Day 1a: Groceries!

Having stayed in a highly touristy area of Rome, I have to say that grocery shopping and cooking ourselves felt like one of the most authentic food experiences we had. It’s why I really recommend finding an AirBnB or similar for your stay. You will be able to make it our own little home away from home and have a place to clamp down on sensory overload, that we’ve never really been able to replicate at hotels. Eating out in Italy is different enough from the US that it is that much more overwhelming. Some of our most spectacular meltdowns at home have been at restaurants, so having an alternative in a new country with a different language and culinary customs was key. Cooking in is soothing for our family; if it is for you/yours too, then definitely check out AirBnB or Booking.com for a “whole apartment to yourself.”

There is very little translation in the grocery stores, so this was the one place where we were immersed in Italian and had to put our Intrepid Italian for Travel, and Beginning A1 and A2 to use. All of the food packaging is in Italian and the grocery store clerks don’t really speak English, even in the touristy sections of Rome.

We made some food discoveries we just wouldn’t have recognized while only eating at restaurants. These were our revelations and who knows what is in store for you!

  • Valerian leaves in salads! My mozzarella di Bufala at the tourist trap came with a curious salad leaf I couldn’t identify but absolutely loved. When we were shopping at the “Pam Local” market, I saw the same leaves in the salad section and exclaimed: “valeriana? is that valerian? no way!” You see, in the United States, we only have dried valerian root which we use to make a very stinky tea (smells like dirty socks, to be honest) to help you fall asleep. I had no idea the leaves were crispy and taste almost like watercress but are lighter and snappier. Needless to say, we took armfuls of Valerian salad home to our appartamento and munched on it gleefully. I thought I took a picture, but I must have been too busy eating. I am a really terrible food blogger, I admit it! But, then again, you’re supposed to eat food, not just take photos of it. 🤣
  • Focaccelle: this is our family’s new found guilty pleasure! It was ridiculous how many of these packages of “small focaccias” we went through. They are even made by Barilla for cryin’ out loud. But, this Barilla product is not available in the US, as far as I can tell. So, we brought one package home and have somehow managed to save it and savor it (unlike when we were in Italy and caused the Pam Local market manager to not understand why he was experiencing “a run on those recently” 🤣). I wanted to try to find this in the US, so I did take a picture of the package
  • Groceries are so much cheaper in Italy than in the US (at least in Oregon) — even in the tourist area! The better way to avoid the tourist restaurant mark-up is to dine in, not succumb to the cheaper, lower quality restaurants in the tourist district.
  • Grocery store wine is good and really inexpensive. We live in wine country in the US. We rarely drink wine from grocery stores at home anymore. In Italy, in desperation on our first night when we got in late and half our baggage was missing, we grabbed a €6 bottle of wine at Pam (about US$6.50), and it was great. We even went so far as to spend €12, but that was the most expensive wine available and it was also great.
  • Bring Your Reusable Bags! I brought a strong, insulated, reusable grocery bag with me and was glad I did. Some of the groceries stores do not have bags available at all, not even to buy and I didn’t know enough Italian to ask for a box or something else. There were a couple times when we decided to grab food on our way back from an attraction and we ended up carrying in it our hands since we didn’t plan to grocery shop and didn’t have the bag with us. I’d also bring one of those smaller ones that folds into its own pouch and keep it in my purse for such occasions.

Last, it took us a few days to get the hang of ordering and eating out in Italy and in the meantime, I got totally overloaded on pasta e pane at i ristoranti (I couldn’t lay off it either!). Eating in was our chance to buy our own veggies and eat them in the order we wanted. 🤣 It was also fun to post photos of what we were cooking ourselves in Italy, like this one:

Pasta alla casa Walker-Tovino!

Buon appetito!