Delicacies from Trastevere
by Emilia Crippa
Rome is a city of cities: every ‘rione’ has its own identity and its own unmistakable traits. But Trastevere, despite the throngs of tourists and the constant nightlife, is the neighborhood where the true Roman soul resides. Find out for yourself with a morning stroll from store to store – and bring a sturdy tote or basket, since you will be stocking up on vegetables, meat, and cacio cheese.
Before noon, the beating heart of the district is the square where the church of San Cosimato is located, a stone’s throw from Santa Maria in Trastevere and from the most lively nightlife area. Its small, genuine market – with a few stands that close up early in the center, and fixed ones on one side – is a must for high-quality, in-season fruit and vegetables; you can even ask that your groceries be cleaned before bagging: in keeping with tradition, every greengrocer here has an errand boy just for this task. Once home, the first taste of wild strawberries from Nemi, string beans, tomatoes, or zucchini will bring you unexpected joy: the proof that Lazio’s agricultural culture is alive and well, and gives its best in local products.
There are only a couple of blocks from the square to Viale Trastevere, but they form almost a world of their own: Via Natale Del Grande is where the past and present of this microcosm join, with the old Cinema America, a restaurant, stores selling a bit of everything, and even two post-modern discount supermarkets.
In the middle of all this you’ll find a highlight of local tradition and excellence: on the right, having left the square, Jacozzilli is a small, historical ‘norcineria’ (a store selling pork meat and products made with it). It is always crowded with customers: don’t forget to take a number! The staff behind the counter is ready to chat and discuss any topic, indulging patrons with a slow pace that is extinct in modern stores. ‘Lonzino’ (a finer version of the usual pork loin), mozzarella from Battipaglia, prosciutto crudo ‘al coltello’ (roughly cut with a knife), and pork meat: everything here is meant to please ladies who shop for the best possible quality, long-time customers, as well as workmen in need of a hearty, old-style sandwich. The shop has two windows: on the right, two old hand-written signs announce the presence of other tasty treats: bread from Lariano and from Genzano, made according to excellent quality standards and in full respect of Lazio’s artisanal food tradition. As their goodness is highly addictive, supplies often run out before noon. Another specialty on sale at Jacozzilli’s is “Cav. Giuseppe Cocco” pasta: top it with a simple tomato sauce to discover just how different “true” artisan pasta is from the typical mass-produced product.
Opposite Jacozzilli, almost at the corner with the square, two well-designed windows and an entrance flanked by jute bags catch our eye. It is Fratelli Innocenzi, an old-style shop selling every kind of delicacy; right now, their windows showcase every type of tea on one side and pistachios – plain, salted, blended in a sweet cream or in a special pesto – on the other. At Christmas they’ll focus on ‘torrone’ (a typical Italian nougat), during the summer on almonds (with endless packets of sweet almond milk). Stop here to get some special lentils from Ustica, Lamon beans, or tasty chickpeas. One look into the blue eyes of the owners of the shop, brothers Giovanni and Giancarlo, and you’ll know how much passion they’ve put in their work over the past fifty years. Their dedication has traveled far, pulling in the lovely Indian lady you’ll see wearing the shop’s brown apron, always busy and quiet: the shop is also the reflection of a happy marriage of flavors and aromas, bringing a taste of the Orient in Trastevere. The long, narrow space is filled to the brim with seeds, infusions, jams (Italian, French, English), honey, and Italian specialties such as ‘croccantini di San Marco dei Cavoti’ (a variation on ‘torrone’), Domori cocoa beans and chocolate-covered ginger, pasta from Campofilone, and steel flasks of grappa. Here you may even stumble upon traditional treats such as fig-based sweets from Calabria, wrapped in grape leaves just like Italian ‘nonne’ used to do…
Now head towards Viale Trastevere: turn right in Via San Francesco a Ripa, and you’ll find another important landmark – not just for the district, but for all of Rome – on the right. It is Antica Caciara Trasteverina, the realm of pecorino of all kinds, from classic ‘pecorino romano’ to the outstanding ‘pecorino di fossa’ by Vittorio Beltrami, a legendary cheese maker in Pesaro. The owner, Signor Roberto, lives and breathes for his (now internationally renown) shop: you’ll find his clients patiently lined up – people from Rome as well as from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and all of Italy – because the ever so kind Roberto could not bring himself to introduce a take-a-number system. He had bought a dispenser to appease his wife, and to avoid misunderstandings among patrons, but then couldn’t sleep at night! He says that his clients will never be a number to him, whether they stock up for a week or buy just a sliver of cheese. Indeed, his courtesy and kindness make an impression even before you have a chance to sample the incredible quality of the fresh sheep’s milk ricotta dominating the window, the cheek lard hanging from above, or the cod soaking in water for desalting, like in the olden times. You’ll find more than one reason to come back, and to recommend Antica Caciara Trasteverina to your friends and family; Roberto, meanwhile, is waiting to retire so he can travel around the world and visit all the clients who have been inviting him for decades.
Finally, we reach the boulevard that divides Trastevere in two: the more lively part that we are leaving behind, and the more elusive part – with fewer tourists and more residents – ahead. The last part of Via San Francesco a Ripa already steers towards this new mood: before reaching the church of the same name, with its beautiful red-tone façade, we pass by a chocolate boutique, a well-provided winery, a shop selling organic products, and most importantly Macelleria Signorini – one more example of how the excellence of the past can travel through time. Here your eyes can feast on some of the best meat from selected Italian farms: ‘abbacchio’, ‘fiorentine’, and even veal roast made with heifer fed on unsold milk collected from stores. If you are feeling a little more adventurous, try ‘coratelle’ (small animal offal), ready-to-cook pistachio or almond meatloaf, or Roman-style tripe all packed up to take home. This just may be the best luxury supermarket you’ll ever enter, with all the fixings for a truly unforgettable dinner.