It may seem odd that me, a vegetarian, is also a little obsessed with food when I travel. It’s not that I’m a foodie. It’s more like, well, when a girl’s got to eat, she’s got to eat. I tend to get a little cranky if I’m not well-fed. So, I’m always on the lookout for my next meal and always have a snack in my bag. Just in case.

I’ve also discovered in my travels that one of the best ways to really understand and enjoy the local food is to take a culinary tour or cooking class (and a combination of both is “winning,” as they say).

In Rome, do like the tourists, and get to know the Romans through their spectacular food.

Eating Italy Food Tours

I spent four glorious hours on the Taste of Testaccio tour. This guided excursion flows through one of Rome’s working-class neighborhoods. Though the area is going through a bit of revitalization (i.e. gentrification), traditional shops abound and are a draw to locals and tourists alike.

  • Chocolate pastry

  • Bowl of pasta

  • Me with my hand-made pizza

  • Chocolate cookies

  • Peppers at the market

  • Gelato

  • Cannolis

  • Tonnarelli pasta

  • Mini tiramisu

Throughout the four hours (scheduled over lunchtime), our group visited a gourmet food store packed with everything from cheeses, to meats, to chocolates; two bakeries; the Testaccio Market; and restaurants and small shops serving up local fare (yes, including pizza and pasta). We sampled some of the best and most authentic food I’ve tasted in Italy and, honestly, my eyes tear up (it was THAT good) when I think about the tonnarelli pasta at Flavio al Velavevodetto. It’s a pasta that’s difficult to find in the U.S. and out of my budget ($18 with shipping for 8.8 ounces!).

Cost of tour

: 65 Euros (approximately $85 U.S. per person)

Eating Italy also offers a Twilight Trastevere Food Tour (including food and wine tastings). The nighttime tour of this popular neighborhood is in one of Rome’s most ancient and happening sections of town.

Cost of tour: 79 Euros (approximately $103 U.S. per person)

Walks of Italy

The folks at Walks of Italy have a wide range of tours they run in Rome (and beyond), but don’t miss the Rome Food Tour that includes visits to markets, bread shops, restaurants, a coffee shop, and ends with a pizza-making class. Throughout the tour, a local guide will teach you about the finer points of Italian eating, cooking, and drinking. As you visit the market stalls and eateries, you’ll try local meats, cheeses, breads, olive oils, and more. You’ll finish the tour with a pizza-making class and Italian coffee.

Viewfinder Tip: Though walking, come hungry, as you’re eating all along the way.

A pizza snob myself (hey, I’m from Jersey), my husband never shared my snobbery. He was finally sold on pizza after this class and now he, too, has become as snobby as I, preferring thin crust brick-oven pizza to the thick crust of some of those, ahem, chains.

Cost of tour: 59 Euros (approximately $77 U.S. per person)

Cooking Classes in Rome

If you’re strictly looking for a cooking class without the tour, try Cooking Classes in Rome. Their five-hour lesson, held in the Trastevere neighborhood, includes a four-course meal with such highlights as homemade (you make!) pasta, sauces, meatballs, pesto, stuffed squash blossoms, artichokes, roasted peppers and, of course, tiramisu for dessert.

Cost of class: 65 Euros (approximately $85 U.S. per person)

What are some of your favorite Italian food finds?