Picnicking in Rome
A picnic fit for a Roman emperor
Picnicking is one of my favorite Italian meals: fresh bread, creamy cheeses, spicy salami, salty prosciutto, gooey pizza or calzone, ripe fruit, tangy olives, flaky pastries, fizzy water, and a bottle of wine—you can eat like a Roman emperor for less than $10 a person.
Plus you can enjoy a picnic in Rome practically anywhere: on the steps of a medieval church, on a curb by a fountain on a piazza, on a grassy bit of lawn overlooking the Colosseum by the Roman Forum, up on the Palatine Hill or Gianicolo Hill, in the Villa Borghese park, or simply back on your hotel room balcony.
(Just steer clear of the major monuments. Many monuments in Italy are now off-limits for panino munching, gelato licking, and even just plain old sitting on the steps—including the Spanish Steps, Coloseum, and Pantheon.)
Finding the freshest picnic pickings in Rome
When it comes time to put together that picnic to enjoy sitting around the fountain of a piazza, on your day trip, or just back in the hotel room, you can visit a string of little Roman food shops:
The panificio or forno can provide breads and pastries, a fruttivendolo is for fresh fruit and veggies. A latteria sells cheeses, vini olii or enoteca carry bottles of wine, and an alimentari (little grocery store) is good for packaged goods, salamis, drinks, and a bit of everything else.
How much food to get for an Italian picnic
You can order by the kilo (2.2 pounds) or mezzo kilo (half a kilo), but most people order in their foods in grammi (grams). One hundred grams is nicknamed un etto, which is slightly less than a quarter pound.
When you're throwing together a picnic for 2–4 people, usually one etto each of two cheeses, another etto of prosciutto, and an etto of olives (or whatever)—added to a loaf of bread, bottle of vino, and some fruit—somehow ends up being just the right amount.
Roman food markets
For the absolute best and freshest in raw ingredients, and a true Roman experience, nothing beats hitting the stalls of an outdoor food market, camera in tow.
Here are some of the best food markets in Rome's centro storico:
- Campo de' Fiori has flower stalls at one end but food throughout the rest.
- In Trastevere, head to rectangular Piazza San Cosimato.
- North of the Vatican there's an indoor market at Via Cola di Rienzo 53/Piazza dell'Unità, but I prefer the Via Andrea Doria market a short walk north and west that occupies the block between Via Santamaura and Via Tunisi (just past Largo Trionfale).
- The stalls on Piazza Testaccio fuels the kitchens of the neighborhood's working-class trattorie.
- The hugest Roman market by far is on Via G. Giolitti (which runs along the south edge of Termini train station).
Markets tend to open Monday through Saturday around 7am. The best pickings are in the earliest hours, when you might bump into your trattoria owner from the night before selecting the ingredients for this evening's bounty.
By noon many stall owners are starting to pack up, the bread bins are full of only crumbs, the best bell peppers are gone, and the lettuce is wilting.
By 1pm most markets are deserted save for a few cats pawing through the leftovers.
- Quick bites in Rome - Roman fast food, snacks, and other quickie meals
- Dining in Rome / Rome Restaurants
- Typical dishes in Rome
- Wine bars in Rome
- Pizzerie in Rome
- Gelato in Rome
- Italian dining norms
- Useful Italian phrases for dining
This material was last updated February 2011. All information was accurate at the time.
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