There’s a reason that I lead food tours in certain neighborhoods in Rome, and not others. Even though Campo de’ Fiori and the Jewish Ghetto have changed much over the last decade, with truly disturbing inroads being made by vendors selling everything from fast french fries to knock off purses, it still manages to retain its character through a half dozen vegetable stands in the market and other food stores and restaurants that have been there for generations. My own neighborhood of Monti has seen change too, but the new arrivals have embraced the traditions and ingredients of Rome and created new realities that are perhaps the next chapter in Rome’s culinary history. Testaccio, at least for now, clings on the most strongly to a fast changing way of life, next to the crumbling ruins of the ex-slaughterhouse the new market still feeds a neighborhood that is mostly made up of working class Romans and tourists are few and far between. Sophie leads her tours through the ancient alleyways of Trastevere, where some of the oldest food vendors in town still sell their wares.
There are other neighborhoods, though, where I barely even go any more, much less lead food tours through. The area around Piazza di Spagna is one of those. Jam packed with so many tourists you can barely make it down the streets that run perpendicular to the major shopping axis of Via del Corso, the area is the equivalent of Rome’s Rodeo drive. Via Frattina, Condotti and Borgognona are lined with names like Gucci, Prada and Bulgari. I can understand why visitors might want to window shop (or really shop) while visiting the Spanish Steps, but as far as being a foodie destination? Not so much.
Prohibitively high commercial rents have made it just about impossible for stores in the neighborhood to sell anything that doesn’t have a 1000% mark up that helps pay the bills. High heels and diamonds do this just fine. Pasta and pecorino, not so much. Do you remember a few years ago the article in the Guardian that cited the 54 Euro ice cream cone? That would be right in the heart of this area.
All this said, there are still a few places that surprisingly have managed to survive. One of those is the Pastificio on Via della Croce. This bare bones store not only retains its original space and vintage sign (love that!) but also somehow still manages to pay the rent by selling hand made pasta.
If you do happen to be in this neighborhood and pass by, and are wondering why there is a long line stretching down the block twice a day at this simple shop you can finally begin to understand how they are making ends meet. Pastificio not only makes pasta to take home and cook, every day at lunch and dinner time they make up big bowls of steaming hot pasta to eat or take away. For the very low price of 4 Euros you get (as the sign says) 1 plate of pasta, 1 fork, 1 napkin, 1 plastic cup, water and, only for those who deserve it, a drop of wine.
Not bad, huh?
On a recent day I stopped by and they were dishing up heaping portions of freshly made fettucine with funghi porcini and potato gnocchi with a tomato sausage sauce. Every day two different pastas.
So popular has this place become that they’ve now done away with the low counters they used to have ringing the shop, with small stools. These days you get in line, pay up, grab your plate and take it to the street. Yes, it’s a bit awkward balancing plastic plate and cup (especially if you are also dealing with a slippery sausage) but it’s worth the acrobatics. These days, there’s not many places you can get a plate of well made pasta for 4 euros. And the line? It moves very fast and there always seems to be pasta for everyone.
Even though I’m not planning on leading any food tours in this neighborhood any time soon, it’s good to know there are still some authentic food artisans there. And if heading to this spot for a plate of pasta a few times a month helps support their endeavor, well, I’m willing to do my bit. And you should too.
Via della Croce 8, Roma
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