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Rome Survival Guide: How to Shop for Food in Rome

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  • Rome Survival Guide: How to Shop for Food in Rome

Grocery Shopping in Italy: A Fun Guide to Finding the Best Ingredients in Rome

One of the true pleasures any food lover can experience in the Eternal City is exploring the city’s small delicatessens, bakeries, and markets. For many Romans, shopping for food is a social activity rather than a chore—it’s a chance to interact with and support the local community. With a strong focus on quality over quantity, if a product doesn’t live up to expectations, locals will simply not return. On the flip side, if they’re impressed, they’ll keep coming back and spread the word to friends and family.

After just a few repeat visits, stallholders, butchers, cheese sellers, and fishmongers will become your friends. Your loyalty will be rewarded with friendly service and, more often than not, favorable prices. The rule of thumb is to greet the vendor with a cheery “buongiorno,” ask questions, and listen to their advice. Romans love to talk about food and will be happy to share their family’s culinary secrets if you show an interest.

Here’s your fun guide to grocery shopping in Rome:

At the Market…

Most neighborhoods in Rome have their own fresh produce market open Monday to Saturday, from early morning until just after lunch. The fruit and vegetables found at the market are generally of better quality than those at supermarkets and change throughout the year with the seasons.

Fun Fact: In Italy, it’s frowned upon to help yourself at the stalls. Vendors love to aid and assist your choices, often inquiring about what you plan to cook to ensure you get the right ripeness or variety.

Pro Tip: Produce is priced by the kilogram, so you can order by weight, number of pieces, or simply say “basta così” (that’s enough) when you have the right amount. Sometimes, if you buy several items, vendors might throw in some fresh herbs for free or round down the total for a little discount.

At the Deli…

Rome’s delicatessens (which can be called pizzicheria, norcineria, salumeria, gastronomia, or other names) are wonderful places to shop for ready-to-eat supplies and discover new types of cured meats and Italian cheeses. Prices are displayed either by the kilo or by the etto (100 g), so order by weight.

Fun Fact: Many delis operate with a number system—look for a little distributor, take your number, and wait your turn. Often, shopkeepers will let you try before you buy, but it’s not good practice to sample several items and leave without purchasing anything.

Pro Tip: Many delis also sell bread and will happily make you a sandwich on request—a great-value way to have an authentic and delicious lunch in Rome.

At the Butcher…

Shopping at the macellaio (butcher) can be slightly intimidating, especially if you’re not familiar with the Italian vocabulary. Cuts can differ from other countries, making it difficult to find the exact equivalent. The best approach is to explain the recipe you’re planning and how many people you’re cooking for, then let the butcher guide you.

Fun Fact: Once you establish a good relationship with your butcher, you can order more specific meats and cuts in advance.

At the Bakery…

The forno (literally ‘oven’) sells a selection of sweet and savory baked goods, from various types of bread to biscuits, pastries, and often pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice). Everything is sold by weight, so you don’t have to buy a whole loaf—just ask for a half or a quarter.

Fun Fact: Italians like to avoid throwing away food, particularly bread, so being able to purchase the exact amount required helps cut down on waste.

At the Fishmonger…

The pescivendolo or pescheria can be a little overwhelming, but the quality and freshness compared to the supermarket are worth it. In Rome, the main days for fresh fish are Tuesday and Friday, and shops might be closed or have limited supplies on other days.

Fun Fact: Fish and seafood are generally sold as-is, but most vendors will offer to clean or fillet your selection, saving you a tricky job at home.

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