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Trastevere: The Rome neighbourhood where the locals come to eat

Simon Calder’s Travel

“I hope you’re hungry,” my guide, Dimitri, says. We’re strolling through Rome’s Centro Storico, but in the opposite direction of the Colosseum and Pantheon. I’ve joined a food tour with The Tour Guy, searching for Rome’s best traditional food. For that, Dimitri says we need to cross the Tiber into the city’s first suburb: Trastevere.

Like most vibrant hubs of nightlife and dining, Trastevere has deep working-class roots, but not ones embedded in industry and warehouses. This neighbourhood’s history is ancient. In the heyday of the Roman Empire, it was home to fishermen and sailors who worked on the River Tiber and it became the refuge where Roman slaves lived as freemen after their servitude in the city.

“No food is from Italy,” Dimitri, says as we walk. He’s a Rome native, fiercely proud of the food and drink here, but he admits that most of Italy’s most famous dishes are originally from elsewhere. “Dried pasta from China via Arabia and pizza from Greece,” he adds. The Roman Empire’s vast tentacles across continents brought produce and culinary techniques from far and wide into Rome and shaped the identity of ‘Italian’ cuisine today.

The food tour passes through Trastevere looking for Rome’s best eats
The food tour passes through Trastevere looking for Rome’s best eats (The Tour Guy)

During this time, foreigners were not allowed to own property in Rome, so many settled across the river Tiber in Trastevere, creating a melting pot of flavours and cooking styles from the furthest fringes of the Empire. Today, the narrow streets are still a hive of activity after sundown and you can feel the down-at-heel roots of the area in each ramshackle osteria and packed trattoria.

We begin just over the Tiber from Trastevere, in Campo de’ Fiori, by sampling prosciutto de parma and cheese in a deli that has traded for centuries. Dimitri (the self-styled ‘tallest guide in Italy’) has to stoop to avoid his head brushing against the hundreds of legs of parma ham hanging from the ceiling.

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We move on to a surprising Roman dish: deep-fried cod. Ancient trade links between Rome and Portugal introduced this staple to the capital. When a restaurant bears the name of the only dish it serves, you know it’s going to be good. Filetti di Baccala is no exception, serving a crisp, light battered cod alongside cold carafes of pecorino wine. I know I…

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