I finally went to visit the new Testaccio Market built near the former abattoir that is now home to other sections of the MACRO museum and the Department of Architecture of Roma Tre University. It opened last July and had been talked about for 17 years before becoming a reality. It comprises 5,000 square metres under one roof, so I read, and can accommodate 103 stalls. It is painted white and has windows as a roof, for a skylight effect to bring in light during the darker months of the year (it hadn’t made enough provision for the hotter months of the year at its opening apparently, much to the disgruntlement of customers and stall keepers alike!). A very pleasing feature for someone like me is its underground parking. It’s all very well for people to walk to the market if they live in the vicinity but if they live further away, then parking is a very sensible idea.
The thing that struck me the most was that it was much cleaner and brighter than the old market. However, there weren’t any throngs to speak of and, because it is so much larger than its predecessor, the atmosphere didn’t seem so ‘communal’ or cosy — that’s if ‘cosy’ is an adjective that can be applied to a market. It is early days yet and I am sure it will grow into its new spaciousness over time, and redesign a character all of its own. For nostalgic old-timers like me, however, there is a nudging feeling that yet another bastion of ‘romanità’, i.e. the romanness that made Rome and its home-grown Roman citizens what they were, has been directed to the ‘to be filed’ archive. The opening of Eataly was trumpeted and heralded and launched in triumph. The opening of the new Testaccio Market, which should likewise thrill and enthrall, and raise a hurrah! for all of us who believe in good, fresh food at affordable prices, accompanied by banter and the forging of a genuine relationship with the stall-owner, has not sparked off the same momentum. For all its glitz and glamour, Eataly is in actual fact a supermarket. And you know how I feel about supermarkets !
In terms of produce … it was as a market should be although I missed seeing any fresh herbs in bunches. The chap who used to be called the “poet of tomatoes” — because that’s all he sold and could hold forth for some time on the virtues of each kind and give whopping advice on how to put each variety to best use — was conspicuously absent. I was surprised to see a crate of carciofi (artichokes) from France (they are not in season now in Italy). Romans would have sniffed at the thought of buying food that is not in season but maybe they are for the restaurants who have to feed tourists a favourite Roman dish (even though the carciofi hail from Brittany). There were lots of butchers and one of them in particular, Sartor, caught my eye. I bought something called ‘arrosticini messinesi’ and organic eggs from them, and noticed, good to know, that they sell proper Olive Ascolane made in Fermo.
There was only one group of foodie tourists from the United States, visibly happy and enjoying their taste of pizza and nibbles. But then again, it was rather late in the day, almost 1 o’clock. I left with the sensation that generations of people in Great Britain must have felt at the passing of a king (or queen). The Testaccio Market is dead. Long Live the New Testaccio Market!
Here are some more photos.
I remember these butchers from the old Market. They were exulting when Roma fooball club star, Francesco Totti, scored a match-winning goal and his wife had a baby round about the same time. A team from the RAI Television were there interviewing them and other market stall keepers. The Testaccio area is the very essence of the Rome Football team supporters. You can’t get more ‘romanisti’ than them!
Now here, at last, a character: Sergio Esposito. He is Mr Sandwich man Roma-style. Sandwiches Made with boiled meat, the bread dunked in the meat stock first for that added taste, and seller of cooked tripe and pecorino and other typical Roman goodies. Not for the faint-hearted gastronomically speaking and a delight, instead, for people who adore ‘real’ tastes that have been handed down by generations.
Mr Esposito has received the endorsement of the prestigious Gambero Rosso. A very charming man. I bought some tripe to take home for my husband and bought a sandwich of ‘bollito’ (boiled meat). My son wolfed it down when I got home and pronounced it (or rather: he didn’t ‘pronounce’ it as such, he raised his thumb heavenwards) very good. My husband thought the tripe good but says my mother’s is unbeatable.
This stall was very painful for me to walk by … oh the wafting of scents and pricking up of olfactory nerve endings in the nostrils, oh the rumbling in the stomach crying out “feed me, feed me, can’t you smell how delicious all this is?”.
This stall also sells special breads for people who are celiacs or suffer from gluten intolerance.
Mmmm … pancetta and guanciale and what have you for super-duper pasta dishes.I asked these guys permission to take a photo. I knew they wouldn’t refuse (who can resist me and all that) but it’s always nice to be polite and ask first. The older chap wasn’t at all surprised. “That’s because we are the best looking butchers here!” he confidently acknowledged — and who am I to disagree, hey? “Ma certo,” I confirmed, wink wink say no more. How often can you joke like that with people working in supermarkets (at least, here in Italy)? They all look abject and depressed and in need of a holiday.
This butcher sells horsemeat as well as … er …. ‘normal’ meat. Can’t say I would care to eat mares and mustangs unless it were a life-saving situation like soldiers use to when they had nothing else to eat (I can’t do ‘bunny’ either) but there is one famous recipe from Zagarolo that requires it: “il tordo matto”.
All the stuff from this stall is produced by a farmer in Mentana. Next time I shall get some garlic (I’ve still got plenty at home for now). It might surprise you to discover that it is very difficult to find home-grown Italian garlic in general (impossible in a supermarket) — most of the garlic one finds comes from as far away as China (! yes!) or otherwise from Spain. Can someone explain that to me, please?
“In bocca al lupo!” as they say in Italian when wanting to wish any one good luck. Happy days, new Testaccio Market.