Rome: Testaccio #1 – Sunday lunch at Perilli Trattoria
If you love food and cemeteries you are sure to like Testaccio and that’s because Testaccio has the most delicious, authentic Roman food and a very beautiful and interesting non-catholic cemetery where famous people are buried.
Testaccio, considered the “working-class” neighbourhood of Rome, is situated across the river and south of the famous Trestevere but doesn’t share in the tourism that Trastevere attracts and this is a good thing. Wedged between the river to the west, the Aurelian wall to the south and the wealthy Aventine Hill to the north it is a bit of a hike from Centro Storico, but still, if you walk along the river, you can reach it by foot in less than an hour and enjoy the scenery along the way.
I wouldn’t describe Testaccio as the most obviously charming neighbourhood, nor the most chic. The architecture is not extraordinary and the roads are wide and commercial but you’ll find the charm if you look, and it lies in this rione’s authenticity. It is here where real Romans live, work and shop.
Our first visit to Testaccio was on a Sunday. In her indispensable book Eating Rome Elizabeth Minchilli’s recommended a restaurant that would be the place where she’d have her “last meal”, so to speak. She said it has a large following of locals who go there for the traditional Sunday’s lunch. With such an endorsement from the doyenne of foodie world of Rome we booked a table and walked all the way to Testaccio from our apartment in the Prati neighbourhood, which was a bit of a hike. The experience however, was worth every step.
The restaurant, Perilli, on Via Marmorata 39 (tel. 06 575 510) was one of the best in a series of “best meals we have ever had” in Rome. The trattoria, dating back to 1911, was packed with Roman families: parents, grandparents, children and probably a pet or two under the table, which is common in Rome. Being the only tourists on the scene, we almost felt like we were eavesdropping on an intimate Roman ritual. There were a few empty tables when we arrived at 1:00 pm. They soon filled and we watched several would be customers regrettably turned away at the door with a nod and a shrug from the waiters.
We settled at the table that had a card with our name hand written on it. The place was humming and I was trying to contain my excitement at being in such an authentic place and partaking in a Roman Sunday ritual, but I am sure I wasn’t that subtle as I was taking pictures and had to take a look at what people were eating. Well, I did my best to be subtle.
A table at the back of the restaurant was covered with dishes of gorgeous food: Roman artichokes, slow cooked white beans in tomato sauce, Stuffed zucchini, puntarelle, roasted peppers and more. These could be the first course or a contorni (side dish).
This was going to be a four course meal if not more and we were not going to rush through anything. People were discussing menu options with the waiters which I find fascinating. They don’t just say “I’ll have this or that”. There is a discussion, a back and forth, an explanation, a debate and finally a selection.
Not speaking Italian, we could not duplicate the dynamics but after a couple of simple questions we were ready to order. Our daughters were with us at that time and the four of us proceeded to order several dishes off the menu and from the table at the back.
It goes without saying that I started with carciofo alla Romana (Roman style artichoke). I ordered them (or alla Giudea) every day and was concerned that there would be an artichoke shortage due to my 6 week stay in Rome, but I hear they managed the supply.
Elizabeth recommended the pasta carbonara but I am partial to cacio pepe after I was introduced to it by my Roman friend Gabri-Ella Stone of Gaby’s Italian Kitchen in Kelowna so we ordered cacio e pepe for first course after the artichokes. The pasta arrived in a large ceramic bowl and the waiter dished out three portions onto our plates, then sat the large bowl with the remaining pasta portion in front of one of our daughters for her to eat right out of the serving bowl. I read about it in Minchilli’s book so it didn’t catch me by surprise and loved the entire concept. It is an honour to get the bowl as it contains more sauce or extra tidbits of whatever the dish contains.
I can no longer remember what else we ate other than I ordered one too many contorni (side dishes) and at the end I could not eat another bite. Maybe not very Italian, but hey, I am a traveler.
We finished Sunday lunch off with a wedge of crostata and an espresso and reluctantly left the beautiful scene and walked back to our apartment in the Prati. It was good to have the long walk after lunch.
Sunday lunch at Perilli was definitely one of the restaurant highlight of our stay in Rome.
For the remaining report on Testaccio see next post here.