Testaccio, the tenth rione of Rome, is the gastronomic heart of the city. This area by the Tiber was the port of ancient Rome, where boats unloaded their huge amphorae – pots standing some 70cm high – containing olive oil from Andalucía and Africa.
As the oil was absorbed by the porous clay, reusing the vessels was not an option, so they were broken into large pieces and thrown into the river. It was either Emperor Augustus or Emperor Trajan who first ordered the emptied amphorae to be broken in two and stacked methodically in a pile, bases to the bottom to give stability.
A series of piles gradually built up, and lime and soil were sprinkled over each to avoid the stench and flies. Birds deposited seeds and vegetation grew up to gradually to form Monte Testaccio, the ‘eighth hill’ of Rome.
Over the centuries it was discovered that the caves cut out of the artificial hill enjoyed a constant 7-10°C temperature insulated by the terracotta.
The wine transported by wagon from the Castelli Romani (a group of wine producing hill-towns southeast of Rome) was stored in these caves, and when, after the unification of Italy, the modern slaughterhouse was sited in this area, cheap wine shops and eating houses sprang up to feed the workers.
Wide open spaces and readily available wine made this a bit of a party spot for the Romans.
This small pastry shop has been part of the Testaccio scene for many years, with a repertoire that goes from strength to strength.
Locals come for breakfast to enjoy the light-as-air cornetti, made with butter instead of the usual lard. They are served semplice or filled with cream, jam or nuts. The skilled barista, Maurizio, quickly learns the quirks of regular customers and a faithful following cannot face the start of the day without their Barberini fix.
There is now a small back room, and unlike some places the prices are the same whether you stand or sit, but no Roman would choose to be anywhere else but the bar for his first coffee in the morning. During the day the pastries are the main attraction. The favourites are the petite mignon pastries, which allow you to indulge without feeling too greedy. Miniature Sicilian cannoli and cassata line up next to little Austrian sachertorte, and there is something for every taste – though the overall winner seems to be the little chocolate cups filled with delicious tiramisu.
The display is so tempting that most visitors depart with a large box of pastries, and their new line of delicious ice cream is equally addictive.
This small boutique opened in 2009 has quickly won a loyal following of locals who like to cook with an array of spices, while visitors from all over the world, nostalgic for a taste of home, come here for their essential ingredients.
Some 150 spices are stocked, and many are sold by the gram so you don’t need to buy more than required.
There is a good choice of dried fruits and nuts, and teas for every taste.
Products are sourced from all over the world, for example peppercorns from Sarawak, the Malaysian state on Borneo island. More usual Italian items such as capers and saffron or pulses and grains can also be found in this little treasure house.
They stock a full range of Mulino Marino flours, made with organically farmed grains that have not been genetically modified. A natural stone mill is used exclusively for flours for people intolerant to other flours, including:
They also stock fresh coriander, ginger and green chilies.
It’s a delight to visit this bright, attractive shop with its enticing aromas and shining jars, but for quick top-ups there is a swift, efficient mail-order service.
Emilio and Claudio Volpetti opened their shop in 1973, and it soon established itself as one of the best salumeria in the area, with its mouthwatering selection of prosciuttos and salamis.
Today it has become a temple of gastronomy, selling the best of every culinary delight. The brothers are originally from Norcia in Umbria, a town known for its good pork.
The Volpettis have what must be the best selection of Italian cheeses in Rome, and they were the first to introduce formaggio di fossa (“pit cheese” from the Emilia-Romagna region) to the city; brother Claudio goes personally to Sogliano when the underground pit is opened on St. Catherine’s day (25 November) to make his selection. The Volpetti brothers are ambassadors of small producers from all over Italy, and on their shelves you’ll find Brisighella olive oil, Consorzio balsamic vinegar and at Christmas, nougat with green icing made with pistachios from Bronte – they will happily overwhelm you with samples.
The display case features cooked vegetables and ready-made dishes, and their next- door neighbours Tavola Calda offer delicious take-away pastas.