When in Rome, eat in Testaccio

The last time I was in Rome I stayed in Testaccio, as recommended by a Roman friend. You'll love it, she told me, and she was right.

My room at B&B Testaccio looked over the square, Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice, with its church of the same name. It was a room with a view Testaccio-style of everyday Roman life with locals coming back from the market near the ancient Monte dei Cocci as the locals call Monte Testaccio, the hill made up of the terracotta pots that were dumped there during Roman times and nowadays an area famous for its bars. I also discovered another Roman joy. When in Rome, eat. In Testaccio. 

Testaccio has the reputation of being Rome’s village. Go at any time of the day to Pasticceria Linari and you’re quite possibly rubbing shoulders with someone from the world of theatre or cinema. Move on to the market near the old slaughterhouse, and you’ll see local women buying ingredients for lunch, and others preparing artichokes. Artichokes are a big deal in Rome. Eat them alla romana and they’ll be served boiled with a dressing of oil, garlic and herbs, and some recipes also include anchovies and breadcrumbs. Alla giudia is the Jewish way. It originated in Rome’s Jewish ghetto, and is where the artichoke heads are pressed down to create the effect of an open flower and fried head downwards in oil. You can eat them at one of the food kiosks here. And don’t forget to try a porchetta sandwich, deboned roast pork stuffed with rosemary, garlic and other herbs.

Trapizzino just off Piazza Santa Maria Liberatrice offers another great take on street food, pockets of focaccia filled with traditional Roman recipes such as meatballs in tomato sauce, guancia alla brasata (braised cheek), trippa alla Romana (Roman-style tripe), coda alla vaccinara (oxtail stew), ceci e baccalà (cod with chickpeas) and parmigiana alla melanzana or fried aubergines cooked in tomato sauce with mozzarella. It’s the type of food that leaves you quite simply wanting more. Da Remo serves one of the best pizzas in Rome, thin and crisp. Try the house special, the Da Remo pizza with finely chopped mushrooms, aubergines and salsiccia (Italian sausage).  Again, you’ll want to go back.

Resist the temptation and head to one of the typical Roman trattorias that serve classic dishes. Roman cuisine has its origins in the Lazio countryside, uses vegetables such as artichokes, lettuces, broad beans and chicory, and lamb, goat, kid and pork. We ate at Lo Scoppetaro on the advice that they do one of the best rigatoni alla carbonara you can eat, carbonara being pasta dressed with guanciale and egg. Guanciale is similar to pancetta but whereas pancetta uses pork belly, guanciale uses the jowl or cheek. Hence its name, guanciale that comes from guancia or cheek. They also do a very good tonnarelli alla gricia and tonnarelli cacio e pepe. (Tonnarelli are a long type of fresh pasta.) Alla gricia, reputedly from Grisciano in the north of Lazio, is literally a condiment for pasta that’s made from guanciale and onion, with a sprinkling of pecorino cheese. These are some of the most famous Roman pasta dishes, along with bucatini all’amatriciana, long dried pasta dressed in guanciale and tomato sauce that comes from Amatrice but is a favourite at Roman tables. If you still have space after any of that, try the abbacchio or lamb. Finish with homemade tiramisu.