In the past every Roman neighbourhood had its own small food market where local families shopped daily for fresh provisions. When it became common for women to work after marriage, the market’s morning-only hours called for some skillful time management, and the advent of convenient supermarkets caused the markets to shrink.
At the same time there was a desire to reclaim some of the more attractive piazzas, which had been ‘degraded’ by the daily market, as well as a desire to make the markets more hygienic with running water and refrigeration. Eventually the smaller markets disappeared and the larger ones were gradually re-housed in specific areas that do not encroach on residential property.
Today the markets survive by adapting to circumstances, following the Latin motto “Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis” ("Times change, and we change with them"). One of Rome’s biggest and best markets, Porta Portese, certainly follows this motto.
You can find anything from vintage clothes to furnishings, bicycles to books, all at bargain prices (especially if you haggle!). The best gems are found first thing so get there early (it takes place on Sundays only and is open from 6am). Located at the back of Trastevere quarter and somewhat of an institution, you’re bound to get lost more than once – but that’s all part of the experience.
The love of food is a great leveler, and the exuberant dell’Esquilino market brings many nations and religions together under one big roof in this former barracks. There are many Indian stalls selling pulses and spices, as well as fresh coriander and mint, and foodstuffs for Middle Eastern, Eritrean, Chinese and Romanian cuisine can be tracked down as well.
The market has entrances in four different streets and it is very easy to lose your sense of direction as you walk past rows of stalls selling exotic vegetables alongside glistening piles of peppers and aubergines. This is the cheapest market in Rome, and the more hard-to-find avocados and mangos can always be spotted on one stall or another at the peak of their perfection.
The endless rows of butchers cater to every religious dietary law, and every cut of meat can be found, even good Abruzzi lamb.
The fishmongers are all housed in a central hall, and again the choice is bewildering.
The better stalls with fish straight from the sea will clean and fillet your choice on request.
If you’re all shopped out, then spend your afternoon sampling the extensive array of international delicacies - from tagines to pho to pasta e fagioli. Make sure to get there early and don’t be put off by the rather big, battered industrial exterior.
The original Testaccio market was the vibrant centre of this very popular area.
When it was closed down local people were devastated and it seemed like the end of an era. Having reopened in 2012 (shortly after the old one had closed), today it has metamorphosed into a trendy food-lovers hangout where quality is allied with convenience. The butchers are skilled and Sartor raises the craft of butchery to an art form.
Le Mani in Pasta has a delectable choice of stuffed pasta, and there are at least two stalls selling gluten-free baked goods and pasta. Vegetarians have an interesting choice of panini fillings from Zoé, who specialises in unusual juices and salad combinations, and vegans are catered to by the Vegan Store. There is a good choice of vegetables and fruit, and Da Artenio has delectable bread.
The stall that links present day eating habits with Testaccio’s glorious past is Mordi e Vai. Sergio, a retired butcher, prepares tasty fillings for panini to be eaten on the spot or taken away in plastic containers.
As well as delicious meatballs and bollito, he uses Roman quinto quarto (offal) specialties, born of a time when slaughterhouse workers were partly paid with innards and other discarded parts.
Campo de Fiori wonderfully sums up the essence of Rome: an attractive market in a large open square surrounded by tall narrow buildings; the smell of fresh cut flowers and even fresher baked bread fill the air.
The gaunt, brooding figure of Giordano Bruno, burnt at the stake for heresy in 1600, dominates the square, but today pigeons perch on his head and locals and tourists alike sit snacking at his feet; the pervading mood is light-hearted.
The Theatre of Pompey is just below, and the foundations can be seen in the basements of many local buildings. Whilst in the last ten years the Campo has changed dramatically, its personality prevails.
Opposite the flower stalls is where you’ll find Claudio, the ‘Bulgari’ of fruit and vegetables. He is the only Roman source of dill, rhubarb, parsnips and other hard-to-find items, making him the first point of call for locals in the know.
When the sun sets, the square transforms into a buzzy meeting place. Surrounded by great restaurants, it’s a popular spot for young and old alike. No mention of Campo de’Fiori would be complete without a few words on Cinema Farnese. One of the oldest cinemas in Rome; it shows a carefully curated collection of new releases, classics & art house films, making it a must-see for both visitors and locals.
Recently re-housed in a purpose-built building not too far from its original site, and with over 270 stalls, it is still the largest market in Rome. Every culinary want is catered for and there are many specialist stalls – one sells only eggs while another offers up delicious fresh pasta.
There is a wide choice and the large ravioli filled with ricotta and lemon zest is in great demand, as well as a good selection of jams and honeys, and it is even possible to bring your own.
Whilst sometimes referred to as the Andrea Doria market, after the street on which the main entrance can be found, the market’s official name is Nuovo Mercato Trionfale – so bear both in mind when asking for directions! bottles to be filled with the wine of your choice. Since this is Italy, vegetable and fruit stalls hold pride of place, with exotic fruits and vegetables jostling for space in the colourful displays.