. The Bestie and I enjoyed the wine so much, we purchased a bottle each for our hubbies – not such a great move at the time, as this was only day 3 of our month long trip and we had to carry it in our suitcases.
Just a few blocks walk away was our next stop, Innocenti – a bakery specialising in the most delicious biscotti, or biscuits. Stefania, the owner, offered us samples of several different types of biscotti, making it hard to choose a favourite. Some of us purchased a small bag to take with us, ahem!
Everyone loves a deli!
Moving right along, we walked further this time, to visit Antica Caciara, located on Via di San Francesco, where we tasted some excellent prosciutto, a high-quality cured ham, as well as some Romana cheese. By this time, I realised I would need to pace myself to leave room for future delights.
We then moved on to our next stop, which was about 10-15 minutes’ walk away – a good thing! At La Renella, we sampled Suppli, a Roman specialty, which is a bite-sized snack of mozzarella cheese wrapped in a mixture of risotto, egg and tomato sauce, then crumbed and deep-fried. Although these were delicious, I opted just for a bite, as I was starting to feel less and less hungry!
Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere
After our suppli, we headed to Basillica de Santa Maria in Trastevere, or the Church of Saint Maria in Trastevere, which is very beautiful and rather popular with visitors. Just around the corner, on Piazza Santa Apollonia, a small square, we found Osteria der Belli, a traditional restaurant where we enjoyed a gourmet pasta carbonara, accompanied by a crisp white wine. We thought we would only have one glass of wine, but the waitress kept refilling our glasses. We were pleased to be walking and not driving!
Thankfully, there are many free water fountains scattered around Rome, where we could refill our water bottle and pace our alcohol consumption. The water is cool, very clean and completely safe to drink, You have to hand it to the Romans there – the water is free, but you have to pay to use the bathroom. Everyone needs to use the bathroom sooner or later. If you’re dining in a restaurant, you are welcome to use their toilet, but you can’t just walk in and ask unless you buy something first. Otherwise, you must pay the price, which varies greatly – we paid anywhere from 50 euro cents in parts of Rome to 4.50 euro in Venice!
A wonderful surprise
After dinner, we were all very full and our motivation to walk further was flagging. However, Sarah had a little surprise up her sleeve. She has contact a friend of hers who was going to shop us through an ancient farmicia, or pharmacy. This was not ordinary chemist shop though. It was established by Carmelite priests in the 1650’s and operating until 1954, when it was closed.
The priests simply closed the doors and left everything in place, as though they would return the next day. It was like stepping back in time, so incredible. The ceiling was a work of art in itself and a decorative light fitting hung in the centre of the room, still with a gas pipe connected (pre-electricity). The timber-panelled walls and counter were like nothing I’ve seen in a pharmacy before. There were rows of glass bottles and jars containing strange things, pestle and mortars and an entire room devoted to natural/flower remedies, still sitting in their beautifully decorated cabinets.
The ceiling was a work of art in itself and a decorative light fitting hung in the centre of the room, still with a gas pipe connected (pre-electricity). The timber-panelled walls and counter were like nothing I’ve seen in a pharmacy before. There were rows of glass bottles and jars containing strange things, pestle and mortars and an entire room devoted to natural/flower remedies, still sitting in their beautifully decorated cabinets.
Unfortunately, we weren’t permitted to take photos inside the farmicia. This was was a shame, as it was an unbelievable place to visit. If you’d like to see a photo of the pharmacy, do a Google search for Farmicia Santa Maria Della Scala to check out some pics.
Time for dessert
We all talked about the amazing pharmacy as we walked through more cobblestone streets and alleyways, past cafes, bars and restaurants overflowing with locals and tourist enjoying their evening out. Finally, we reached Fatamorgana, a well-known gelataria. It was time for dessert! The hardest part was deciding which flavours to have. You’re encouraged to try two or three flavours together, but it you choose the wrong ones, the server will sometimes refuse to give you that combination. As the shop assistant spoke next to no English and my Italian is very limited, it was quite amusing trying to come up with a combination she approved of. Eventually, we settled on lemon, mango and lime (I think). All I remember is that it was delicious.
After dessert, the tour was finished. Sarah pointed us in the direction of the nearest main road and bid us farewell. A mother and daughter from Canada were headed the same way as us, so we walked together for about 20 minutes and chatted about our evening, until we had to part ways. The walk home was just what we needed after eating so much food.
All the food and wine on the tour was included in the price, which was 85 euro per person. Considering we got to see a lot of Trastevere, had multiple history lessons, met some lovely people and enjoyed sensational food and wine, we thought it was well worth the investment. This is a completely independent post and not sponsored by Eating Italy Food Tours – although I’m open to offers for our next trip! 🙂
What do you think is the best way to experience a foreign country’s culture in limited time?
The Besties Do Italy series details how Seize The Day Project’s Lyndall and her long time best friend ventured to Italy to celebrate a significant birthday. Shhh, don’t tell anyone they’ve gone!
Read more posts in this fascinating series here: Positano, you stole a little piece of my heart – Exploring Lake Como: The Greenway Walk – Eternal Rome: I only just met you, but I think I love you – Some Enchanted Evening in Venice – The journey to Cinque Terre: When things didn’t go according to plan – A trip to Villa San Michele, Anacapri – Cooking up an Italian storm in Roma – A visit to beautiful San Gimignano
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