I was in the prep phase of a 7 day juice fast and my daughters were still on their winter holidays and feeling a bit bored so we decided a quick trip to Piazza Vittorio in the Esquilino neighborhood was in order. Many moons ago The Beehive was in this neighborhood and my daughters spent their formative years dodging dog poo and syringes. Despite that – we have very fond memories of this area. I guess you could say it was where we “cut our teeth” in Rome.
One of the hearts of Piazza Vittorio was its former market – you can see it in the scene from the 1948 Vittorio De Sica film “The Bicycle Thief” where he looks first for his stolen bicycle – yup, the old Piazza Vittorio market. In 2001 it moved from its decades long location to a new indoor center and re-named Nuovo Mercato Esquilino. The area has changed a lot since then, but there are lots of gems hidden in the rough and so we decided to spend the afternoon walking around the old neighborhood again without much of a plan.
First stop was Forno Roscioli at via Buonarroti, 48. The cousin of the more famous Antico Forno Roscioli near Campo dei Fiori, we like this place much better for the incredibly kind and congenial staff who talk to strangers as if they have known them for years. The clerks there are beyond patient despite the hordes that mob their counters especially during the lunch rush.
We managed to get a table and the girls enjoyed their pizzas while I ate cooked vegetables the whole time cursing my restricted diet before my fast and coveting their crispy slices of piazza bianca and Roscioli’s supplì (arborio rice balls made with tomato sauce and a piece of mozzarella stuffed inside, breaded and then deep friend – delish!)
Next we walked through Piazza Vittorio on our way to Mercato Esquilino. This market is fantastic! Besides all the wonderful seasonal produce you’ll find here, this is also one of only a couple markets in town where you can find a wide assortment of non-Italian ingredients – vegetables and fruit such as sweet potatoes, avocados, plantains, yucca, cilantro and all kinds of spices, legumes and beans.
We did our shopping and the girls were good sports about going around and around the market. I always end up buying more than I really can carry, but they helped me with my bags and in turn I thought now was a good idea for a gelato break so we headed over to the Palazzo del Freddo Giovanni Fassi, a mouthful of a name for one of Rome’s oldest gelaterias (since 1880). It’s the only true ice cream parlor type shop left in Rome. While there is better gelato to be had in Rome, you don’t just come here for the gelato, but also for the experience. Unfortunately, they happened to be closed for the holidays so there were some unhappy campers in my group, but I tried to stay positive and we continued along.
We decided to go through Piazza Vittorio again and this time stopped at the little kids playground in the park that has games and some electrical rides. Giulia and Paloma who are 12 and 10 respectively were physically too big for the rides which are for the 6 and under crowd, but Viola was happy to be able to take their place and her mood switched.
As I mentioned, the original Beehive was in this neighborhood and now every time I am in the neighborhood, I must make a pilgrimage to Panella, one of my favorite coffee bars. Despite it being on the pricey side, it’s worth it to me to come here for an excellent cappuccino and freshly made, warm out of the oven pastries in the morning instead of the stale, cardboard tasting poor excuses for pastries that are found at most Italian bars. This place feels homey to me – despite not having lived in the neighborhood for many years – the older women who have been working for their years still remember me and our daughters are captured in time in their memories as little babies.
I am of the school of “never come over to a friend’s empty handed” when coming over for dinner and these exquisite sweet treats from pasticerria Regoli will have your friends inviting you again and again! Regoli was founded in 1916 and has a steady stream of loyal customers. Pick up some of these tortine alle fragoline for a tiny taste of creamy pastry heaven.
Unfortunately, Piazza Vittorio and the neighborhood of Esquilino get a bad rap from guidebooks and I’ve made it one of my missions to post things here from time to time that will hopefully show the area in a different light. Many expat residents and Rome experts like Gillian Longworth McGuire of the Rome for Expats guide share my appreciation of the area and look underneath its sometimes gritty surface. Piazza Vittorio has tried to clean up its act over the years and this sign in the park for me spoke volumes. It’s a great combo of providing information as well as provoking people to think beyond what they can immediately see and open their eyes to the fact that we are indeed sharing the space with others. These others may not be as visible, but in this often crazy, chaotic city, need the trees and the grass as much as we do no matter which neighborhood it’s in.