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Testaccio, the pungent, blue-collar neighborhood, is in the heart of Rome and the birthplace of the rugged Roman Cuisine known as the quinto quarto (fifth quarter). From 1890-1975 Testaccio was home to the slaughterhouses of Rome. Here the meat was taken apart in quarters. Distribution went like this: Prime quarter went to nobility, second quarter to the clergy, third quarter to the bourgeoisie, fourth to soldiers. The “fifth quarter” of offal makes up about one-forth of the carcass’s weight. These rejected nasty bits of heads, tails, hearts, lungs, glands, intestines, feet, and esophagus went to the average Giuseppe of Rome. Slaughterhouse workers also took parts of the quinto quarto home as part of their pay. The name quinto quarto was born along with an entire cuisine around offal.
After 1975, the scent of blood left with the slaughterhouse closures, and the neighborhood started changing. Nightclubs and discotheques moved into the buildings vacated by the slaughterhouses. Testaccio now has laborers, young families, and the upwardly mobile mingling together. The old restaurants are still there and still serving quinto quarto specialties.
I'm not in the Andrew Zimmern or Anthony Bourdain category when it comes to adventurous eating, but I did try the pajata, animelle, trippa and coda. I am now a firm believer that all stews and ragu should be made with coda. I chickened out when it came time to bite into milza (maybe the next trip). I found that venturing even a little out of your eating comfort zone not only opens your mind and palate, but it also brings strange stares or welcoming smiles to the waiters' faces. They're just not used to hearing these dishes ordered from a pale-skinned redhead in obviously foreing- accented Italian.
Here’s a bit of menu translation to help you navigate your way through the quinto quarto menu:
Zampi or zampetti – feet
La pajata – intestines from a suckling lamb (either stewed in tomato sauce and served with rigatoni or grilled
Testarelle – head (usually roasted)
Trippa – stomach (usally stewed in tomato sauce)
Coratella – heart, lung, esophagus (sautéed with the purple globe artichokes of Rome—because those artichokes make everything good)
Coda – tail (makes a dense and meaty stew or pasta sauce)
Animelle – Sweatbreads (usually grilled)
Milza – spleen (usually grilled or stewed)
Cervello – brain
Fegato – liver
Zinna – cow teets
While you can find the traditional offal dishes of Rome throughout the city, the eateries in Testaccio specialize in traditional quinto quarto cuisine.
Checchino Dal 1887 (via di Monte Testaccio 30) Still in its original location in Mt. Testaccio. Mr. "Checchino" opened while they were building the slaughterhouses. He was very sly and got a license to cook food just in time for the hungry workers’ arrival. He cooked the food they were used to eating. This third-generation restaurant still serves up some of the best offal in Rome and has an exquisite wine cellar and sommeliers to perfectly pair wine with your offal choice.
Agustarello a Testaccio (via Giovanni Branca 98) Another traditional Testaccio trattoria, it's decades old and filled with locals, and specializes in Roman offal cuisine.
Da Bucatino and Felice a Testaccio, which I've mentioned for their pasta dishes, also have tasty offal choices on their menus.
(Next topic on the Food in Rome will be on the sweeter side. Gelaterie of Rome and a recipe)
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