The Great Italian Road Trip: A foodie’s dream

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So as I explained on my last post I didn’t quite get around to my Italian cooking adventure after returning from our three-week road trip last summer.

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Instead, here are some foodie thoughts from the holiday, which took us from Lake Como, to Vicenza, Venice, Florence, Rome and Barolo.

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Rome food tour – We certainly saved the best bit of the trip – perhaps even the whole Italian holiday aside from the honour of watching our two friends tie the knot right at the start – to the end.

That best bit came in the form of a walking food tour of Testaccio, a district of Rome that is quickly becoming a hipster hang out, organized by Eating Italy Food Tours.

Testaccio has a long history when it comes to food and was where the majority of goods once arrived in the capital.

Today it is home to some of the city’s most respected eateries, delis and family food businesses, many dating back more than a century.

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The aim of the Eating Italy tours is to immerse you in the local culture and experience, avoiding the well trodden tourist routes in favour of discovering the ‘real’ area and its people.

Thanks to a brilliant itinerary, some seriously good food, entertaining characters and our excellent and knowledgeable English guide Emma the experience was exactly that – and more.

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Over the course of four hours we ate our way through some of the best pizza in the whole of Rome, cornetti (similar to the French croissant), cannoli, pasta, bruschetta at the Testaccio Market and some of the best mozzarella I have ever tasted.

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We met the people behind the food, heard the stories about the area, its former slaughterhouse and the manmade mountain of broken ceramic at the center of the district, visited Keats’ grave and learnt how to tell proper gelato from the fake stuff.

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We walked a long way, we ate a huge amount and we learnt so much that we truly felt closer to the city of Rome in a way that no number of tourist attractions, audio guides and visits to the Colosseum ever could.

Eating Italy Food Tours organizes various tours and cookery classes and is currently expanding into other European cities, including London. For more information and to book visit www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com. The Taste of Testaccio tour costs 75 Euros per adult.

Gelato – We’d read online that the number one place for gelato in Florence was currently Grom, so naturally we made a beeline for it. We were met by a large queue and duly joined it – and were glad we did. We also stopped by the Grom in Rome too on our visit to the city. Amazing gelato, enough flavours to confuse you (or fill you up) for hours, and an experience well worth the short wait in the queue for.

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A tip for the uninitiated: Don’t be fooled by the big colourful displays of gelato all over the place in tourist areas. Usually the bigger the pile and more vibrant the colour and decoration the more fake the stuff (it’s made using packet mixes). Plus, you are likely to get ripped off price wise like we did on the way home through Florence one night when we fancied something sweet and thought we would give a tiramisu version a try. Not only did it taste rubbish (most of it ended up in a nearby bin) we paid almost a tenner for it without really thinking about what we were doing. If only we had been on that Eating Italy tour by then we wouldn’t have done it. But hey you live and learn right?

Aperitivo time – One of the best discoveries of the holiday was aperitivo time, the Italian version of happy hour. However the Italians have the right idea and it lasts way longer than an hour (usually 6 pm until 9 pm) and includes loads of snacks as well as yummy drinks.

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We soon figured out that if you had had a big lunch then aperitivo was all you would need at night (if you could resist more eating that was) or you could have the snacks (which come free with the drinks, although the latter at some places are ramped up in price a bit to take account of the food) as your starter then go elsewhere for your main course.

Aperol – For days at the start of our trip I was intrigued by what this bright orange stuff was that the locals all seemed to be drinking by the bucketload, particularly at aperitivo time. I finally plucked up the courage to ask someone and got to try my first Aperol spritz, made from Prosecco, Aperol and soda and served over loads of ice, typically with a slice of orange too.

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Well, that was it – I wouldn’t drink anything else for the rest of the trip! And I filled the car up with Aperol to bring home, which I fully intend to make use of this summer. A complete revelation and I am pleased to see that it is now increasingly appearing on local drink menus too.

Cheese and ham or ham and cheese? Our three weeks in Italy was punctuated by multiple versions of cheese and ham for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And, hey, what is there to complain about with that?!

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I’m mad about mozzarella and made it my mission to eat tonnes of it, which of course was pretty damn easy. One particular lunch in Eataly (a fab Italian chain of posh supermarket/ delis) I was presented with a ball of mozzarella as big as my fist and covered in ham. And yes, I ate it all up all by myself! J

We had ham and cheese everywhere we went and it became a running joke between me and Mr S: ‘Ham and cheese or cheese and ham?’ Whichever way around it was it was always delicious.

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Below are some of the goodies we brought back from our trip

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