In urban North America, when we think of a farmer’s market, we typically think rural, road-side food stands, or the temporary ‘country in the city’ popup markets set up seasonally in urban parking lots adjacent to Starbucks. Not so in Rome.
Even in as cosmopolitan a city as Rome, authentic markets can be found in neighbourhoods everywhere, and these aren’t just temporary kiosks that appear for a couple of months a year. Enjoying fresh food is at the heart of Roman life, so it’s no wonder you can find year-round markets in the very heart of this city.
One of my favourites is Campo De’ Fiori in Rome, named “Field of Flowers” after the meadow it once was in medieval times. One of the oldest piazzas in the city, Campo de’ Fiori has been used for everything from horse markets to public executions, including the burning of the philosopher and monk, Giordano Bruno, whose forbidding statue seems to preside over the piazza. Fortunately, since 1869, the piazza has been used for more pleasant activities when it became the site of the market that remains there to this day. Here, six days a week in the early pre-dawn morning, vendors set up their fully-stocked kiosks to sell everything from fresh flowers to fresh cheese. The beauty of this market is that it isn’t a staged tourist attraction even though it is right in the historic centre of the city, a few streets off from some of the most-visited sights in Rome. Locals from the neighbourhood shop here regularly, making this a daily stop for fresh produce, meat and fish.
But even if you’re only passing through, and you’d like to pick up some fresh fruit, or sample a local cheese with a loaf of freshly baked bread, Campo de’ Fiori is a great place to forage. Just do it early in the day, because by early afternoon the entire market is packed up, the streets washed, cafe tables and chairs set up for the surrounding bars and restaurants, and not even the lingering odour of the fish booths remains to bear witness to the fact that the market even existed.
Until the next morning, when it happens all over again.
If you miss it, not to worry – you can still enjoy Campo de’ Fiori by indulging in another authentic Roman tradition – taking a seat at one of the piazza’s cafes, and enjoying an espresso that doesn’t come in a trademarked cardboard cup.
TIP: This is a really central area if you choose to go the rental apartment route, since it is close to Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, bus routes to the Vatican, and a short walk across a pedestrian bridge to Trastevere, which has a hopping nightlife and restaurant scene. But if you do find a place really close to Campo de’ Fiori, you will likely hear the market setting up in the wee hours, so keep your windows closed if you’re a light sleeper.