Monday, Monday….so good to me. Monday morning, it was all I hoped it would be. (everybody sing along!) So Monday was a fun day. We rarely hire tour guides (they can be fantabulous, but we travel cheap), but we had arranged to spend yesterday morning with Katie Parla. Katie’s a Jersey girl, living in Rome, went to Yale, knows lots and lots about food and wine and history and culture. Lots.
It was tricky getting up before 9, but we managed. Punto Gelato (our current favorite) was closed at that hour, but we joined our friends at Nonna Vicenza for coffee and pastry. I had a caffe before we crossed the bridge, but Joe got a gorgeous and amazingly delicious pistacchio cannoli. Ricotta filling to die for. I realize now that I forgot to get a picture and the only proper way to remedy that would be to return. I wonder if there is time…. Anyway, if you’re in the hood, check this place out. Beautiful Sicilian bakery, quite fancy (they even have a bathroom!!) and worth the trip
From there we high-tailed it along the Tiber, past Circus Maximus, and over to the lower entrance of the Palatine Hill to meet our guide. Big thanks to Katie for making us aware of this little convenience….this entrance had no line, and you can buy your ticket there for the Colosseum and the Forum/Palatine Hill. They are two separate spaces, but the ticket you buy gets you entrance to each space. You can also use it on two different days. We bought the tickets (Katie’s friendly smooth Italian ensured the ticket office gave us the best discount – I’m pretty sure the kids were free. It’s only a 12 euro ticket, but every penny counts) and then strolled over to the Colosseum (just 200m away). We were able to walk past the long lines of folks buying tickets there, and go right in. She was fabulous with the kids, and a wealth of information. It’s one thing to read about a place, or try to read about it in a little guide book while you’re there, but it’s another to have a knowledgeable guide point out all the cool stuff and explain the history, question the myths, and answer every question. (Have I mentioned she knows A LOT?)
After the Colosseum we hopped an Uber van to the Testaccio neighborhood. Testaccio is an authentic, working class Roman neighborhood. Low on tourists, high on reality. It lies south of the Colosseum and across the Tiber from the southern part of the Trastevere neighborhood. We hadn’t explored that area before, and I was eager to check it out. Our first stop: Pasticceria Barberini for, well, yeah, more pastry, I had a delicious ‘lobster tail’ filled with the most amazing cream ever (I need to find out what those are called in Italian), Joe had a cornetto (croissant) filled with hazelnut-infused chocolate, I had a macchiato, Amy had un shakerato….espresso shaken with ice. Very yummy….and also something I’ll be re-creating at home on a regular basis. There may be a Vitamix blender involved.
Next stop was the location of the old Testaccio market, now a lovely square with a newer fountain in the shape of the old olive oil vessels. We learned so much about the old market, the vessels (how the old vessel dumping ground is now a mountain…think Hartford dump but centuries older, cleaner and, well, kinda cool), the people who worked there, and how things changed with the new market. Then we walked a few blocks to the shiny new market. Much more sterile than rustic, but oh such deliciousness inside.
Our first stop was a little Sicilian booth for arrancini…the girl at the counter was kind enough to cut them into smaller pieces for us, as these were the size of baseballs. Some filled with a meat ragu, and some with ham and cheese…both wonderful. Then we moved on to Mordi e Vai….
This is the dude. Apparently he ran a butcher shop in the old market and when that closed he retired. But, missing the business, he came out of retirement and opened this sort of fast food joint in the new market. Here he makes all the favorite classic Roman dishes and puts them into (awesome crusty) sandwich bread to go. We had one that was a Roman style artichoke (trimmed and steamed in a seasoned stock) literally smashed into a sandwich and topped with a sharp aged cheese. We also had a shredded beef one, and some fried flatted meatballs. There were tons of other varieties, including classic peasant real food, using all parts of the animal. Katie recently worked with Andrew Zimmer (Bizarre Foods guy) on three episodes airing soon, that include this stand. (Also check out Katie’s blog for more).
We continued the market tour through the produce stands. No fish today, she said they only sell fish there on Tuesdays and Fridays. (If you’re into fresh fish markets I totally recommend Rialto Market in Venice!) Then we visited the old slaughterhouse area – a very sophisticated production area in its time, now regenerating as a cultural cluster with galleries, shops and more. We did manage one more quick gelato stop – Katie’s preferred spot wasn’t making gelato for the season yet, but the kids needed a little refresher. OK, me too.
Our tour with Katie Parla was quite fabulous, and I can’t recommend her enough. She’s so knowledgeable, personable and flexible. Check out her website (I’m going to add links to everything when I’m home on my real computer), contact her very helpful assistant Vanessa, and see where Katie can lead you!
We relaxed a while in the afternoon on our terrace with a bit of cool white wine….then regrouped in the evening for dinner. A stroll by the Pantheon first, the kids discovered how to take some cool panoramic pictures with the phones….I’ll have to post some later. We had dinner at Cantina Lucifero, a block or two off of Campo Dei Fiori. Everything was yummy but I forgot to take pictures…..here’s what we had though…
They welcomed us with complimentary glasses of prosecco then…
Antipasto – bruschetta with lardo and truffle-infused honey (trust me on the lardo), also a salumi plate with speck, prosciutto, ham, cheese, and some grilled zucchini and eggplant.
Spaghetti with Marinara and Veal Meatballs (for once Joe could not order shellfish but he was delighted), Lasagne Bolognese, Artichoke Gauteau, Zucchini/Potato/Speck Gauteau, and Toma Cheese with a boat-load of shaved white truffles.
These guys (and their sister Lucifer Taverna) love to do it up with the truffles, and do not disappoint. My only disappointment is their lack of house wine. I’m not a wine person and I’m usually perfectly happy with the vino della casa. The owner was supremely kind though, and gave Amy a small jar of the truffle honey upon our departure.
Returned back to our Roman home with happy bellies (um, yeah, the kids did get one more gelato at Punto – Joe was proud to now order it all by himself), and tired legs.
Another bella giornata en Roma!!