Tips for exploring Rome’s outdoor markets

Mercato di Campo de’ Fiori in Rome, Italy
At the Mercato di Campo de’ Fiori. Photo by Carmen Alonso Suarez.

While it’s not hard to find a supermarket in Rome that carries all of the essentials on your grocery list, there’s nothing like scouring a mercato all’aperto (an open-air or farmers’ market) for the freshest fruits and veggies.

Ah, yes. Shopping at these markets is a real Roman rite of passage and the perfect chance to get a glimpse of real Italian culture. Once you step inside (or rather, outside), it’s a maze of tents and booths with vendors shouting “Un euro!” and begging for your business.

But you have to be smart. It takes guts and skill to master the art of picking out the perfect fruit and haggling the price down. I’ve come up with some tips to help you smooth over the transition from shopping at a supermarket to the mercato all’aperto in order to help you get started.

1.  Browse before you buy

Before I buy anything, I take out my list to see what exactly I need to buy and then I browse the tents to get an idea of who’s offering what. In other words, don’t buy the first thing you see. Not all vendors have the same prices. In fact, you may find a few with prices much cheaper than their competitors.

Mercato Trionfale in Rome, Italy

The Mercato Trionfale. Photo: threelayercake.

2. Bring lots of change (or small bills)

Many of the items on your list could cost less than a euro or two, which means you’ll need lots of change, or spicci (or small bills at least). Don’t even think about walking into a mercato and trying to pay with a €50 bill. They will definitely turn you away.

3. Make it your lunch spot

If you’re smart, your trip to the mercato could also turn into a cheap lunch spot. For example, if you head over to the Fornaio or the Panificio (the bakery stand), grab yourself a slice of pizza. Or if you feel like making yourself a sandwich, ask for a rosette or a ciabatta, two common sandwich breads. (You can even ask them to cut it open for you.)

After you’ve grabbed yourself some bread, head over to the stand where they sell cold cuts and cheese and ask for “un etto di prosciutto” (100 grams of Italian ham). If that’s too much, you might ask for “cinquanta grammi di prosciutto” or “mezzo etto di prosciutto” (50 grams of Italian ham).

4. Know what’s in season

Be informed as to which fruits and veggies are in season before you buy. Though you may see vendors selling produce that’s not in season, it won’t taste as good as fruits and veggies in season. Here are some of the most popular fruits and vegetables that you will find in Italy and when they’re in season:

Asparagus (asparagi): March – June
Eggplant (melanzane): July – October
Figs (fichi): July – September
Oranges (arance): January – May and November – December
Squash/Pumpkin (zucca): September – November
Watermelon (angurie): July - August

For a comprehensive list of produce and their seasons, check out this food calendar for vegetables and this calendar for fruit.

Where to go shopping

The two most popular mercati all’aperto in Rome are the Mercato Trionfale and the Mercato di Campo de’ Fiori.

Mercato Trionfale
Via Andrea Doria (corner of Via Tunisi) – Vatican/Prati area
Hours: Monday-Saturday from 7:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

The Mercato Trionfale is the largest outdoor market in Rome—and one of the largest in Italy. It has over 250 booths specializing in fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, bread, pizza, clothes, toiletries and more.

Mercato di Campo de’ Fiori

Piazza Campo de’ Fiori
Hours: Monday-Saturday from 7:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

The Mercato di Campo de’ Fiori is much smaller than the Mercato Trionfale, but it’s just as famous because of its picturesque square and its close proximity to everything in the historic center. The market features a few produce stands, spices, fish and flowers.

About the author

Nicole Arriaga
About the author: After her first trip to the Bel Paese in 1999, Nicole Arriaga knew she would one day return permanently in search of the good life. Before moving to Rome in 2003, Nicole worked as a TV producer and a writer in sunny Miami. She has written for Fodor’s, Insight Guides, The American and various other travel publications. She currently works as a freelance writer and as a programs coordinator for a study abroad organization in Rome.
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