A tray of creamy pink icing studded pastries is being held my way– by a strapping Roman chap who looks like he’s just glided off a catwalk.
“Mangia!” he commands.
Eat. Um, ok!
It’s a fine start to an afternoon food tour in Rome’s Trastevere region, on the west side of the Tiber.
We’ve walked 30 minutes from our hotel, north of the Spanish Steps, across frenetic Rome to arrive at this calmer, bohemian section of the city, ready for three hours of sampling and chomping.
Our tour leader, Michele, a 30-something sommelier and art historian with eyes like liquid pools, has introduced himself, and soon the tastings begin!
“This is Vera, our baker. And this is one of her signature cakes,” explains Michele, as we cluster inside the elderly lady’s tiny bakery crammed with pastries, Pasticceria Trastevere.
Behind the counter, sprightly Vera, 88, who’s run the bakery for half her life, flashes a dazzling smile. The next few minutes are spent nibbling pastries and staring in admiration at the enticing home-made cakes around us.
“Now, who likes cheese?” Michele beams at his enthusiastic little band of gourmands. We’ll be following him around for the afternoon, sampling the best of Roman cuisine every step of the cobblestoned way.
“I’m taking you down the street to meet some cheesemakers, famous for their peccorino.”
We walk to a nearby shop, full of giant cheese rounds and cured meats dangling from giant hooks.
A storekeeper leaps out from behind the counter, proffering a tray heaped with piquant delights. The pecorino, a hard Italian cheese made from goat’s milk, has us reaching for seconds and thirds.
“This shop has been going since 1900,” Michele says, pointing to large newspaper articles, written by appreciative foodies, stuck up on the shop glass.
“Now, on we go, to meet Rome’s king of pork!”
And so our adventure continues.
In all, we visit ten locations, including a small food market in a charming piazza where, surrounded by statues and fountains, we tuck into fresh melon and prosciutto.
We meet lively local characters, all of whom greet Michele like a rock star, with much hugging and oohing. Wonderful to watch.
After two delicious hours of meats, cheeses, fruits, pastries, and suppli –fried risotto balls oozing with mozzarella – Michele leads us to a lively trattoria wine bar, Trapizzino Trilussa.
“This eatery was set up by Roman chef Stefano Callegari. Ten years ago he wanted to invent a new dish, a kind of triangular pocket pizza with fillings like oxtail. People didn’t believe he could make this popular; but it’s worked, he now has outlets around the world,” Michele explains.
“The food is inexpensive and really good!”
We order our trapizzino meals, washed down with a chianti rosso, as Michele flirts with a fetching waitress. As we eat, we chat with our new found friends from the tour, hearing about life in Chicago and Columbia.
“Now it’s gelato time!” Michele again flashes his Vogue Italia smile.
He leads us over the bridge to a shop where, he assures, “You’ll enjoy some of the best gelato in Rome.”
After tucking into a dark chocolate and pistachio double cone, I can’t disagree.
The food tour was a truly memorable afternoon and a fine introduction to this less touristy area of Rome. For a few sweet hours, we’d almost felt like locals as we sat in their shops, posing for photos with local characters and sampling many delicious Italian treats.
Pete and I made sure to take down the names and locations of the eateries and providores we visited and three weeks later, back in Rome before flying home to Australia, we re-visit Trastevere.
Sure enough, Vera is in her bakery – how could we walk past without stopping to buy some of her pink icing custard pastries? We couldn’t; they tasted even better this time around! We then head to Trapizzino Trilussa for some pocket pizzas, washed down with excellent Tuscan reds served to us by friendly staff.
The Eating Europe Trastevere Street Eats Tour was not only good value, and great fun, it’s led to a much greater appreciation of this funky locals district.
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