From the Archives.
I enjoyed a lovely day exploring the food history of Testaccio – a residential neighborhood, known for its covered market, ‘hip’ nightclubs and amazing restaurants offering traditional Roman cuisine… and the main ingredient is offal.
Testaccio is named after the man made hill called Monte Testaccio. This hill is made up of remnants of the ancient Roman food trade. Shards of ancient amphorae – the vessels of oil, wine or other liquids – found in the area were collected and carefully placed in this ‘pile’ to create the man-made “mount Testaccio”.
Today, around the bottom perimeter of this hill sit buildings which were dug in to host auto-mechanics, discotheques and restaurants. The area experienced a property boom in the mid-50s, creating a grid-like neighborhood of working class families.
Food was still a key part of this area. From 1890-and beyond, a major slaughterhouse (mattatoio) was in full function. In 1975, the slaughterhouse was closed down due to the strong smell of blood and because truckers unable to weave their way in and out of traffic. Today, Ex-Mattatoio (the former slaughterhouse) houses a branch of Rome’s contemporary art museum (MACRO), a fine-dining restaurant, and an extension of a local university.
Testaccio: Where the classic Roman cuisine was born.
During the slaughterhouse’s hey day, the parts of the animal were divided into quarters: first to nobility, second to clergymen, third to the rich and fourth to the soldiers. This was all the outer meat of the animal. The rest – head, hoof, entrails and tail – were available for the public to purchase or given to the slaughterhouse workers as pay – and this is how these parts came to be known as the quinto quarto (fifth quarter).
With the masses having access to these unwanted parts, they eventually figured out how to make the best of them and created the amazing dishes that Romans claim to be their cities traditional plates of gastronomy. Yes, the cucina povera (poorman’s cooking) – as it is known – is today, a Roman delicacy.
I hopped around the neighborhood to taste some of delicious treats: Roman-style artichokes, fried supplí, cookies made with the ancient faro grain and modern pizza using Rome’s traditional ingredients – yes, they have offal on the menu, too.
In speaking with the locals, I learned about the many dishes that contain the main ingredients of offal. If you are a true foodie and are daring to try these delicious dishes, you will be pleasantly surprised by the amazing flavors. I have yet to dare and try one – but you will know when I do.
Classic Roman Dishes
Below is a list of some traditional Roman dishes I compiled during my chats with the locals:
- Coda alla Vaccinara – a Roman stew made of oxtail (or veal tail)
- Pagliata – a traditional Roman dish using the intestines of a calf, stewed or grilled, with lard.
- Coratella – a stew that uses the offal of small animals such as lamb, rabbit or poultry.
- Carciofi alla Giudia – deep fried artichoke
- Carciofi alla Romana – trimmed artichokes cooked in a dutch oven or pot with parsely, oive oil and garlic, served as antipasto or side
- Tonarelli Cacio e Pepe (cheese and black pepper) – traditional Roman pasta dish made with Pecorino Romano sheep cheese and black pepper.
- Spaghetti alla Carbonara – spaghetti made with eggs, Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano cheese, bacon and black pepper.
NOTE: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on October 2011 on a previous blog I ran called Modern Culture: Italy. The article was part of a series called Adventures in Rome. The blog no longer exists; however, I am pulling and updating some of the articles that I found to be interesting enough to have a life here on Magnusmade.com.