We joined our tour late. Breathless and flustered we slid into chairs at the back of a pizzeria, where Alexandra was speaking to a group of 12. She finished an entertaining and in-depth history of pizza and headed to the bar for samples. I introduced myself and Linda and managed to snag a couple of perfect slices: we were in!
From there, we made our way around the corner; standing on the street outside one of Rome’s top delicatessens: €1,400 bottles of balsamic are beyond my price range, but truffle-filled cheese, aged parmigiano reggiano, and a selection of fine hams sure went down well. Then we were inside: rich flavours in the air, olive oil and wine tastings, little chunks of cheese or fish being offered at several stations.
But this tour wasn’t just about food: it was about the neighbourhood too. Our next stop was the Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners; a pretty spot with memorials to John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley amongst others, and the city’s oldest mausoleum in the background: a 2,000 year old pyramid, buttressed by the city’s third-century Aurelian wall.
The next three hours continued in the same vein: a stop for food, a stop to explore the suburb’s roots. The food markets were built above a large archeological site: the area was a warehouse for Roman amphorae, transported in from producers in the surrounding countryside or further afield. We looked down on the active research site at shards and remnants being cleaned and examined, then got down to business and built our own bruschetta from fresh veges and bread before trying a cheese and ham selection, followed by cannoli.
The day’s food was plentiful and delicious — and I haven’t even mentioned the three pasta dishes, the wine, the tiramisu, coffee, gelato or a handful of other goodies. The cultural visits were excellent, and gave a feeling of depth to a bustling suburban neighbourhood. The guide was all you could ask for: knowledgeable, funny, and a good animator that made us feel like a group rather than a herd of strangers. Would I recommend it? To anyone I know going to Rome!