This post is part of our Love Letter series: first-person accounts of what we love about Rome.
I have lived in Rome for nearly nine years, but I still feel like a kid in a candy store when I step into Testaccio Market.
The market is honestly one of the reasons I moved to this Roman neighborhood. After just one visit, I was determined to make it a part of my daily routine.
Testaccio Market is the place to come to catch up on neighborhood gossip and weather reports at the coffee bar, stop for a quick trim at the hairdresser, pick up a new pair of Made in Italy shoes, rub elbows with Italian nonne (grandmas) as you stock up on fresh produce, order oxtail from the butcher to simmer slowly for hours at home, sip a craft beer, and then join the trendy crowd waiting in line for one of Rome’s best sandwiches. It means so many things to so many people, but to me it embodies what I love about life in Italy.
I had already been living in Rome for several years when I finally visited Testaccio, an area that sits just beyond Aventino (one of Ancient Rome’s seven hills), and across the river from Trastevere. The quartiere is only about a 20-minute walk from the Colosseum, but I made the classic mistake of assuming it was tucked too far out of the way.
In reality, Testaccio is as Roman as they come. The neighborhood might not have the winding medieval alleyways of the centro storico, but it does have over 2,000 years of foodie history and a fierce sense of local pride. This is where you will find the headquarters of the A.S. Roma soccer fan club, as well as the origins for the city’s most beloved recipes.
But it was the reputation of the market that finally lured me to explore this slowly evolving, working-class neighborhood. I had heard rumors of a vendor who wasn’t just a tomato seller, but a poet. This was where to find the freshest mozzarella and the best pecorino, locals assured me.
“You’ll never shop anywhere else again,” a friend warned me.
I could never have imagined how true that would turn out to be.
The New Testaccio Market
Mercato di Testaccio is technically “Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio”—the new Testaccio market. The market has been a neighborhood fixture for more than 80 years, but it’s considered “new” because it moved to its current location in 2012.
For many decades before that, the market was located in Piazza Testaccio, a five minute walk away in lively square that is still the heart of the neighborhood, even if the food stalls have moved a few streets away.
It was this original market that I first experienced, in all of its dim, chaotic, perfect glory, with piles of oranges around the corner from ceiling-high shelves piled with every imaginable home good you might need.
The new market is airy and light-filled, but most of the sellers have been running their businesses since long before the small location change. It was the daily energy and vibrancy that they brought to the market that first stopped me in my tracks. I wanted in on their casual jokes with regular customers, as well as easy access to the gleaming clementines and stacks of curiously spiky romanesco broccoli.
So, I did it. I moved my life across the city, and settled down a couple of blocks away from the market. I joined the daily shoppers and worked my way through the bounty of this neighborhood institution.
When the market settled into its shiny new digs, the traditional butchers and bread makers were soon joined by a much more modern market stand: street food sellers. Testaccio is home to the only market in Rome where you can find amazing ready-to-eat food, side by side with the best local ingredients Italy can offer.
I was enamored with it all, but I didn’t really fall in love with Testaccio Market until I was pregnant. My daily rounds slowed down as I grew more rotund myself, and it gave me more time to fall hard for the sheer beauty of it all.
There was Filippo, himself a grandfather, who would demand that I help myself to an apple while waiting my turn to order. I was grateful to the grandmothers, who always insisted I go before them in line. And I couldn’t have made it nine months without the cookies that Artenio sells by the kilogram.
And when my son was born? The market loved him right back.
“Ciao bello!” everyone will call as we walk through in the mornings.
“Giacomo! You have to try this pizza,” Artenio will cry.
And because pizza is the way to anyone’s heart, I can already tell that my one-year-old understands just how magical our local market can be.
Natalie’s Favorite Stalls
As more and more Italian shoppers are lured away by the convenience of supermarkets, Mercato di Testaccio’s balance of traditional fresh food stalls mixed with indulgent street food options is exactly what has made it a success.
The market is organized on a grid so you will find that every stall has a number. However, the best way to experience the market is to wander up and down the aisles. You will find the fishmongers grouped in one area, most of the fresh food vendors in the center, and non-food items ranging from vintage clothes to flowers clustered on one side. The street food stalls are interspersed throughout and there is free seating next to the coffee bar in the heart of the market, so have a good look around before making your selections, then regroup in the middle.
To get you started, a few of my favorite places go in Testaccio market are:
- Mordi e Vai: Sergio was a butcher before he became a panino maker. His sandwiches are filled with slow-cooked classics like trippa alla romana (tripe in tomato sauce) and a decadent take on carbonara made with veal. But you don’t have to be a carnivore to enjoy this stop—the vegetarian artichoke sandwiches with shaved pecorino are also divine.
- Da Vania e Artenio: I stop to say hi to Vania and Artenio most days because they are incredibly friendly – but also because they sell some of the best baked goods in the neighborhood. Pick up some taralli to take home or little pizzette topped with onions to eat immediately from Box 90.
- Casa Manco: Located in Box 22, Casa Manco serves incredible pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) topped with creative combinations of ingredients that the lovely husband and wife team sources from other vendors at the market.
- Vegetables at Box 68: Silvia is the only seller in the Testaccio market that is a part of the Campagna Amica farmer’s organization, which means the fruit and vegetables at her stall are grown on her family’s own farm. The colorful stacks of produce change with the seasons and are 100% local.
- Cesare’s Shoes: You might spot my neighbor Cesare walking his terrier, Molly, through the neighborhood. He prefers to spend his days fishing now, but he still owns the shoe stall that bears his name inside the market (Box 40). Everything here is Made in Italy and the quality is fantastic.
Ready to fall in love with the Testaccio Market like Natalie has? Join our food tour of the neighborhood! We’ll take you inside the market to meet our favorite vendors and try the best pizza (really, the dough rises for 100 hours!), and then we’ll explore the neighborhood, popping into the family-run establishments that make it what it is.
Natalie is a travel and food writer based in Rome since 2010. She writes about Rome, food and travel for several international publications and is the blogger behind the popular website AnAmericaninRome.com