The markets of Rome: Campo de Fiori, market “rules” and foodie places near the market
Traditional open air food markets are a function of a life style that is sadly disappearing. They are meant for daily shopping for ingredients for dinner that night, along with a a crusty loaf of bread and local wine. This life style is on its way out even in places like Rome, where restaurants and conveniently located neighbourhood supermarkets are redefining the eating and shopping habits of todays’ households.
That’s not to say however that markets no longer exist. There still are great markets to be found in large cities and small towns and they need all of our support to ensure their survival. I do my part both at home and when we travel. Local markets are among the first places I go to when we arrive in a new or familiar place, whether in Canada or abroad.
The best known market in Rome, Campo de Fiori, is one of the few markets that survived the transition and although I hear from locals that it is not “what it used to be”, I would have loved to have that market as one of my sources for gorgeous seasonal produce every day of the year. Romans have it so good, and they may not even fully know it.
Campo de Fiori, an open air market in the centro storico, has been in continuous operation for over 400 years and stands in a lovely centuries old piazza where public executions took place back in the day. It’s an interesting juxtaposition that is worth contemplating. It is close to the Tevere, not far from the Jewish Ghetto and within a walking distance of many of the main historical sites of Rome. Perhaps it’s not “what it used to be”, but for me it was still a beautiful market with gorgeous produce and I went there almost every day.
The market today is a produce market only, although in its heyday butchers and fishmongers lined up the piazza as well. Today there are only a few produce vendors left, the rest consisting of tourist oriented stands selling anything from clothing to gifts to packaged food items and more. A flower vendor on the edge of the piazza adds a splash of colour and fragrance to the diminishing produce offering.
I have talked about European market “rules” while travelling through France and Spain but it is worth mentioning again: DO NOT TOUCH (NON TOCARE) is the golden rule. I am not sure exactly why this rule was instituted, perhaps people squeeze the tomatoes, mess up the display or handle produce with unclean hands. Whatever the reason, this is the unwritten, and often written in bold letters rule of the market. Ask for what you want and hopefully you’ll get it.
Another rule is the relationship that you develop at the market. If you are regular with a certain vendor (any repeat visits make you an instant regular) you will be greeted personally and offered better produce, an extra piece of this or that, a ripe pear, a free bunch of parsley placed on top of the bag and so forth. This is true even here in Canada. My “regular” vegetable vendor knows I like artichokes so he calls me when they pick them and set them aside for me (sorry, Val). It may be interesting to note that the same thing goes for restaurants. As soon as we were paying return visits to restaurants, my carciofo alla Romana was suddenly extra beautiful, my husbands food was cooked just to his liking and the waiter would whisper with a knowing smile that “the kitchen knows you are here and they sent this”. I was totally taken by this warm and generous gesture. I am a “regular” at a Roman restaurant or market. How fun is that?
One unique feature at the Campo de Fiori market that you don’t necessarily see outside of Italy is that here the vendors prep the produce for you.
Artichokes were in season and it was fascinating to arrive at the market early morning and watch the vendors skillfully trim a pile of artichokes with a few deft movements of a curved knife, then dropping them into buckets of lemon infused water beside them, ready for you to take home and cook, no trimming necessary.
Making puntarelle salad
Puntarelle, a salad that was new to me and quite delicious if done right, is another thing that vendors prep for you at the market. I watched them sit by a pile of chicory, one person trimming the root, another pressing the ends through a square tool and piling it into a heap ready for you to take home, rinse and dress with anchovy, lemon juice and olive oil vinaigrette. How easy is that?
Soup mixes are also chopped and ready for cooking, as are blends for salads. But this is not the kind of blends you find in a North American supermarket that I pass by without even glancing at. These were fresh looking cut up produce meant to make it easier for you in the kitchen, yet maintain the integrity of high quality food the Romans take for granted. Still, I have a hard time buying a ready mix of anything. Force of habit maybe but perhaps if I lived in Rome, I could be persuaded in time.
The market may be not very large with only a few produce vendors left but what made my head spin is the variety and quality of the produce that was there. Perhaps this was not abundance of produce like some of the larger markets I saw in Spain, Israel or France, but the quality was superb and variety overwhelming. Who knew there were so many types of radicchio, some not even red? So many wild salad greens, eggplants, zucchini with flowers still attached (in season when we visited) everything was exciting. I must admit I was getting a little depressed seeing all this abundance available all year round. In my hometown in frigid Canada local produce markets are open from June to October, that’s it. Do they really know how good they have it in Italy?
The market is one thing, but it is also surrounded by specialty shops, bakeries, pastry shops and restaurants that can make cooking everything at home kind of redundant, because the quality of what you buy is so high.
The market is home to Il Forno Campo de Fiori, a small bakery producing some of the best breads you can find, especially pizza bianca and pizza by the slice with various toppings. You can stand outside by the glass windows and watch the bakers slide the long stretches of dough into the oven, then go in for a warm slice of just baked pizza or something else. I have posted about the Forno here.
Next door your have Osteria la Carbonara serving delicious traditional Roman dishes, or you can opt for fresh mozzarella tasting at Obica Mozzarella Bar on the corner, a more recent arrival on the scene (I prefer their restaurant in Florence).
Down the street on via dei Giubbonari 2, you have the Roman institution: Salumeria Roscioli, a favourite of all those in the know about the food scene in Rome. You can stop by to buy Benedetto Cavalieri or Verrigni dry pasta, or for lunch (try the cacio e pepe), if you can get a table. It’s very busy in there.
Around the corner from the Salumeria Roscioli you’ll find their fabulous bakery Antico Forno Roscioli (via dei chiavari 4), where you can stop by to pick up bread or grab a slice of pizza, pizza rosa or made to order sandwiches, not to mention the tempting selection of the delicious looking pastries. I have written about Roscioli here.
For a glass of wine and a taste of great cheeses stop by Beppe, also a beloved Roman institution that has won accolades even in France. It is located just down from the market on Via Santa Maria del Pianto 9a/11. They have a great artisanal cheeses that you can enjoy at cheese counter with a glass of wine. There is a tasting room / restaurant in there, not obvious if you just peek through the door.
The Jewish Ghetto is near Campo de Fiori and if you have time, you can combine the two on your outing.
There are other markets in Rome, two more of which I visited: the Testaccio market and the Trionfale market near the Vatican, but the post is getting too long to include them here. Watch for a report about these markets and foodie things nearby in upcoming posts.