Testaccio butchers were paid in part with the "quinto quarto", the fifth quarter of the animals they spent the day hacking apart.
Testaccio. It's the other side of Rome. Sheltered under the deep shadow of the Aventine Hill, the Testaccio is where you come to eat real Roman food. The folks on the hill eat it with you, because their hill has no restaurants.
Testaccio is flat--except for that pimple of a hill called Monte Testaccio, or sometimes "Monte dei cocci", the mountain of pot sherds. That's right, it's not a natural hill. Ancient Romans dumped their pots here; it's an amphora graveyard.
Clever and poor (traits that often are found together, especially in the roiling melting pot of Rome), Romans carved auto repair shops out of the mountain of broken pots to fix the cars of the butchers that worked in the nearby stockyards.
These Testaccio butchers were paid in part with the "quinto quarto", the fifth quarter of the animals they spent the day hacking apart. Their clever wives made the best of their situation, creating a cuisine that nobody has forgotten over the years because it's darned tasty.
It's not all offal; don't stick up your nose quite yet. There's always the celebrated "bacon and egg" pasta, pasta alla carbonara. But wait, that's not bacon, it's guanciale (cured pork cheek). But...it's better than bacon, trust me, it's even better than pancetta.
Below are some of my favorite Restaurants in Testaccio. They're the classics. The list doesn't seem match the gourmet "top restaurants" lists I see, probably because I think food like this should be eaten in a traditional space. It's not exalted gourmet flim-flam we're talking about, it's gutsy, real people food, the stuff workers eat, tasty as all get out, and not so expensive. You don't need a top chef, you need a grandmother to make these dishes.
I love this place. It's one of those clubby, manly type places. Dark paneling on the lower walls, all sorts of historic stuff on the upper walls, waiters who even joke with the tourists. Oh, and that carbonara over there. I want some right now.
But I'll have to say this: it's not quite traditional, but it's close enough. It's on the menu as "Pici alla gricia con carciofi" or a sort of fat and wonderfully chewy spaghetti with guanciale, pecorino cheese and artichoke. The menu hints that it has a bit of cream in it, and I think that was true. This might have been one of the best tasting pastas I've ever had.
The Maialino con patate, roast suckling pig with potatoes, was almost as good. Not the Sardinian version, this one had a brown gravy over it. I looked like something my German grandmother might have put on the table. But it tasted way better. The house white is decent--actually quite good.
There's gnocchi on Thursday and minestra pasta e ceci on Friday.
The place is totally out of style. That's why you should go.
Pastas around 10 euro, second dishes of meat 10-22 euro.
Via Luca della Robbia, 84 00153 Rome, Italy
Perilli has been here since 1911, and the decor probably hasn't changed all that much. It serves Elizabeth Minshilli's favorite cabonara (see last meal before the rapture/earthquake/end of days: Perilli). Elizabeth is the author of the app called Eat Rome and has been writing about the food in Rome for a very long time. so I trust her judgement.
I had to go and try the carbonara, of course. It's served in a big bowl. It's a very good carbonara.
But I also liked the coratella. That's it over there to the left. What you do is you take the heart, lungs and liver of a lamb and saute them with some artichokes. Add some wine, maybe some lemon. These were the best I had. Earthy, pungent and sauced to bring it all together. Oh, and Elizabeth says the lungs are done when they "sing" to you. Really.
There is no better foil to a rich dish like this than puntarella, a particular kind of bitter salad leaves dressed with anchovy. Puntarella grows well in Lazio, usually late fall to early spring. I never miss having it when I'm in Rome.
Everything is old line in Perilli, kinda like Bucatino. Waiters in bow ties scurry around, plopping plates of food on tables, hob-nobing with the regulars.
When you enter, you look at what they have on the table at the front of the restaurant. That's how you'd know it was puntarella season, you'd see the pointy-leaved lettuce waiting for its dressing.
And believe me, you should make reservations. We didn't and got the last table, despite the fact we were there early and it was off season and the economy had tanked. They do a great business--and rightfully so.
Via Marmorata 39, Testaccio, Rome, 00153
You've been to delis before. This is not like any of them. Delicacies from all over Italy grace the shelves and display cases. You point at some kind of cheese, they give you a taste, you nod, they cut, you move on to the meats. Magically the bag with your stuff arrives at the checker's table when you have had enough and want to pay.
And pay you will. This is not bargain basement Lidl crap served up by minimum wage, no benefit slaves. The folks at Volpetti know their stuff. The stuff is very, very good.
So, I'd rent an apartment just to get some of that goodness. Of course, right next door is Volpetti Piu, more Volpetti, where you can eat what they cook for you.
Via Marmorata 47 - 00153 - Roma
My first experience with Testaccio cuisine was at Trattoria da Oio a Casa Mia, and I remember the experience with extreme fondness. It's the real deal, a local joint with pictures of soccer teams on the wall and a great carbonara.
Trattoria Da "Oio" a Casa Mia Via
Pizza joints are popular in the neighborhood, and Pizzeria Remo is considered one of the top contenders for the crown of Testaccio thin crust pizza goodness; order something simple. (Piazza Santa Maria della Liberatrice 44; +39 06 574 6270. Closed Sunday. Dinner only).
We stayed at a very nice apartment in a residential complex with the romantic name of AP02 Testaccio. The location was perfect, it was plenty warm and cozy in the chill of November, the wi-fi was decent and everything worked.
Residence Re Testa is a newish property on Aventino Piramide that offers rooms and apartments with free wi-fi and balconies.
If you want to stay in a very quiet place with few visitors after dark, you may wish to stay on the Aventine hill.