Aaron and I recently spent 6 weeks in Europe on a working holiday. This post is the first of a series sharing my local tips, recommendations and lessons learned from our time abroad.
I’ll start with Rome, which is where we spent most of our time. We rented an Air BnB in Monte Verde, near Trastevere for a month, and spent our time (in addition to the main touristy stuff) exploring the local area and, of course, eating.
As an obsessed foodie, I was very excited to try out the local eats, and in this post I share some of my favourites (for more pics, follow me on Instagram at @cjcanters).
Most of the places below are in or near the Trastevere area, as that is where we stayed. If you’re staying near the centre, asked your taxi driver or Air Bnb host or hotel clerk where they would choose to go for a meal. Asking locals is one of the best ways to avoid the tourist traps!
Aaron’s rule of thumb for the tourist areas is to never eat in the direct vicinity of an attraction. Instead, if you simply walk a street or two away, you’ll find eateries where the quality is better, and prices cheaper.
Note: all hyperlinks will take you to the Google Map listing; hopefully this makes it easy for you to locate!
Our favourite places to eat in Rome:
We first saw this place on a travel blogger’s youtube channel. The ‘Trapizzino’ is their own invention: they take a triangle piece of thick crusty bread, and fill it generously with hot fillings. Our favourite was the meatball in tomato sauce and chicken cacciatore. And at 4€, they are great value.
A brilliant surprise was also their arancini (2€), which had an extra crunchier crust than others we had tried. SO GOOD (dammit, my mouth is watering just thinking about it).
Trapizzino has two locations in Rome, we went to the one in Trastevere (ps be sure to spend some time wandering around Trastevere, it’s beautiful!). The other is in Testaccio near the well known Testaccio Market (side note: don’t believe the guidebooks: the market is expensive, limited in its offerings and is full of tourists. Avoid.)
Ivo a Trastevere
While you’re in Trastevere, if you want to skip the tourist trap restaurants, consider going to Ivo a Trastevere. When we first landed in Rome, we asked our taxi driver for recommendations, and this was his first pick. He told us to try the Filetti di baccalà (fried salt cod fillets), and they did not disappoint. Ivo also has amazing pasta and pizza.
Ai Marmi is another nearby local-recommended pizza place, but we did not have the chance to go.
We accidentally discovered i Siciliani when exploring the Quadro neighbourhood. We’d heard there was incredible street art in the area, so made the trip out (about 20 mins by metro from the city centre). The street art was unfortunately nothing to rave about, but we stumbled upon i Siciliani and our day was saved.
AMAZING traditional Sicilian food, including arancini, hot meals and delicious desserts and biscuits. If you’re a dessert fiend, try a ‘Brioche con Gelato’, a typical Sicilian breakfast (yes, breakfast), which is a round brioche bun filled with a huge scoop of gelato. Hashtag food coma. If you don’t want to travel, there is another (smaller) location closer to the city.
Piccola Palermo Specialità Siciliane
If you’re sick of the crowds and touts at the the Colosseum, a short tram ride away (or 18 minute walk if you’re keen) is this tiny hole-in-the-wall Sicilian pizza place. Another accidental discovery, we went back here at least 3 times to eat their flavourful, colourful and fluffy Sicilian pizza, which is a lot different to traditional thin-crust Roman pizza. Try the one with tomato, onion and anchovy. Their arancini are also amazing!
Ok, so we’re a little bit biased, but I have to give Pili’s Bar a shout out. Run by energetic young couple Carmela and Danilo, this was our local ‘snack bar’ where we would grab a coffee and cornetto for breakfast (the traditional Italian way, of course!). We were always amazing at how cheap it was – under 4€ for two coffees and two croissants.
In Rome, you’ll noticed snack bars everywhere, where they serve coffee, pastries, sandwiches and panini. Coffee is literally served at a bar, where you consume it standing up. There are seats and tables, but you will be often charged extra for sitting. We noticed most Italians would pop in with a cheery “Ciao!”, grab an espresso, down it at the bar, wolf their pastry down, then head back out, all within about 2 minutes. We were very impressed. Snack bars are often the cheapest places to get a quick lunch or breakfast – but be careful of overdoing the panini. You’ll get sick of them very quickly!
Another ubiquitous eatery in Rome is the ‘gelateria’, or gelato shop. At first, I thought the whole ‘eating gelato in Rome’ was a tourist thing, until I asked our local pseudo-guide Carmela. She said: “In summer time we eat gelato at least four times a week”. Ahh, the life of a Roman.
And sure enough, near our apartment was a row of three gelaterias, which were packed full of locals every day of the week. My favourite was Romagnani Caffe, which blew my mind with their pistachio and banana flavours.
Now, you don’t need to journey out specifically to this gelato place – honestly, you can get good gelato pretty much anywhere, as long as you’re not within a selfie stick’s length from a tourist attraction. I learned a good litmus test when I was backpacking in 2008: to know if the gelato is legit, look at the banana flavour. If it’s any shade of yellow, it’s fake. If it’s REAL banana, the colour should be off-white or grey. And of course, always ask for a sample before you buy :)
This may seem odd, but one of my favourite things to do while travelling is to visit the local supermarkets. To me, it’s a real adventure to see what different foods and ingredients exist in other countries. Doing our weekly shop, Aaron and I would spend at least a good hour in the supermarkets perusing, exploring, translating and exclaiming in excitement at our discoveries.
One thing we noticed was the quality of food. Cured meats, cheeses, breads and desserts you would only find in specialty stores were a dime a dozen at our local supermarket. They had a whole aisle dedicated to every single type of pasta imaginable. One of the best home made basil pestos I’ve ever had was from a small IGA-style mini mart. Amazing.
So when you’re visiting Rome (or any place in Italy), make sure you check out the local supermarkets. All you need to grab is some fresh mozzarella, a few slices of salami or prosciutto, a tomato and a baguette, and you’re set for a couple of meals, for a fraction of the price of a store-bought sandwich.
So there you go! I hope this helps you in your Rome adventures. Do you have any recommendations for places to eat in Rome? I’d love to hear them! Simply leave a comment below. Grazie!