I’m lucky enough to have been to Rome before and to have seen the great sights at the Colosseum and the Vatican. I love art and history but I hate crowds so I decided to leave those off my list for this visit and instead spend my time wandering neighbourhoods with my camera. Of course, while I wandered I stopped regularly to shop and eat. Here’s a little guide of places I loved and things I picked up along the way.
Coffee in Rome is a very serious thing that comes with a few hard and fast rules: 1) No cappuccinos after breakfast. Wouldn’t dream of having black coffee at home? Me either but an afternoon espresso pick-me-up, black with a little sugar is one of Italy’s greatest gifts to us. 2) Coffee is a stand-up affair. If you want to sit it will probably cost you extra and most certainly brand you as a tourist. Some of Rome’s most iconic coffee can be found at Sant’Eustacio near the Pantheon
Pizza originated in Naples but the Romans have put a couple of spins on it of their own. First, there is the Roman-style pie, which is similar to the Neapolitan thin-crust pizza but is a little doughier and bakes up a little firmer. I had a great one at Dar Poeta in Trastevere. The other kind of pizza is more of a focaccia bread-style crust with pizza toppings. You can get this at bakeries where the different types sit in long sheets behind the counter. It’s cut and heated to order and you pay by weight. Forno La Renella was right behind my apartment and I stopped in more than once for pizza to go.
I was truly appalled one evening when I realized that I had not had any gelato that day (and as all of my clothes were in the laundry I wasn’t able to dash out to remedy the situation). The horror. Eating gelato while wandering around Rome is truly a pleasure. However, not all gelatos are created equally. Of all of Rome’s gelato shops, only about 15% make it in-house. The rest serve it up from a mix. There are a couple of sure-fire ways to tell though if you’re getting the real deal: 1) Is the gelato sitting in great, wavy mounds in the case or is it level with or below the pan? Real gelato will be the latter as without additives it would melt if it were to rise above the pan. 2) There are a couple of tell-tale flavours – pistachio and banana. If the gelato is home-made the colours of these two will be muddy green and beige-y, respectively (like the actual foods), not neon green or yellow. The good news is that once you find a real gelateria you are legally entitled to two flavours, no matter how small a serving you buy. I was lucky enough to find a couple of amazing shops for house-made gelato. The day I went to Gelateria Giolitti in Testaccio they had a flavour made from a plum that is ripe only 15 days a year! Think carefully about your choices here because depending who is behind the counter you may get a hard time if your flavour combination is deemed incompatible. I also loved Fior de luna in Trastevere where their ingredients are very carefully sourced. Oh, and the answer to the question “Con panna?” (aka With cream?) in a good gelateria is always “Si!” Just trust me.
The food market in Testaccio is a bit out of the way but if you’re self-catering in an apartment or if you’re just a market nerd like I am, it’s a great place to visit. This place is the real deal for Italian grocery shopping.
Also worth a pilgrimage to Testaccio is Volpetti, an amazing deli full of tasty meats and cheeses, plus some seriously aged balsamic vinegar. Get some salami and some truffle pecorino romano. Also, they have a restaurant next door that serves Roman-style pizza. Try the zucchini flower and anchovy.
Since it was about a thousand degrees when I was in Rome I couldn’t conceive of trying on clothes and somehow I had little appetite (or luggage space) for shoes or bags so my shopping focused on stuff for home, and props for work. Always props. I loved wandering around Monti. There are many cool stores, including a lot of vintage. There’s also a definite maker vibe there. Candle’s at Via Urbana 21 sells the most unique and gorgeous candles, all made-in house. In fact, they were making them behind the counter when I was there. They had some gorgeous, modern styles and I couldn’t resist taking one home. Elena Kihlman, Via Urbana 101, is a Finnish textiles designer who does beautiful things with felted wool. In addition to her own designs, she sells Scandinavian ceramics and other housewares. I found the store Lena by chance as it was on my way to cross the Ponte Sisto to get back to my apartment. The store has no sign but fortunately the door was wide open and my eye landed on the beauty inside. This shop is a perfectly curated gem that brings together gorgeous enamelware, linens and textiles, as well as delightful bits and bobs for home. With little things like the perfect scissors and vintage French tin molds it was props heaven. I took some photos inside the store and the owner said that she didn’t really do social media because she doesn’t take good photos. I almost dropped everything in that moment to move to Rome and manage her Instagram account!