Lunch at Mercato Testaccio (Roman Testaccio Markets) in Rome, Italy

There’s no greater way to get to know a new city than by visiting its markets. That’s why whenever you watch travel/food documentaries hosted by renowned chefs like Anthony Bourdain, their first stop is always at the local markets. That way, you get to see what’s in season, what sells, what’s popular, the different spices used…it’s like a crash course in learning about that country’s food culture.

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We had been enjoying visiting markets around Europe, and Rome was no different. We stayed just about half an hour’s walk away from the New Rome Testaccio Markets (the old market was moved to this location about four years ago), and stopped in one morning to pick some fresh meat and produce for home-cooked dinners in our Airbnb apartment. Needless to say, we also took the opportunity of having lunch at some of the many little shops at the market!

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Mordi & Vai is the famous sandwich shop that everyone goes to visit when at the markets. Some people even make a special trip to the Testaccio markets to try their signature sandwiches. As you can tell from the various printouts plastered over their shopfront, they’re so famous that they’ve been written up in almost all of the Roman food columns.

What’s all the fuss about though? Basically, they keep it simple. There’s up to a dozen different pre-cooked sandwich fillings, from meatballs in tomato sauce, to marinated artichoke, to pulled pork, to a slow-cooked beef. When you order the sandwich, that’s literally all you get in the sandwich – just the single filling with no additional salad garnishes or anything like that. It’s very simple, and very focused on highlighting the one key ingredient.

Panino con Allesso (sandwich with slowly cooked tender beef), 3 Euro
Panino con Allesso (sandwich with slowly cooked tender beef), 3 Euro

I ordered their signature sandwich, the Panino con Allesso with slow-cooked beef and spinach. When making this sandwich, the chef actually takes the bottom half of the panini and soaks one side of it with the beef gravy in the pan – why use butter or other sauces when you have a ready-made tasty sauce right? The sauce along with the incredibly tender beef is one of the real highlights of this sandwich. It’s a perfect snack-size sandwich at only 3 Euro, but a bit too small for a full meal.

Carciofi alla Romana (Roman Style artichokes, steamed with white wine, garlic and parseley), 4.50 Euro
Carciofi alla Romana (Roman Style artichokes, steamed with white wine, garlic and parseley), 4.50 Euro

K ordered the Carciofi alla Romana (Roman-style artichoke sandwich) after seeing all the giant displays of artichokes in stalls all around the market – seasonal produce is where it’s at! For this sandwich, a whole steamed marinated artichoke is taken and placed on the bottom half of the panini before being squashed to fit the sandwich, and layered with some thin slices of parmesan cheese. It’s such a simple concept that works incredibly well – I only wish that we had such beautiful fresh artichokes available in Australia (for a more reasonable price!).

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Our next stop was at Food Box, a small stall with a unique range of South-American inspired delicacies, salads, paninis and locally-made soft drinks and juices. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a philosophy centred about using local and organic products with zero-waste – it seemed to be quite earth-friendly in its own way.

Porchetta focaccia, 5 Euro
Porchetta focaccia, 5 Euro

We stopped here because K’s eye was caught by a massive haunch of roast porchetta with amazing crackling and shimmering fat in the display window. Next to it was a pile of focaccia and a sign: “Porchetta focaccia, 5 Euro”. Once he saw that, we decided to round off the savoury component of our lunch with a porchetta focaccia to share. Now this takes a little while to prepare as they have to move the haunch into the kitchen to cut off slices for the sandwich, and they need to toast it as well.

It’s well worth the wait. The focaccia bread is simultaneously crispy and soft. The porchetta is layered in the sandwich so as to give you a bit of everything in every mouthful – some crunchy crackling, a bit of soft pork fat, and some lean salty meat. It’s a real winner, and one I would rush back to the markets for!

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Lunch isn’t complete without a sweet treat, and Scaramure Patisserie offered up a wide range of delectable goodies. From cakes and slices to cookies and muffins, there’s a wealth of sweet treats to be found.

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Once I saw their ‘Choco Kebab’ machine though, I was hooked – what else could I possibly have ordered? A huge chunk of milk and white chocolate rotating on a spit, that you shave chunks from to include in various desserts? It’s pure genius!

Choco Kebab, 3 Euro
Choco Kebab, 3 Euro

We got our Choco Kebab shavings in a crepe with lashings of Nutella and whipped cream. This is very much a ‘novelty factor’ dessert choice as it’s nothing out the ordinary with a limper-than-preferable crepe. As a vehicle for delivering chocolate kebab shavings to my mouth though, it was more than sufficient.

The Rome Testaccio Markets are well worth a visit if you’re ever in Rome – the produce on offer is many, varied, fresh and seasonal, and it’s a great way of learning about Italian cuisine. Don’t forget to stop by some of the sandwich shops for a meal while you’re at the markets – Mordi & Vai is a must, as is the porchetta focaccia at Food Box.

The Rome Testaccio Markets are located on Via Galvani in Rome, Italy. The closest Metro stop is Piramide.

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