10 Lessons From Roman Food Markets
This past week Billy and I cashed in a bunch of frequent flier miles, booked a room with Air B-n-B, and traveled with 12 friends to Rome, Italy. (Rumor is someone was celebrating a milestone birthday, but that’s a rabbit’s trail I won’t follow today.) I have a thousand stories to share with you, and I’ll undoubtedly get there, but I can’t wait to tell you about the food.
Italian food….Ohhhhhh yeah.
In a month’s time, you’ll have a full itinerary of where to eat in Rome. For the moment, I’m going to start small with this one key fact: to make the best selection at any restaurant, it helps to walk through the local food market in the morning. Of course you won’t go terribly wrong just ordering the specials, but seeing what’s being offered gives you confidence in what you’re selecting.
For us, this meant a stroll through Campo di Fiori in the heart of Rome’s Historical Centre (which was precisely 2 blocks away from our charming apartment). The Campo di Fiori market is up and running around 7 a.m. where the locals come to buy their food for the day. Most locals show up with canvas bag in hand and stroll among the stalls making their selections. If you want to know what to order in the evening, start with a walk past these merchants. There’s probably dozens of reasons these food markets are so appealing, but I’ve narrowed it to my top 10.
Keep it Fresh
I absolutely hate grocery shopping, but when you live in a walking town you pick up only what you need for the day. Daily buying means you buy what's fresh! I love this idea and were it a practical option for me, I’d be all over it! Isn’t this gorgeous?
What you see in the market is clearly what’s in season. There was no doubting it’s artichoke season as the stalls were over-flowing with these beauties!
Know your meat
In between the vegetable sellers and the cheese stands are butchers carving beautiful ham slices. Most mornings I found myself craving a sandwich. Conveniently, there are bakeries in buildings surrounding the square so I had my fair share of prosciutto sandwiches!
The best pre-made
Making minestrone for dinner? Well, not only are the fresh vegetables already pre-chopped and waiting for you at the market, they are NOT in a plastic bag turning moldy!
Keep it spicy
If you’re making pasta at home and want to use premixed spices, you have plenty of options. I gazed longingly at all of the options and sadly decided not to bring home a serving of the arribiatta. My reasoning was I couldn’t continue to consume pasta as quickly as I had this past week. I was confident about my decision until I got on the flight.
My kids will tell you I’m always waxing on about how important it is to have a colorful assortment of food when you eat. This is one of the easiest indicators of whether you’re making good nutritional decisions. When you’re shopping in a market like this, the color is absolutely inspiring!
Use the Unusual
Everywhere I looked I found unrecognizable foods I was dying to try. I asked the proprietors what was what and among the most beautiful I found were white zucchini….hmmmmm. I'm not sure that's the proper translation. When I google and look for this fruit it's more akin to white cheyote, but I've also seen it called bleeding espresso. Either way, I'd like to give it a try!!
Romanesco - - I'm not sure if I'd want to eat this or put it in a vase! And a playful radicchio tendril
Take pride in your products
Without fail, each stall (and there were many) took elaborate pains to make their fruits and vegetables look appealing. Sure, this is Marketing 101, but they were clearly fans of what they were selling, and when you asked for something, they took pains to find the very best. Love, love, love this!!
Use the parts
Have you ever had fried zucchini blossoms? Well, since they were clearly in season I ordered them one night and Wow! Delish! Why don’t they sell the flower part in US grocery stores?
Add something gorgeous
There’s an expression that if you only have a dollar left, spend half of it on bread and half of it on flowers. I don’t know if that’s generally wise advice, but if you’re shopping in Campo di Fiori, you could do worse!Even if I can't live with a fresh market outside my home, I'm happy knowing such a place exists in this world! Simply lovely...