HomeCoupon Codes and Deals5 reasons you need to experience secret culinary trips to Rome

5 reasons you need to experience secret culinary trips to Rome

For over a decade, we’ve been doing culinary tours when traveling to new cities. I found this to be a great way to learn about food and culture. As soon as I booked the hotel and the plane ticket to Rome, I knew that my next step was to book a culinary tour.

I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy culinary tours with a few different companies, but one of our favorites is Secret Food Tours. Now offering tours in 25 countries, they are proud to present guests at exceptional, locally owned units. Guided by well-versed locals in culture, history and the food scene, the experience is always memorable.

This tour was hosted by Secret Food Tours, but all opinions are mine.

Carciofi alla giudia fried artichokes
“Along with our pasta were fried artichokes, known in Italian as artichokes alla giudia. ”
(Photo credit: Wendy Lee)

1. Learn about local cuisine

First of all, a food tour is about eating all the delicious cuisine from any city you visit. I’ve always liked Italian food, so I was exceptionally excited about this tour.

But in addition to eating good food, our knowledgeable guide, Robbie, also provided the history and context of each food we tasted. Although I ate Italian food all my life, I knew very little about the origins of the most popular dishes.

We started our tour at a classic Italian cafe next to Piazza Navona, one of the most famous squares in all of Rome. Robbie introduced himself and gave us an overview of the afternoon. We walked through several neighborhoods and made five stops along the way.

Roman pizza and supplies
“This thin-crust pizza is made on large, rectangular metal pans and then cut into squares, usually sold by weight.”
(Photo credit: Wendy Lee)

First was the pizza stop, where Robbie explained that pizza was invented in Naples sometime in the late 1700’s. The Roman-style version I tested was created in the 1950’s. This thin-crust pizza it is made on large, rectangular metal pans and then cut into squares, usually sold by weight. While there were toppings we are all familiar with, such as sausages and mushrooms, there were also local toppings to taste, such as chicory, pumpkin flowers and fresh artichokes.

Later, on the tour, I tried two traditional Roman pastas: cacio e pepe and amatriciana. The first is prepared with butter, parmesan and pepper; and the second with spicy tomato sauce and cheeks (clean pork cheek). I found out that the pasta was initially long and thin and served with olive oil sauces. When tomatoes were introduced in the 16th century, the popularity of tomato sauces increased, and shorter, rounder pasta was introduced.

Accompanying our pasta were fried artichokes, known in Italian as artichokes alla giudia. Our spring visit coincided with the artichoke season and I had seen them on every menu. Robbie explained that the artichoke style we enjoyed was created in the Roman Ghetto, a Jewish ghetto just a few blocks south of the Pantheon, and has since become one of the city’s most popular dishes.

Tip: This food tour lasted 3 hours and we had more than enough food for a full lunch. Although it is tempting to eat everything that is offered, I definitely recommend you to pace yourself.

2. Discover family restaurants

While Rome is full of fabulous restaurants, it also has its share of mediocre places, many of them located in tourist-populated areas. One of the benefits of a food tour is having a local guide who organizes stops at excellent family providers. In many cases, the places I visited were in the family for many generations.

The second stop was at Norcineria Viola, a family butcher shop specializing in pork products from 1890. Hundreds of sausages hung from the ceiling and filled the windows of this small shop. Varieties of salami could be seen all over Italy. We were treated to thin slices of paper from these meats along with a few cheeses, all washed with local red wine.

After a few tasty bites, we were treated to sweets at I Dolce di Nonna Vincenza, a bakery that has its roots in the small Sicilian village of Agira. Nonna Vincenza began baking for friends and family in the 1930’s and continued throughout her life. The family tradition continues in three bakeries located in Catania, Milan and Rome. I tested the popular Sicilian pastry, cannolo or cannoli.

Every place on our tour had an interesting story that Robbie shared. Most of them were located on side streets that we would not have explored on our own. It was as if you were joining a local on a daily walk through the city while visiting your favorite places.

Bronze plates seen in the Jewish ghetto in Rome
“In front of many houses is a small bronze plaque, each a memorial to a Jew killed during the Holocaust.”
(Photo credit: Wendy Lee)

3. Explore the history of the city

Between food stops, we were pampered with leisurely walks through the Roman neighborhoods. Periodically, Robbie would stop and share the story of a statue, church, or street.

Since our tour of Piazza Navona began, we’ve spent a few minutes learning about its history. Long before the current market was built, it served as a racetrack. Today, the central point of the square is the Fountain of the Four Rivers, commissioned by Pope Innocent X and unveiled to the public in 1651.

The most memorable stop along the way was the Roman Ghetto. Once a necessary home for all Jews, this neighborhood has become a hot spot for food. In the center is a pedestrian street lined with restaurants, all at full capacity.

But the Roman Ghetto is also the scene of a huge tragedy. In front of many houses is a small bronze plaque, each a memorial to a Jewish person killed during the Holocaust. The name, date of birth, date of deportation and Nazi extermination camp are recorded on the plaque. Robbie spent several minutes chronicling the horrific treatment of Jews in Rome, first by the Catholic Church and later by the Nazis.

Although I always leave a culinary tour feeling full, I leave and better appreciate the local history and culture.

4. Meet other travelers

In my experience, the culinary tours are small, rarely more than 10 guests, which makes it a great way to meet other travelers who have the same thoughts. During our food tour, there were only seven of us, plus the guide. Two were from England, two from Israel, and another was from the United States. Over the course of 3 hours, we enjoyed learning about their hometowns, why they travel, and what foods they liked best.

Travel colleagues are often eager to share recommendations for tours, hotels, and restaurants, either at their current location or in their home country. Instead, I was delighted to share my favorite things to do in the US with anyone planning a trip. Although it is certainly possible to meet other travelers during any tour, something about breaking bread together encourages camaraderie.

5. Recommendations for future meals

After our tour, Robbie was kind enough to send us an email with a list of additional restaurants he likes, organized by the most popular attractions in Rome. He also recapitulated the places we were in if we wanted to go back.

While using websites like TripAdvisor and Yelp to select restaurants while traveling, personal recommendations from a local are always better. Often, they do not reach the top of important sites, but are preferred by those who know the local food best.

Traditional butchery in Rome
Traditional butchery in Rome
(Photo credit: Wendy Lee)

The best tips for culinary tours

If you’ve never booked a food tour, here are some planning tips.

Food restrictions and food allergies

If you have food restrictions or food allergies, be sure to contact your tour provider prior to booking. Most companies will do their best to offer options, but there are exceptions. Make sure you resolve this in advance so that you are not disappointed.

Comfortable walking shoes

Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk a few miles. If you have mobility issues, be sure to contact your tour provider prior to booking. Ancient cities, such as Rome, often lack ramps and elevators and can be difficult to navigate.

Different stops along each tour

Keep in mind that stops along each tour will vary. Secret Food Tours does a good job of highlighting typical foods, but a restaurant or shop may stop participating and a replacement may be found quickly. It has been a difficult year for restaurants around the world and has subsequently affected tourism companies.

Discounts For Children

Many companies, including Secret Food Tours, offer discounted rates for children. However, I would not recommend this tour to young children. The amount of walking, short discussions about the history and the types of food included may not be appealing to them. However, I believe that teenagers would enjoy this experience, especially if they are open to trying new foods.

For more incredible experiences in Rome, check out these stories:

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Hi, By Profession I am an Injury Attorney who handles accident cases of cars with no insurance. I took College Classes online to get a degree in game design too.

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