It’s a bright and unusually warm Saturday morning in April when I meet up with my tour group on Piazza Farnese in the centre of Rome. For the next three and a half hours, our guide Antonia will lead us on foot through a degustation of typical Roman foods from Campo di Fiori to two of Rome’s best foodie neighbourhoods: the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere. My seven companions this morning are a couple, four girlfriends, and a solo woman, all from California. Together we’ll go sampling some famous (and perhaps not so famous) Italian dishes on this food tour of Rome.

(Full disclosure: GetYourGuide sponsored me on this food tour of Roman neighborhoods, but the opinions in this post are my own, as always.)

Meeting our guide a in Piazza Farnese (food tour in Rome)

Meeting our guide in Piazza Farnese

Campo di Fiori

The tour begins in Campo di Fiori, the oldest food market in Rome. Dozens of stalls are set up outside and at 10:00 AM things are starting to get busy. Fruits and vegetables, dry pastas in all shapes and colours, jars of truffles, and bottles of flavoured olive oil fill the stalls. Antonia explains that strawberries and artichokes are currently in season. Italians like to cook with seasonal produce as much as possible, so everything is fresh and doesn’t require preservatives.

There are so many colours, textures, and tasty-looking produce. I’m getting enthusiastic about this tour, and also a little hungry! Fortunately, after feasting our eyes, it’s now time to start sampling.

Produce display at Campo di Fiori market (food tour in Rome)

Pasta display at Campo di Fiori market (food tour in Rome)

Our first food stop is Ruggeri, a small deli that’s been a family business for nearly a century. It’s the kind of place where large hams hang from the ceiling and display cases are filled with cheeses, olives, and fresh pasta. We taste a mozzarella di bufala ball, a small cube of pecorino Romano cheese, and a type of salami called spianata rimana. The mozzarella di bufala is my favourite: moist, lightly salted, with what feels like a soft “crust”. The pecorino romano is harder and more pungent. Depending on the region, cheeses in Italy are made from buffalo, sheep, goat, or cow milk.

At family-owned deli Ruggeri (food tour in Rome)

At family-owned deli Ruggeri

Our second stop is a bakery called Roscioli on cobbled pedestrian Via dei Chiavari. The display window tempts us with a variety of local pastries, including brutti ma buoni (literally “ugly but good”) a kind of mottled-looking meringue. But we’re here to taste pizza. Roman pizza is rectangular-shaped with a very crispy and thin crust, unlike its circular moister Napoli cousin.

Pizza rossa (food tour in Rome)

Antonia gives us each a square of pizza rossa, covered with a simple tomato sauce, and pizza bianca, a double-crusted pizza brushed with olive oil and covered with thin slices of mortadella. Personally, I find the red pizza tastier.

It’s noon now, and the place is hopping with customers coming in and out to buy bread or munch on baked goodies.

Bakery display (food tour in Rome)

Pastry display at Roscioli Bakery

Jewish Ghetto

Deep fried artichokes (food tour in Rome)

Emerging back into the sunshine, we follow Via Porta d’Ottavia through the Jewish Ghetto. In this case ghetto is not used as a derogatory term. In fact, we’re in one of the nicest areas of Rome. Antonia explains that this is the oldest Jewish settlement in all of Europe, dating back to the 2nd century B.C. Over time, Jewish and Italian food traditions have blended, leading to some interesting creations, like deep fried artichokes (left) and deep-fried rice balls stuffed with tomato sauce and mozzarella, called supplì.

Eating al fresco in the Jewish Ghetto (food tour in Rome)

Eating al fresco in the Jewish Ghetto (not one of our stops but still pretty!)

Our next stop is at the restaurant Franco e Cristina, where we get to try both of these unusual specialties. Although the artichoke is interesting, the deep-frying makes it a little too dry for my taste. I much prefer the supplì (apparently a deformation of the French word “surprise”). I could make an entire meal out of these little nuggets. Some non-Kosher versions also incorporate meat.

Trying some Italian-Jewish specialties (food tour in Rome)

Trying some Italian-Jewish specialties

Via Porta d’Ottavia takes its name from the Roman ruin at the end of the street. Wherever you go in Rome, you keep stumbling upon 2000-year old antiquities! Although history and architecture are not the focus of the tour, we all stop to take pictures while Antonia waits patiently.

Porta d'Ottavia ruins, Jewish Ghetto (food tour in Rome)

Porta d’Ottavia ruins, Jewish Ghetto

By the way, if you want to combine visiting some of the major sights with food and wine tastings, check out the following tours:

Trastevere

Next we cross the Tiber River into Trastevere, a medieval neighbourhood known for its restaurants and nightlife. At Trattoria Pizzeria da Gino alla Villetta, we enjoy a glass of wine and a sizeable portion of short rigatoni pasta served with amatriciana sauce. This sauce, very popular in Rome, is made from tomato, guanciale (pork cheek), and pecorino cheese. So simple yet so tasty! Another popular pasta sauce here is carbonara, made from eggs, pecorino, guanciale, and olive oil. Interestingly, the Roman version does not contain cream.

Ready to try some typical local pasta (food tour in Rome)

Ready to try some typical Roman pasta in a local trattoria

Feeling rather full by now, we continue towards our last food stop: Fior di Luna, an artisanal gelateria on Via della Lungaretta. Rome (and Italy in general) is full of gelato shops, many of them trying to appeal to tourists with their brilliantly coloured displays of the frozen dessert.

Antonia tells us how to recognize a good gelateria. Gelato without preservatives is kept in metal containers indoors, and not exposed to the air. The best shops also sell fewer flavours so that they can make them fresh every day. Finally, flavours reflect ingredients that are in season, with natural colours and no food dyes.

We can each choose two flavours. After much deliberation, I opt for pistachio and strawberry. The strawberry is actually a sorbet and impresses me with its intense flavour. It’s like I just bit into a (very cold) strawberry! The pistachio is smoother and sweeter and feels like cream in my mouth.

Sampling the gelato before making a decision! (food tour in Rome)

Sampling the gelato before making a decision!

It’s now almost 2:00 PM, and past the official ending time of the tour when we finally part ways. Antonia never rushed us, and now she tries to help everybody figure out how to get to their next destination. After all those food samples though, none of us is heading for lunch!

Food for thought

I had noticed in the past that Italian foods, even the simplest dishes, were always so full of flavour. This tour, thanks to our very knowledgeable and passionate guide Antonia, helped explain why. Each Italian region features different food specialties, based on local ingredients. What is served in a given month reflects what is fresh and in season. While “local” and “organic” are food concepts which are now gaining popularity in North America, the Italians have embraced them all along.

Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere (food tour in Rome)

Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere

An American expat I met told me how she used to often get stomach aches after meals. Since moving to Italy, she hasn’t had any issues with her digestion. The proof is in the pudding (or the gelato) as they say.

If you want to go

Local company Gourmetaly, which specializes in tailored food tours led by Italian guides, runs this tour. The cost of 75 Euros per person (when booked through GetYourGuide) covers everything included in the tour. You can change or cancel your booking up to 24 hours in advance for a full refund. The tour runs every day at 10:00 AM and 4:30 PM, lasts about 3.5 hours, and is limited to a maximum of 12 people. Because of opening times, only the morning tour visit the market in Campo di Fiori.

After the tour, your guide will send you a detailed email listing all the foods you tried, plus a list of recommended restaurants in Rome and other parts of Italy. For this reason, it’s best to do this food tour of Rome at the beginning of your stay. It will help you negotiate the Roman food scene like a pro. As far as Rome day tours go, this one is hard to beat!

If you want to book the same food tour of Roman neighbourhoods that I took, you can do so easily by following this link. Or you might prefer to go on one of these other highly-rated food and wine tours in Rome:

Note: Get Your Guide curates some of the best day tours and activities from select companies all over the world, and lets you book them easily through their platform. You can get a full refund up until 24 hours before the tour if you change your mind. As an affiliate, I get a small commission if you book one of their tours through the links in this post, at no extra cost to you!


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