Dishing Up Food Secrets in Rome

A plate of Pasta Alla Carbonara eaten up during one of Kenny's Food Tours in Rome. Photo by Kenny Dunn

Dear Blog Readers—I have a quiz for you today and the first blog reader who responds getting all the answers right gets a free 4- hour Food Tour in Rome?

Part I – Food Questions

1. What did women in the popular Testaccio neighborhood of Rome invent when their husbands, who worked in the massive local slaughterhouse, brought home the quinto quarto (the fifth/quarter) including the brains, intestines and tails of animals?

2. What is the difference between ice cream and gelato?

3. What is the difference between a French Croissant and an Italian Cornetto? (Hint: the answer is one word)

4. What is Mozzarella di Bufala and how is it different from regular Mozzarella?

Part II – General Questions

5. What is the Italian nickname for the ubiquitous running water fountains in Rome? (Hint: The answer is just one word)

6. What clever technique did the AS Roma Soccer (football) team use to maintain its winning streak of 103 victories and only 26 losses in 161 games?

7. What did the ancient Romans do with their amphora that held olive oil once they were done with them?

8. Which British Romantic poet had such low self-esteem that he didn’t even want his name on his tombstone at the cemetery where he is buried in Rome?

I learned the answers to all these questions on the fabulous Eat in Rome food tour run by Kenny Dunn, a lively American with a passion for Italian food.  Kenny runs his food tours in Testaccio, a blue-collar Roman neighborhood off the beaten track for tourists.

I took the tour with my son, Nico, and my brother, Stephen, and we all loved it for different reasons.

The four hour tour is an introduction into all sorts of Italian food.  It begins with a trip to the local coffee bar where Kenny explains the Italian coffee traditions and habits (see also my blog post Coffee Italian Style) while we got to try mouth-watering mini-cornetti and tiny Tiramisu.

Watch out for the swinging salamis at Volpetti Gastronomia in Testaccio! Emilio Volpetti and his son Alessandro push them out of the way to say Hello. Photo by Kenny Dunn

It was then off to the Volpetti Gastronomia, a fine foods store opened 39 years ago,  where Kenny introduced us to different types of prosciutto and gave explanations of famous Italian cheeses like Parmigiano and Pecorino.  The Volpetti family still live and work there in Testaccio. Inside the store we had to be careful not to bump our heads on hanging prosciuttos as we gazed at baskets of rare tartufo mushrooms (truffles).  I was offered a taste of the most sweet, delicious (and expensive) vinegar.  Yes,  vinegar– a specially produced balsamic vinegar.

Roman Rice Balls, known as suppli, being prepared by Roberto Germano with some special twists on a popular Roman street food. Photo by Dawn Roscoe

The tour took us to the gates of Testaccio’s famed Slaughterhouse (now a modern art museum),  and along the way Kenny pumped us with details of history from the profound to the trivial.  My brother, a writer, loved the stop at the romantic cemetery, known by the un-romantic name of the “Non-Catholic Cemetery” in Rome. In this little green haven in the midst of chaotic Rome,  Kevin revealed to us the secrets of some famous writers and others buried there.  The cemetery is over-shadowed by the Pyramid of Cestius, a Roman magistrate, and has its very own sphinx-like Roman cat standing guard.

A Roman cat stands guard near the Pyramid of Cestius in Rome. Photo by Kenny Dunn

What makes the tour so special is Kenny’s incredible knowledge both of the history of the neighborhood,  and the traditions and culture surrounding the food he is talking about.

At the famous Testaccio market, Kenny greeted two old geezers playing cards near the fish-mongers’ stands.  They were Alvaro and Luciano who have had competing stands at the market for six decades.  Their rivalry was so intense that they wouldn’t even say “Buongiorno” to each other.  But after years of staring each other down across the fish, they can’t get along without the daily competition.  So now that both of them have passed on the business to their sons, they still show up every day and take each other on with fierce card games.

At the butcher shop the “Macellaio” (butcher), a bald man named Cesare eagerly asked Kenny about his pregnant wife.  Kenny told him that they just learned from the sonogram that it is a boy….a huge grin spread across Cesare’s face “Evviva, e tanti figli maschi”, (roughly translated, “whoopee, and let there be many boys”) he declared and  then yelled across the counter to his wife “eh, Delia, Kenny avra’ un figlio maschio – Auguroni” (Hey, Kenny’s going to have a boy! Congratulations).

A little aside here, as an American I was a bit surprised when I married an Italian and at our wedding in Boston my husband received many comments (even some notecards) from Italians saying “auguri e tanti figli maschi” – Congratulatons and wishing you many boys.   “And what’s wrong with girls???,” I thought. I suppose it is just a little Italian chauvinism that lingers on.  I’ve been told that traditionally Italians hoped to have a son as a first child so they could pass on the family name and the family business.  As Kenny explained, this is the case with Cesare, whose grandfather opened the family  butcher’s stand at the Testaccio market back in 1919, it was passed on to Cesare’s father and now to him. He has been running it now for 26 years.

Another Italian father-to-son tradition is soccer team loyalties. My son, Nico, who, like his grandfather and father,  is an avid Roma soccer team fan was thrilled when Kenny took us to the team’s original home field in Testaccio and revealed some of the team’s history and secrets to us.

Of course, the highlight for all was the stop at a superb restaurant with the name of “Velavevodetto”, translated from Italian that means “I told you so.”  The original owner was a young man from Testaccio who always dreamed of owning his own restaurant. Since he didn’t have much money everyone told him he couldn’t do it.  But he did, and when he finally opened his restaurant he gave it the name that came to his mind, a message to all the naysayers who tried to discourage this Roman dreamer, “I Told you So.”

At “Velavevodetto” we feasted on a triple pasta course with three traditional Roman pasta dishes carbonara (see photo at the top), cacio e pepe and amatriciana.  Yum!!!!.

There was plenty more — prosciutto e fichi, suppli, gelato — but I don’t want to reveal all of Kenny’s secrets, you should go find out for yourselves.

Kenny Dunn with a plate of prosciutto, salami, pecorino and parmiggiano during his food tour in Testaccio.

Anyone interested in Rome foods, and looking for things to do in Rome, you should try out Kenny’s tour.  To book, you  should go to Kenny’s Website Eating Italy Food Tours

Of course, whoever wins the quiz contest above will be notified by me and you get to go for free.

 

Post in: Italiano

Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

9 Comments

  1. Sandra Wanek
    2012/07/19

    Can’t find anything about AS Roma winning streak :( Curious if you will post what your answer is to that question.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/07/20

      Sandra– thanks for your comment. Keep trying on the AS Roma winning streak. Does that mean you figured out all the others?

      Reply
  2. Mary Jane Cryan
    2012/07/20

    great idea for a post… so glad to see there are tours and blogs that also teach people about Rome,in an interesting manner –

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/07/20

      Thank you Mary Jane! Don’t you want to take a shot at the quiz? You would probably ace it!

      Reply
  3. Barbara Landi
    2012/07/23

    Well l don’t know any of the answers except the one about mozzarella di bufala. And I thought ice cream IS gelato.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/07/23

      Hi Barbara — Thanks for answering. Hopefully we will have a winner soon although I think I have scared a lot of people away with some of the questions (because no one seems to be trying) and there have been a few suggestions that perhaps I should have offered a ticket to Rome for the quiz winner. I wish I could. Either way, winner or not, within a week I will post all the answers. Ciao, Trisha

      Reply
  4. Audrey
    2012/07/23

    Ciao, Trisha. I took a shot at the quiz and e-mailed you my responses (so as not to give away my answers). I can certainly post them here if you’d like. Great idea!

    Reply
  5. Audrey
    2012/07/23

    What a cool contest! Here are my answers:

    1. The women of Testaccio invented an entire cuisine around offal, including the famous trippa (tripe).

    2. Fat content, air content, and serving temperature. Gelato has less fat and uses more whole milk than cream. Gelato is churned at a lower speed and thus has less air than ice cream. Gelato is served at a warmer temperature while ice cream is served completely frozen.

    3. Butter

    4. Mozzarella di Bufala is made from the milk of water buffalos. It generally is more expensive and has a more intense flavor than Mozzarella made from cow’s milk.

    5. Nasoni

    6. They would change the size of the playing field in their stadium depending on who they were playing.

    7. Amphorae were too cheap and plentiful to return to their origin so, when empty, they were broken up at their destination. In Rome amphorae fragments were used to create a hill now named Monte Testaccio.

    8. John Keats

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2012/07/23

      Yes!!!! You are the winner!!!!!! Congratulations and I will do a new post shortly with your photo and will put you in touch with Kenny Dunn for your free food tour. And if you are coming to Rome, do stop by and say Hello to me.

      Reply

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