I used to crave American food when I moved to Italy. Oh my god what I wouldn’t do for some Hot Cheetos, and some Reeses’ peanut butter cups.
Thankfully, my palate has grown up a little bit, and I now crave pasta if I skip it for more than a day or two. However, I still cannot subsist on Italian food alone. I love it, but I need a little variety in my life.
Luckily, in the past few years, the number of good ethnic restaurants in Rome is increasing. Confined by space and minimal interest, Italian supermarkets are not a bastion of cutting edge food choices.
You can, however, find gluten-free products in many regular markets and almost every neighborhood has a “supermercato biologico” to fulfill all your quinoa and raw bee pollen needs. A great one in Spazio Bio in the Città dell’Altra Economia.
Looking for more than just kamut pasta? Here are 7 of the best places to find specialty and international ingredients in Rome:
- Mercato Esquilino (Via Principe Amadeo, 184): The best one stop shop for international food in Rome. The Esquilino market has over 100 stalls selling everything from sweet potatoes, to bulk black-eye peas, whole coconuts, as well as pots and pans. There are halal butchers and fresh fishmongers. Importantly, the Esquilino market is the best place in Rome to get fresh cilantro (called coriandolo in Italian), and to pick up pretty much everything you could possibly need for a feast. Sellers come from Italy, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Central/South America. You can find almost anything.
- Selli International (Via dello Statuto, 28/30): If you missing Betty Crocker mixes and maple syrup, look no further then Selli International. The small but well stocked store has a mix of health foods, baking bits and an impressive selection of international drinks. Everything from prepackaged meals to unprocessed grains can be found here.
- Castroni (12 locations in Rome): Castroni is a Roman institution. The brand is best known for specialty coffees and high end Italian candy, but also traffic in corn tortillas and the occasional box of fruit loops. Castroni sometimes comes at a higher price tag than Selli International for many of the same foods, but its multiple locations across the city make it the most convenient choice when you really need something like Libby’s canned pumpkin for a Roman Thanksgiving.
Le Spezie del Guru (Via Lamarmora, 15): A true Southern California at heart, I need a hot and spicy kick to my meals every now and then. I love Le Spezie del Guru for anything and everything needed to whip up an Indian feast at home. There is a whole section devoted to rice, but also shelves and shelves of spices and mixes, as well as some pre-made meals if you are short on time. Natural beauty supplies dominate the entrance, and there is also a fair selection of gluten-free foods to keep everyone happy.Closed 🙁
- Emporio delle Spezie (Via Luca della Robbia, 20): This tiny Testaccio shopped is packed floor to ceiling with goodness. Best for hard-to-find spices or spice blends for the lazy (me). The cajun blend is great for chicken, and this is where I always go when I need sumac. In addition to spices and herbs, Emporio stocks specialty teas, dried fruit and some cereals. Not sure what to make? The shop also offers recipe cards with suggestions.
- Pacific Trading (Via Principe Eugenio, 17/19/21): One of the largest supermarkets offering Asian ingredients in Rome. The focus is very much on Chinese foods, and you will find everything needed to snack or whip up a meal from home. I usually go for wonton wrappers and sauce ingredients, but can never pass up a few packs of haw flakes even if the dye may or may not kill you.
- Sklep polski u Michala (Viale Trastevere, 233): I hate mayonnaise with a passion, but every now and then I need a little bit of sour cream in my life. If you are planning a taco night, head to Sklep polski u Michala in the Porta Portese area of Rome. This polish shop is stuffed with cheeses and soup mixes, but also always has sour cream and perogies in the fridge.
If you want to avoid running all over the city, the greatest concentration of these shops is in Esquilino (Mercato Esquilino, Selli International, Le Spezie del Guru and Pacific Trading). There are also many many many more in the Esquilino neighborhood.
A great resource, if you speak Italian or trust google translate, is Roma Multietnica. Here you can search by country to find cultural events, markets and restaurants.
P.S. All of these international stores are great for preparing Thanksgiving in Rome. You still need the turkey! Make sure you go to your butcher at least a week before and request a whole turkey. Most butchers will order one for you, but merely need to plan ahead. Keep Italian oven sizes in mind when ordering because the butcher will get the bird based on weight.
Did I miss any? Happy eating!