One of the greatest pleasures and arguably the best way to get under the skin of a city is visiting its street markets. There’s nothing quite like roaming around the tantalizing stalls aptly set up to tease customers — it’s the perfect way to experience local lifestyle.
Boasting a long tradition of tasty recipes, every neighborhood in Rome has its own daily market selling everything from fresh seasonal produce to culinary herbs to meat-based specialties. While it’s impossible to list them all, this small selection is a great way to start when exploring The Emerald City.
Mercato Campo de’ Fiori
Possibly the most touristy among the plethora of Rome’s food markets, mercato di Campo de’ Fiori takes place every day (from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Sunday) in the famous piazza dominated by the intimidating statue of Giordano Bruno, a philosopher burned at the stake here by the Middle Ages Holy Inquisition.
A much more cheerful place now, Piazza Campo de’ Fiori is full of activity day and night, starting early in the morning with the colors and flavors of Italian delicacies, continuing right through the evening with the flitting lights of pubs and restaurants welcoming locals and tourists alike.
As one of the most popular places downtown, if you want to enjoy a quiet shopping spree, it’s no surprise that you’ll have to arrive at its opening. However, even when the crowd of customers and curious visitors starts flowing, the shrewd salesmen will still find the time to tickle your palate with samples of all kinds of treats.
Among the stands that will inevitably catch your attention is one with a colorful choice of spaghetti, fusilli and pennette pasta enriched with many unusual flavors such as cacao (not a sweet one and the expert suggests you try it with a white sauce instead of a tomato-based one), lemon and pepper, garlic and basil, salmon, saffron, porcini mushrooms and olives.
As you dawdle about the mouth-watering stalls, do sample some jams (especially fig), and if you wish to take home some Italian flavor, delve into the great array of delicious savory creams made with truffle mushroom, arugula, artichoke, green olives with chili or porcini mushrooms, or grab one of the ready mixes for pasta sauce to delight family and friends back home with your own bolognese, arrabbiata or carbonara.
Arguably one of Rome’s oldest farmers markets, Mercato Trionfale opened for business in the late 19th century. Initially laid out along Viale Giulio Cesare then moved to nearby Via Andrea Doria in 2009, its stalls have been relocated to a brand new, huge complex still in Via Doria.
Open every day but Sunday (7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Friday), Mercato Trionfale lies in the city’s Prati neighborhood, a stone’s throw away from Vatican City, and it’s a favorite stop for holidaymakers who prefer homestays rather than hotels and enjoy trying freshly-learned recipes with the original ingredients.
As you step over the imposing threshold, you will find stalls on both sides selling delicious buffalo mozzarella, one of Naples’ many claims to fame. Continue on to discover a lush choice of all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables, mainly local and seasonal produce with some foreign exceptions such as mangoes, avocados and papayas.
Here you will also see some stands selling organic goods and products for vegetarians and vegans, along with different herbal teas, salad dressings and a good array of cereals. At the fish and meat stalls you will have the chance to complete your dinner shopping with fresh sea bass, prawns or swordfish, or a first-choice tenderloin for meat lovers. However, if you don’t want to miss the truly constant component on Italian tables, head right toward the end of the market to the long bread stall, where you can buy delicious baked products, from walnut bread to pizza to the flat oven-baked Italian bread, focaccia.
Mercato Trionfale is a 10-minute walk from Ottaviano metro station and many buses stop in Via Doria. If you plan on going by car, you can park in the underground pay and display parking area.
Nuovo Mercato Esquilino
In the heart of Rome’s most multi-ethnic neighborhood, Nuovo Mercato Esquilino was originally the suggestive street market lined up all around Piazza Vittorio. Dating back to the late 19th century, this farmers market was built near Termini train station as a stop for passing visitors. Surviving Italian Fascism and World War II, the market remained open-air in the piazza until September 2001, when it was moved indoors where it is now, in 184 Via Principe Amedeo.
Located between Termini train station and the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, and surrounded by colorful streets with Chinese, Indian, Pakistani and Afghani shops, the nearest metro is Vittorio Emanuele, but if you go by car, you can park in the underground parking area.
Divided into two main parts, one selling foreign textiles and clothes and one peddling foreign food products, this is the place to go if you are looking for spices, curries, Chinese noodles, tofu, halal meat, and any kind of beans and lentils. The usual grocery stands are enriched by exotic produce such as tropical fruits, Chinese cabbage, manioc and yucca, and the intoxicating scent of Indian spices inevitably makes you feel the atmosphere of a multicultural hub.
From soy sauce to coconut milk to Turkish bulgur, it is here that you can find all the ingredients you need for a perfect international meal.
Mercato di Piazza San Cosimato
Set up from 7 a.m. to about 1 p.m. Monday to Saturday in the center of Trastevere, Mercato di Piazza San Cosimato is busy with locals and tourists who usually prefer to rent a homestay and cook their own meals in order to directly soak in the community’s culinary traditions.
Dating back to the early 20th century, this market lures passersby with its first stalls displaying colorful fruits and vegetables. Located in one of the city’s popular neighborhoods, this street market is the perfect place to start exploring picturesque Trastevere.
Mainly a food market, vendors devote their stands to the local culinary tradition, selling goods from all over Italy with a special consideration for the region’s produce. The result? You’ll be pleased to find ingredients pertaining to the current season, such as the cherished artichokes, leafy vegetables such as the gently sour agretti and the green puntarelle, delicious both as a crunchy salad with a dressing of olive oil, garlic and anchovies, or slightly pan-fried.
The market also sells regional meat specialties, such as entrails and beef tail, and fish arrives fresh every morning from the nearest coast. Should you venture to the market with your beloved pet, be sure to visit the stall devoted to quality pet food, where there’s even the possibility to make special on-the-spot requests according to the pet’s specific needs.
If you plan to visit by car, you can park along Viale Trastevere. However, as this spot consists of a maze of narrow alleys, your best bet is to take tram 8 either from Trastevere train station or Largo Argentina, get off in Viale Trastevere and walk 10 minutes from there, sparing yourself Rome’s parking challenge and fully enjoying the lovely district with its quaint shops and medieval buildings.
Mercato di Testaccio
Recently moved indoors, Mercato di Testaccio lies in Testaccio, a working-class neighborhood along the Tiber River whose history dates back to ancient Rome. With English seldom spoken, this is the spot that tourists will experience a true taste of Rome’s genuine produce and soul.
Open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday, it offers a great choice of fresh seasonal produce, and along with pasta made with different types of flour, here you can also find exclusive stalls selling ready-made meals and regional delicacies, such as the sausage sandwiches proudly belonging to Roman gastronomy or the scrumptious Sicilian cassata (ice cream) and cannoli pastries artfully prepared by Costanza Fortuna of the bakery Dess’Art.
With additional sections devoted to clothes and shoes, Mercato di Testaccio is a favorite meeting point for people living in this area and also increasingly appreciated by tourists, who love taking a break from sightseeing to enjoy a freshly-prepared bite or to buy food gifts to bring home.
The nearest metro stop is Piramide, on line B, but you can also reach the market by bus via route No. 83 from Piazza Venezia. But if you’re planning on picking up lots of produce and don’t want to carry tons of shopping bags on public transportation, feel free to drive as there is an underground parking space to park your vehicle.
Photos courtesy of Angela Corrias