Anyone who has ever been to Rome has probably passed through Termini Station. Until recently it’s not been a place you would want to linger. There were a couple of coffee bars, newspaper kiosks and a McDonalds or two. The station was rife with pickpockets and drunk homeless folk. Those guys are still around, truth be told, but there has been a big effort to jazz the place up over the past several years. Now there’s a nice department store, Sephora, a Moleskine store where I get my notebooks (used by Hemingway, Picasso and van Gogh among others, doncha know), a two-story bookshop (Borri Books) with an excellent English language section, a huge Benetton, a bagel store (I haven’t tried this yet — has anyone? The bagels look authentic enough but Italian bagels are usually just round bread rolls with some seeds strewn on top. Like brunch, of which bagels are a critical part, Italians just don’t get it), a whole load of decent burger, sandwich and juice bars, a fancy chocolate store and much else besides. I have to say this about Italy: it eventually catches up with America’s great innovations (e.g. microwaveable popcorn, train station malls), it just takes about 20 years to get there. In fairness, Italy was several decades ahead of America in the racist/misogynist/sexual assaulting/fascist/orange/criminal/money and fame whore head of state sweepstakes.
Just over a month ago, restaurateur Umberto Montano opened Il Mercato Centrale in a former piano store at the Via Giolitti entrance of Termini. Isn’t that a weird store to be in a train station? I can imagine purchasing many items as I’m waiting for the 6:52 to Torino — coffee, magazines, maybe some fancy chocolate or stockings (which kind of makes it sound like I’m an American GI going to Torino in 1943), but a piano is definitely not one of them. The Rome market is a follow-up to Montono’s hugely successful Florence Central Market, which gets three million visitors a year.
The Rome Central Market is like a foodie’s food court on steroids. About 15 artisanal stalls are arranged around a square on the ground floor. The market floor is dominated by the ‘cappa mazzoniana’, a gigantic marble hood designed by architect Angiolo Mazzoni in the 1930s. Many of Rome’s foodie superstars are here: famed pizza/breadmaker Gabriele Bonci, Beppe the Cheese King of the Ghetto, the Galuzzi family, which has been selling fish in Rome since 1894, the so-called ‘Guru of Meat’, Roberto Liberati and Stefano Callegari, the inventor of the much ballyhooed trappizino. This is a triangular pieces of dough, which is baked and stuffed with fillings like chicken cacciatore, meatballs, braised oxtail, cuttlefish or tripe. There are places to get pasta, super fresh local vegetable dishes, ice cream, chocolates, truffled everything. You can take out or eat at the market: communal tables in the middle of the hall seat 500 people. The first floor of the market is occupied by a restaurant overseen by multi-Michelin star-winning German celebrity chef, Oliver Glowig. The second floor is for conferences, events, etc.
Whether or not you need to pass through Termini Station next time you are in Rome, check out the Mercato Centrale. It’s worth the trip.