Home arrow Food arrow Eating Out: TESTACCIO

Other recent articles
Is Fiumicino Airport at Risk? Inappropriate building materials may have been used.
Italians feel vulnerable to encroaching poverty.
Wettest summer in 35 years
Donor insemination to come to Italy
Sites reopened at Pompeii
Sari's e-book on sale this weekend at Amazon
Alitalia’s fate hangs in the balance.
Berlusconi cannot leave Italy (for now)
Keep an eye on (or rather, in) your bill fold.


Eating Out: TESTACCIO PDF Print E-mail
Mar 18, 2009 at 04:10 PM

Image First published in WANTED IN ROME  Today, it's hard to imagine. Along the Tiber was Rome's major commercial port, the bustling Emporium, where triremes docked to discharge the cargoes of goods needed to feed Ancient Rome and, even more, to slake its unquenchable thirst - for wine and olive oil. Blocks of imported marble were carried up what is now called Via Marmorata to Porta San Paolo where they were shipped to their final destination. Thus, the muddy streets trembled under the constant rumble of wagons and the hooves of the heavily-laden mules that freedmen and slaves used to bring the arriving produce further inland.

And how do we know all this? Yes, there are writings but above all there is Monte Testaccio, the artificial hill some 50 metres high, and about a kilometre around, in the Rome neighbourhood of the same name. Made up of layer after layer of shards of the lettered amphorae used for wine and, to an even greater extent, olive oil (various estimates say the mound may contain the remains of from 50 to 80 million amphorae - imported mostly (but not only) from Spain and understandably is now considered an invaluable archive of the trade of yore.

But Testaccio has other, more recent, claims to fame. There is the Protestant Cemetery, where poets Keats and Shelley are buried, the Pyramid built between 18 and 12 B.C.c as a tomb for Gaius Cestius, a high-ranking Roman official. And then there was Accattone, Pier Paolo Pasolini's anti-here in the movie of the same name. "Ah. Mo' sto bene!" (Ah, at last I'm feeling good!), said Accattone, propped up in the sun on Ponte Testaccio, shortly before dying from a motorcycle accident while fleeing police. The old-time residents of Testaccio no doubt would have shared his latterly mood, happy to live in a neighbourhood that was pretty much left to itself, without foreign tourists, and proud of its tradition of fiaschetterie (old-style wine-drinking places) and of Campo Testaccio, the all-wood, original red and yellow stadium built in 1927 for the AS ROMA, one of Rome's two home soccer teams.

And then there was the Mattatoio, or slaughterhouse. In 1872, town planners named Testaccio as the city's industrial and commercial center, and eventually decided that the meat packing complex should be moved there from behind Piazza del Popolo. For decades then (from 1890 until 1975 when a more modern structure was built in Tiburtina) the vast, partly covered area was the centre of the Testaccio economy. Miserably paid workers "quartered" the cattle, but were allowed to take home the innards and less desirable cuts such as tongue and tail - the so-called fifth quarter or quinto quarto - as part of their retribution and which, at the start, they took to the local osterie to be cooked for them for lunch.

ImageAnd so were born the eating habits of the Testaccio neighborhood with recipes such as coda alla vaccinara (oxtail stew with tomato sauce and celery), rigatoni con la pajata (veal intestine) trippa alla romana (tripe in tomato sauce with pecorino cheese and a hint of mint), coratella coi carciofi (lamb heart, lung and liver stew with artichokes) and testina di vitello or tongue in a parsley sauce. Eventually, the same fare was offered by local trattorie, some built right into the side of Monte Testaccio (also called Monte dei Cocci, the hill of shards) itself, reportedly cool enough - because of its porous structure - to be ideal for storing wine during Rome's torrid summers.

Today, many of these caves have been transformed into nightclubs but there are other changes. The ex-Campo Testaccio will soon become the new site of the colourful Testaccio market, currently located in Piazza del Testaccio, where along with the best fresh produce you can find, fresh pasta and....designer shoes. And the covered areas of the former slaughter-house has been turned into, MACRO, a magnificent space for exhibitions - unfortunately not yet really well utilized - that is free and open until 11:30 pm each night. What remains is the Testaccio culinary style. We visited several eating establishments and recommend some we think people will enjoy.

Checchino dal 1887.
Via di Monte Testaccio, 30, tel,065743816,

Checchino dal 1887 is THE classic eating spot in Testaccio, the only one which can be considered upscale and not just because of the prices (count on a minimum of €50 per person) but because of the excellent and professional service, the unusual (for Rome) dessert cheese trolleys, and the variety of dishes, not to mention special theme menus (collezionista, traditional, historical, buon riccordo, etc.).

This is a restaurant that has TRADITION (in capital letters) written all over it and personalized by the watchful presence of the three great grandchildren of the original owners, Lorenzo e Clorinda, who long ago turned a wineshop in the Testaccio caves into a tavern with a kitchen. Their grandson, Francesco - known as Checchino (Ke-kino) - gave his name and the current structure - one spacious vaulted room, a smaller upstairs sala, also vaulted, and a wine cellar dug into Monte dei Cocci to a restaurant that by 1927 had already developed a more sophisticated clientele of politicians, nobles, theatrical personalities and professionals.

Today Francesco (maitre), Marina (at the cash register) and Elio Mariani (chef) use their fifth generation experience to oversee a dining place where you can taste all of the best Roman cookery- from veal's trotters salad and calf's head to pajata (veal intestine) and il padellato (a stir-up of full lamb entrails with onion ) - and more. Take our word for it: the coda alla vaccinara, stewed for five hours, is as succulent as your mother's pot roast. The involtini alla romana are the best of traditional home Roman cooking. The matriciana (we asked for rigatoni instead of bucatini) was top-notch. And the bruschetta al pecorino was sinfully good. We can't wait to go back.

Closed Sundays, Mondays, all August and Christmas week. Reservations, which can also be made on line, are advised. All credit cards accepted

Via Mastro Giorgio 29, tel. 065746800

Who knows how Franco Trivelloni has done it, but despite the passing of his uncle, Felice - a man known for his eccentricity as well as his food - he has made sure that this restaurant remains a Testaccio landmark with a reputation - international as well - that requires booking several days in advance unless you're willing to go late ...and wait. On a recent rainy Monday night, there was nary a free place setting.

It may be partly because despite the eatery's growing fame, Franco and his staff are friendly, courteous and accommodating and clearly very proud of their food, so much so that they insisted we include their famous version of tonnarelli cacio e pepe among our three pasta choices; when brought to the table, this piece de resistance appears to be nothing but a heaping bowl of grated pecorino cheese that is then dramatically mixed by your server and - voila! - transformed into a dish of pasta. At the risk of being heretical, this was too rich for me (and was that butter I tasted?). But the mezze maniche alla gricia were stupendous and the Spaghetti alla Felice (pomodorini, ricotta salata and a pot pourris of herbs was lovely although possibly better in summer.

Seconds included delicious tongue with green sauce, very good involtini and another Roman classic, fried meatballs (made from a variety of ground boiled meats) and served with a sort of eggplant caponata. The abbacchio arrosto (with potatoes) that our neighbors at the next table ordered looked scrumptious. But the so-called tiramisù - in reality a cross between an English trifle and an American parfait - may have been the most outstanding item. Without question, totally orgasmic.

Given these days' standards, prices at Felice are reasonable. We three spent 109 (but we tipped another 11 for the excellent service) with a €16 bottle of Shiraz and only one dessert. Felice is closed on Sundays. Reservations a must.


Da Oio a Casa Mia
Via N. Galvani, 43/45 - Tel: 065782680

At Oio (Da Oio a casa mia) a good time is had by all. This is a jolly, crowded trattoria that one can only describe, in Italian, as very popolare and which, despite the fact that Gastronomicus is neurotic about noise, makes for an evening of fun. The tables are close together, the Roman accents so thick you'd think the tourism board had done some serious casting, and the walls are decorated with a mix of somewhat kitsch family photographs, warning signs about CCTV cameras and current and past AS Roma posters that make it clear laziali should keep their heads low.

Leonardo Starace's family once owned a butcher shop but he and his goodlooking, simpatica wife Cristina have made this small but busy restaurant their life. This is again typical Testaccio cuisine but the tonnarelli cacao e pepe were better than Felice's (sorry, Franco) and the rigatoni alla pajata were delish. The coratella was not bad, although strangely there were no artichokes, and the Treviso couple at the next table said the fried pajata was also extremely good and gave sky-high marks to the puntarelle with anchovy sauce. Desserts include tiramisu and a torta della nonna but we were full and spent only 63 for two. A word of warning. If you get the house wine avoid the red, not because it's bad but because like the white it is served ice cold. Yuk.

Oio is open every day for lunch and dinner but Sundays. Outside dining on Via Galvani in good weather. And we were glad we'd reserved because on a Wednesday evening there wasn't a free table in sight.

Via Della Robbia Luca, 5. Tel. 06 5757902

The name TuttiFrutti reminds me of a hated ice cream flavor (or was it chewing gum?) but fortunately this small restaurant that started life as a circolo culturale (but the membership card is free) can only be liked, if not loved. This place is decidely different from your average Testaccio restaurant and has an imaginative, creative cuisine that included recipes from various parts of Italy and prides itself on adapting its menu to the season, and that is to what's available on the groaning bancarelle of the nearby Testaccio market.

In this simply furnished eatery - two rooms with a sparklingly clean open kitchen, -you can dine on dishes not generally offered elsewhere in Rome. Antipastos can include a variety of vegetable polpettine or a cold veal salad with raw mushrooms. For seconds there can be grilled tuna steaks, or grilled beef filet slices with rosmarino, and involtini - but for a change with lima beans and pecorino cheese. Of course there is pasta (this is Italy, after all) but here you can try spaghetti with a caramelized sauce of green tomatoes or with fresh anchovies. Desserts might include chocolate rum tartufini or chocolate and biscuits provided by the same Trappist monks who supply some of biscotti e cioccolato. Prices hover around the 25-30 euro level and it's best to book. Closed Mondays.

Via Giovanni Branca, 98, Tel: 06 5746585

In the old days, you had to wait in line, as Augustarello refused to accept reservations. But this has changed since the Commentucci heirs started running the place after Augustarello, who opened this simple trattoria in 1957, retired to Ardea and then died at 82. Otherwise, the second generation has been doing so well at keeping the family tradition alive that this is also still a Testaccio classic, a place where you «magni bene e spenni poco», you eat well and spend little, although nowadays finding a good eatery in Rome where you really spend little is like the proverbial needle in the haystack. All the traditional Testaccini dishes - trippa alla romana, coda alla vaccinara, abbacchio a scottadito - are served here as well as homemade desserts from tiramisù to the crostata di visciole.

About 30 to 35 per person. Courtyard dining in good weather. Closed Sundays, reservations suggested.

<Previous   Next>


Related items





5   4