When in Rome, do as the Romans do: Shop like a local at one of the great food markets. Just as important as visiting the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navone, and the Vatican is experiencing Italian cuisine and there’s no better place to start than at the source of all great Italian food, the ingredients. Take an empty tote bag and your appetite and andiamo to one or all the food markets listed below.
1. Mercato Campo De’ Fiori
Centrally located near many of the important tourist sites such as the Piazza Navone and the Pantheon, Mercato Campo de’ Fiori is a popular market for locals and tourists. It’s the oldest open-air market in Rome, dating back to 1869, and started off as a place where women who owned or worked on farms would come to the city by train to sell their freshly grown produce and herbs. On any given day you will still see some of these women, mostly in the middle section of the market, busy cleaning and trimming their produce before they put it on display. Another colorful piece of history about the market was that it inspired a 1943 Italian film of the same name, Campo de’ Fiori/The Peddler and the Lady, and starred a young Anna Magnani. The comedic plot is about a female fruit vendor who falls in love with a fishmonger.
Initially just selling fruits and vegetables, over the decades it began to expand and sell other food products such as cheeses, meats, and flowers.
Walking through the compact market, there’s a maze of white canvas umbrellas and underneath them is where merchants hawk their wares. Besides the fabulous food, it’s also part flea market with vendors selling housewares and leather goods such as purses, belts, and wallets.
There are several other food shops behind and on the sides of the market with cheeses, pasta, and meats.
Mercato Campo de’ Fiori is open Monday to Saturday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is closed on Sunday.
2. Nuovo Mercato Esquilino
What differentiates the Nuovo Mercato Esquilino from the other markets in Rome is that it’s an international food market. Organized by category, Nuovo Mercato Esquilino is over 100 years old and located in a multi-ethnic neighborhood, close to the main train station of Rome, Termini. The diverse and colorful market has foods and delicacies from China, Romania, Senegal, Morocco, and many other countries.
Nuovo Mercato Esquilino is open from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday and is closed on Sunday.
3. Mercato Testaccio
Mercato Testaccio is just as much a food market as it is a tasting market. Walk through the aisles of the indoor market and savor the best street food of Rome with dishes such as suppli, a delicious, deep-fried rice croquette (similar to the Sicilian arancini); carciofi alla giudia, an ancient dish of fried artichokes; trapizzino, which has a pizza-like dough which is stuffed with various fillings such as baked eggplant and cheese, chicken with tomato sauce, meatballs, and a vegetarian/vegan version with a parsley pesto; porchetta, a sandwich stuffed with pork, garlic, fennel, and rosemary; and pinsa, a particular kind of pizza with an oval shape.
You can hop from stall to stall and enjoy treats such as potato croquettes at Food Box (Stall 66), fresh-made pasta at Le Mani in Pasta (Stall 58), pizza made with the freshest ingredients at CasaManco (Stall 22), and panini’s stuffed with oxtail, tripe, meatballs, and cheese as well as piadina, sandwiches made with flatbread with various fillings. For a greener option, try Zoé (Stall 59), which has freshly made salads and other Italian specialties.
There’s seating in dining areas to have your takeout food around the market. Mercato Testaccio also offers stalls with clothing, fashion accessories, and shoes.
The market is open Monday to Saturday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is closed on Sunday. Since the market is open so early, you can go for breakfast and have pastries and a cup of espresso or a macchiato.
Pro Tip: The market gets very busy at lunchtime with locals, especially on Saturday, so best to go before noon to beat the lunch crowds and the lines.
4. Mercato Centrale
If you are arriving or leaving Rome by train at the Termini station, leave extra time to visit Mercato Centrale. Opened in 2014, the sprawling, sparkling indoor market on the lower level of the station has top-quality artisanal food stands.
Some of the more popular stalls include Fausto Savigni, a high-quality butcher offering various cuts of meat and cold cuts which come from their cattle farm in Pavana in the Italian countryside; Pier Daniele, which has a unique kind of pizza, a combination of Neapolitan and Roman style, served with unusual toppings; the Luciano Savini shop, selling highly coveted truffles from Montanelli, a village famous for truffles; Beppo Giovale, specializing in Italian goat, sheep, and cow cheeses from the Piedmont mountains; and Egidio Michelis, which has been around since 1919 and makes fresh pasta with free-range eggs, Piemontese beef, fresh vegetables, and cheeses. For vegans and vegetarians, Marcella Bianchi prepares hearty and healthy dishes such as sandwiches with bread from a Florentine bakery, vegan cheeses, salads, and vegan burgers, and has a juice bar. The Ercoli family has been selling high-quality wines since 1928 and their stand here serves organic and biodynamic red, white, sparkling, and rosé wine by the glass.
In recent years, Rome has embraced ethnic cuisine, which was difficult to find here before. If you crave American food there’s the Enrico Lagorio shop, which serves hamburgers with superior, organic meat from prized cows from Tuscany, along with grilled onions, vegetables, and potatoes. They also offer a hotdog made with Tuscan pork. Asian cuisine is included in the mix, too, and you can have sushi with all-Italian ingredients at Donato Scarti and ramen noodles, authentic gyoza, and onigiri at the Akiro Yoshida stall.
Don’t forget to satisfy your sweet tooth with pastries from the De Bellis brothers and gelato from Günther Rohregger, with the finest ingredients including 100 percent Domori single-origin cocoa, lemons from the Amalfi coast, Indonesian cinnamon, and vanilla from Madagascar.
For serious foodies, Mercato Centrale has a two-star Michelin restaurant, La tavola, il vino e la dispensa, where chef Oliver Glowig takes the best of regional Italian cuisine and elevates traditional dishes to a new, modern level.
Mercato Centrale is open every day, 365 days a year, from 8 a.m. to midnight.
5. Mercato Trionfale
Renting an apartment or Airbnb is a great idea if you want to have an authentic, local experience in Rome. One of the advantages of renting an apartment is having a kitchen where you can prepare meals with ingredients from local markets. Mercato Trionfale, near the Vatican, is the largest food market in Rome, and one of the largest in Europe, with 273 stands featuring fruits, vegetables, seafood, meats, and pasta, but there’s no takeout food. Peruse the aisles filled with fragrant fruits and vegetables and fresh-caught seafood, and don’t be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the market. The sections are categorized by color — green for fruits and vegetables, red for meat, and blue for seafood.
There’s a section of the market that sells non-food items such as clothing, shoes, leather goods and accessories, hats, toys, and Christmas ornaments at holiday time.
Some of the highlights of the Mercato Trionfale include the unmissable La Mani Pasta (Stall 229), run by Anna Maria Moretti with homemade lasagna, fettuccine, and gnocchi, and da Peppino (Stall 192), a third-generation, family-run business that has been selling organic eggs and produce, honey, and jellies and jams since 1924.
Mercato Trionfale is open Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and is closed on Sunday.
Eataly is an international food store chain stocked with thousands of the best Italian food products and has locations around the globe in major cities including New York, Paris, Las Vegas, Boston, Seoul, Dubai, Tokyo, and Chicago. The first Eataly opened in Turin in 2007 and then proceeded to open branches throughout Italy and the world. The massive complex is four stories covering over 170,000 square feet. The main floor has a selection of separate food stalls with pasta, cheeses, produce and vegetables, meats, and packaged foods intermixed with a bakery, cafes, chocolates and pastries, and sandwiches.
On the second floor, there’s a pizzeria, a pasta and seafood restaurant, and wine and craft beer stations. The third floor also has a selection of formal restaurants with classic Italian cuisine and the Bosco Umbro restaurant, headed by prestigious Italian chef Paolo Trippini. Eataly offers cooking classes in their fourth-floor kitchens with renowned Italian chefs, and classes include pasta and pizza making, chocolate making, pastries and desserts, and cooking classes for children plus wine tastings.
There are two Eataly locations in Rome, the larger one is in the Testaccio neighborhood, near the Ostiense train station, and the second, smaller one is in the Termini train station.
Eataly is open 9 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week.