Europe diary, day 11: Trastevere market tour

Tuesday 14 November

This morning we had a market walking tour booked at 10:30. So we took the chance to sleep in a little, then got up and had muesli for breakfast, showered, and got ready for the day. We walked slowly over to Trastevere, where we’d be meeting our tour host. This is another thing booked via the same website as last night’s dinner with Debora.

Before leaving the apartment we dropped in some laundry to be washed at the laundromat next door. We found it there when we arrived and it’s very handy being so close. Then we made our way slowly towards Trastevere. M. stopped for her morning coffee at a bar along the way.

We arrived at Piazza di San Calisto and found the correct door and intercom buzzer. But ringing it didn’t produce any results. We tried again a couple more times with no luck. The door was actually open, so we ventured inside, found the correct door and buzzed there, but again no answer. After eating for a bit, we decided to call the phone number that came with the booking. I had to activate my mobile roaming to do so, but it was worth it as our tour host answered and immediately asked if it was David. I said yes, we were waiting at Piazza di San Calisto, and she apologised and said she’d made a mistake and was waiting at another location! She said she had two places where she did market tours and had gotten mixed up, and she’d come right over if we would wait 15 minutes. So we waited in the piazza while two men got set up with guitars and an amplifier and began playing, and many other people walked to and fro.

After a while our host Michela showed up, and again apologised for the delay. We got right into it and walked over to… the small produce market that we’d visited ourselves here in Trastevere at Piazza di San Cosimato on Monday last week! Not that this was a problem, because this time Michela stopped at several stalls with us and explained the various Italian vegetables and when they were in season and how to cook them and so on. In particular the artichokes are not quite in season yet, and there’s been problems with tomatoes and porcini mushrooms this year because the summer was so rainy. She explained about broccoletti – a leafy green related to the broccoli family, with a slightly bitter taste, that goes well with pasta and cheese. We also watched as the stall holders cut and prepared various vegetables, such as peeling outer petals and washing artichokes, stripping leaves off broccoletti, and using a wire mesh tool to slice things into sticks. Michela grabbed a bag of cherry tomatoes for herself and got us to try one each. She also grabbed us some clementines to try. She helped M. peel hers while I struggled a little. After eating the sweet, tangy fruit my hands were covered in the fragrant oil, and Michela rubbed hers into her own hands and smelled them and declared it beautiful.

From here she led us down a street. She said she’d take us to the best cheese shop in Trastevere. We stopped at a delicatessen, where we got to try small pieces of Roman-style pizza – not too big because she didn’t want to fill us up just yet! M. had one with just tomato sauce on it, while they sliced fresh porchetta to put on mine. It was salty and delicious. Lastly was a piece of coppiette, a type of cured pork jerky with chilis. It was very tough and chewy and very spicy, with a chilli hit that lasted for quite a while. Not bad, but not really my kind of thing because it was so meaty. But we were wondering if this was the cheese shop – it had some cheese, but was mostly meats.

But then Michela took us further along and we walked into what was definitely the cheese shop. The aroma of strong cheeses hit us as we walked in the door and there were dozens of huge wheels and balls and wedges of cheese arrayed all around the shop. There were giant cylinders of pecorino, stacked on steel trays with tall lips. Michela said we could tell they were true pecorino by the black wax coating, and the steel trays. As the cheeses mature, water drains from them into the trays, and the cheese loses some weight. So the amount of cheese you get for the weight varies with the age of the pecorino. She ordered us a tasting plate of cheeses and salume. There was a mild cheese, some pecorino, and Parmigiano Reggiano. And for me there were samples of a mild salami, prosciutto, cinghiale (wild boar) salami, and truffle salami, all of which were pretty nice.

I told Michela I was learning Italian, but having trouble thinking of what to say quickly, and listening to people speaking rapidly. I needed them to slow down so I could understand the words. So she very patiently conversed with me several times throughout the tour in nice, slow Italian, which made it much easier to understand.

Next we stopped in at a suppli shop called Suppli Roma, selling several varieties of these deep fried rice balls that are very typical Roman street food. They also sold pizza slices, but Michela said we had to try the suppli. For M. there was a choice between cacio e pepe, or cacio e pepe with lemon. I was intrigued by the carbonara, but Michela recommended the classico, which was filled with mozzarella and ragu. I also got to try a little of the cacio e pepe without lemon because Michela had one of those and a piece fell off and she said I should try it. And then she urged me to try the carbonara as well! She was covering the costs of all this food, by the way – presumably she had a budget taken out of the price we’d paid for booking the tour with her. So I tried the carbonara suppli as well, which was good, with gooey egg yolk in the middle, but honestly I think I did prefer the classico. By the time we were done here M. and I were both quite full enough for lunch.

But we weren’t done yet! Michela asked which option we preferred to end the tour on: tasting some wine, or visiting a gelateria. I knew M. wouldn’t want gelato, so we chose the wine options. Michela took us to Trapizzino, which is a newish place serving Roman food with a twist: they make fresh focaccia-like bread, then cut a corner and stuff it with various traditional Roman dishes: chicken cacciatore, eggplant parmigiana, meatballs in tomato sauce, beef tongue in salsa verde. Michela snagged a table for us and recommended some wines, a red Sangiovese/Syrah blend and a white Malvasia. Too full to try a trapizzino each, we ordered one eggplant parmigiana one and shared it. The bread was really delicious, with a thin crunchy crust, and the filling was rich and hearty. The wines were nice too.

And here Michela wished us well and said goodbye. We sat and watched the world pass by as we finished our glasses of wine. Very relaxing and a nice way to end this marvellous food tour. From here we had nothing else planned until our dinner booking at 19:30. So we slowly wended our way back to the apartment. We first went back to a clothing shop that M. wanted to revisit in Trastevere, then made our way to the Ponte Cestio and across to the Isola Tiberina island in the middle of the Tiber River. There’s not much on this island – a hospital, and the Basilica di San Bartolomeo all’Isola. We’d gone inside this church on a previous visit and I recalled there being some worthwhile decorations inside, so we walked up to see it again, but it was closed.

So we continued on across the Ponte Fabricio, the oldest extant bridge in Rome, built in 62 BC. Then we walked slowly back north, stopping a few times to look in shops, churches, and for M. to get a coffee. An item on our to-see list was the Galleria Sciarra, an Art Nouveau courtyard little known to tourists, despite being just a few steps from the Trevi Fountain. It is in fact a private courtyard and so looks like a place you can’t enter, but it is open to the public during business hours as a passage between two streets. It was beautiful inside, and indeed empty, with nobody else there to admire the view while we were there. Exiting the north side we could see the crowds of tourists just a short block away on the heavily trod trail between the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon.

We made our way back to the apartment and rested for a bit before dinner. We had a booking at Ristorante Laganà, just around the corner from our apartment. We ordered vegetable antipasti, which was a plate of marinated eggplant, zucchini slices, red capsicum strips, thinly sliced fennel, cauliflower florets, and I think what might have been cabbage, though it could easily have been something else. The waiter brought a pepper grinder and a bottle of extra virgin olive oil for us to dress the vegetables, or the bread which came with it. There was a warm flatbread with the starter, and when we’d finished that they brought a basket of slices of a loaf plus grissini bread sticks. M. had linguini with tomato and basil sauce, and I had the mixed grilled seafood, which had a piece of white fish, a large prawn, a scampi, and a chunk of calamari, cooked very nice and tender. I ordered a side of boiled green leaves (a mix of chicory, spinach, and something else) to go with the seafood. It was all nice and a good change from the heavier food we’ve been having a lot of on the trip so far!

We skipped dessert and came back to the apartment for bedtime. I finished off the crostata that I’d started a couple of nights ago, and which was big enough for two desserts! Tomorrow we need to get up a little early because we have a train to catch to Orvieto!

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