165. Food Plus Culture = Market Tour

If you’re traveling, and want to get a sense of the culture, history, values and daily life of an unfamiliar city, do a market tour.

Listening to our wonderful guide Fernanda, with Alexis and Dave from San Francisco

Markets, after all, are where real people come every day. So we were eager to do a Devour market tour recommended by Katy Clarke’s Untold Italy podcast, in the decidedly un-touristy neighborhood of Testaccio, the site of the city’s former Mattatoio slaughterhouse, in operation until 1975, when it was determined that slaughtering animals in the middle of a major city was not such a great idea.

Starting off with caffe and maritozzo. Fernanda claimed it’s not too sweet; I have my doubts.

On a market tour, of course, you eat (and eat and eat). But with Fernanda, we had the chance to meet owners of stands and restaurants that have been is the same families for six or seven generations.

Wonderful stewed beef and greens sandwiches, not unlike the Italian pork sandwiches popular in South Philly. I was game to try the tripe at the lower right, but it wasn’t on offer.

We ate cheese from “nobili” animals, which meant they were allowed to lead happy lives rather than be penned in factory farms.

Butter and mozzarella from happy animals

We heard about the importance of social interaction in Italian daily life, starting each work day with a quick espresso at the local bar. Fernanda described the centrality of good digestion, real or imagined, in the consciousness of Italians, which prevents them from things like drinking milk in the afternoon. (My grandfather thought that consuming milk and citrus at the same time was so dangerous as to possibly kill you.)

Even the water claims to stimulate digestion
Cutting samples of two kinds of prosciutto. Like many here, when the slicer heard we were from Philly, he cried “Rocky Balboa!”

And over and over again, we heard about the quinto quarto, the fifth quarter of the animal, and its importance in Roman cuisine. After all, despite its chicness today, traditional Italian cuisine is the simple food of poor people, cucina povera, and the fifth quarter was what was left — things like ears, feet, tails and offal — after the four preferred quarters of the animal went to the rich. We were not offered the traditional Roman dish of tripe, but we did have oxtail ragu on our pasta at lunch.

Brains and oxtail — quinto quarto — on offer
Oxtails turned into a delicious sauce, or “gravy,” as they say in Philadelphia

On a purely personal note — I gave up sugar in 1978, when there was a craze for calling sugar “white poison.” I’ve kept it up since then, more out of stubbornness and habit than anything else, but I’ve never stopped missing sweets and feeling deprived. In gelato situations, I just sit on my hands and feel sorry for myself. But very occasionally, there is a place that actually makes gelato “senza zucchero,” without sugar, and I can indulge along with everyone else. Today, our tour ended up in such a place, and I had a mix of cioccolato and pistacchio, with unsweetened whipped cream, no less. Pure heaven.

The proprietor was delighted by my delight at having her sugar-free gelato.

3 thoughts on “165. Food Plus Culture = Market Tour

  1. Two thumbs up. Eating is everything and the Italians have always known that. Where better to discover that than at the market where it all begins………well after the farms with happy animals and dairies and soil tilling and…….. I miss visiting Italy and enjoy your posts.


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