It’s a small shop on an unremarkable street.
Twirls and swirls of thick white paint flick across the shop window, shadowed by shades of crimson and green. And call me romantic but the words seem to have been written with love.
Baccala e ceci. Il prosciutto del bon Gustaio. Porchetta di Ariccia.
Inside, there’s a queue, also small. It matches the range of products for sale.
Authentic. Small. Elegantly arranged.
Cardboard-boxed pasta curls and red wine line the shelves and the counters reveal rosemary-soaked pizza bianca.
But mostly, it’s all about the porchetta. Salty. Salted. Thickly cut and surprisingly melt in the mouth.
I’m only half way through my food tour of Rome. But while my tastebuds are living in the moment, my mind has gone wandering back through the past.
It’s left these narrow streets of “wrong side of the tracks” Trastevere, where green tendrils and scarlet petals spill out from lopsided windows and vespas laze in the shadows.
I’m travelling back through the flavours of my mind to my earlier experiences of Italian Food. To my time in both Tuscany and Umbria, when I learned about the Slow Food Movement and how to make a real ragu.
To my star-crossed love story with the idea of “Italian Food.”
To say that Italy lavishes care and attention on food is to say that Hollywood quite likes motion pictures.
In Italy, food matters. And as a result, that food tastes great.
But from afar, I think that it’s easy to wonder what all the fuss is about. Elsewhere, especially in Britain, Italian food boils down (often literally) to that which is cheap, plain and easy to make.
It’s student fare with cardboard bases and pasta in stainless steel vats. Food that sold its soul for a side serving of chips or a helping of even soggier peas.
Once I’d returned from my Tuscan sojourn, I was an Italian food convert. To anyone who asked, to anyone who would listen, I extolled the virtues of heading to Italy in search of the food.
Only to see friends return disappointed.
How could this be?
It seems those top tourist spots, the waterways of Venice, those renaissance domes in Florence, have made it easy to have a thoroughly “meh” meal.
Restaurants dial down on quality to drive up numbers served, taking advantage of foreign ignorance to sidestep potential complaints. And even that, perhaps, is unfair.
Perhaps it is the reluctance of foreigners to step into the unknown that drives the restaurateurs to keep things bland, safe and thoroughly tasteless.
So, short on time on my last trip to Rome, I decided to try a different approach.
I signed up for a food tour through Rome run by Eating Italy.
With my wild nights temporarily on hold, I opted for the four hour daylight tour, a voyage through around 20 or so different specialty shops, one open air market and not one but two sit down restaurants with an impromptu gelato and coffee stop thrown in.
It was a blur of gastronomic brilliance, with around ten or so fellow explorers. We saw pecorino cheese stacked waist high and bulbous cheese hanging from the rafters.
We tasted suppli, a deep fried rice ball, on the streets and sugar-dusted pastries indoors.
We sat for wine and pasta, stood for gelato, strolled past pumpkin and prosciutto in the market and slid forks through freshly sliced watermelon
And best of all, the people we met seemed pleased to see us too. Shopkeepers were ready, chefs passionate.
Through pregnancy and a few other issues, my diet was no longer carefree and I’d braced myself to sit on the culinary sidelines as it were.
But the Trasteverini weren’t having any of it.
When it came to gelato, they found me sorbet. For soft, gooey cheese, they substituted hard. Cured meat was swapped with cooked, and cream-laden dessert became so many different types of biscuits and coconut sweets that I struggled to take them all in.
And all without making a fuss, all with making me feel welcome.
Other food tours, which shall remain nameless, have a lot to learn.
I fell in foodie heaven.
So would I recommend Eating Europe and its Eating Italy Daylight Tour through Trastevere to you?
You can bet your last gelato I would. And that I wouldn’t say that lightly.
And when you walk through those leaf-labyrinth streets, stop and have a suppli for me.
I received a complimentary place on the Eating Italy Rome Food Tour for review purposes. However, as ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like, including not to write at all if the experience didn’t seem up to scratch.
As you can probably tell, I loved this experience. But I’ve also had 2-3 really awful food experiences over the last year or so in Europe that haven’t made it onto this site.
Why? Because I only like to recommend experiences I think you’ll enjoy. Otherwise, what’s the point?