Art historian, academic, gastronomist, and curator of curiosities: Lisa Schultz has been eating her way through Rome for years. I had the chance to talk to this inspiring woman, who edits her life frequently and ruthlessly. Read about how she is combining her passions and skills in a unique way.
All eyes on Lisa Schultz
By nature unmistakably a multifaceted woman with numerous interests, Lisa has degrees in business, art history, and gastronomic sciences. Over the years, she found a way to combine her passions and use all her skills in an environment that suits her cosmopolitan and inquisitive being. Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin (USA), today she divides her time between her hometown and the Eternal City, Rome, where she not only spent many years working as an art historian, but today also studies, offers tours, and teaches about Italian food, its origins, the people and stories behind it.
Cold Brews and Lake Views
Even though Lisa grew up in Milwaukee, part of the so called “Third Coast” famous for its cold brews and lake views, food did not play an important role when she was growing up. It was only later that cuisine sparked a curiosity that expanded into her everyday life and career. Her interest in marketing and advertising led her study business in college. But it was her passion for art, specifically Italian art, that motivated her to return to school to study art history and later teach university courses on Ancient, Renaissance, and Baroque art in Rome.
As a cultural art historian Lisa always put the meaning and interpretation of art first and taught her students how to appreciate paintings; to understand a painting you need to understand the social, religious, political and cultural climate in which it was made. You need to consider the dynamics of the commission, the artists, the patron. Like art, food provides an excellent lens to understand people, place, and identity. Leveraging her knowledge and experience into art, food and culture tours in Rome and the surrounding area seemed like a good fit.
When the love for food makes you move countries
It was back in 2016 that her culinary focus and personal interest for regional producers and their stories motivated Lisa to take a very important and courageous decision that changed her life completely. It simply seemed the right time to pack her bags, leave the United States and move to Bra in the Piedmont region of Italy. This is where she started a Masters in gastronomic sciences, specializing in “Food of the World”. During her time at Pollenzo’s famous Slow Food University UNISG, she learned more about food and identity, how food makes connections, builds community, and how food can provide important links to memory and home. A lot has changed since then and her focus of food has become even stronger. Today, all the things Lisa has done so far are unfolding and allowing her a unique perspective and interdisciplinary approach to food.
It’s important to understand where our food comes from, how it’s produced and how it effects our body and health as well as the health of the planet. I’m trying to bring the positive lessons from the European food system back to the United States. And yes, even one single person can make a difference!
An ambassador for Italian food & taste
Keeping a bottle of champagne in the fridge and having a Masters degree in gastronomic sciences does not make her a “food snob”. Sometimes there’s nothing better than good old fast food like burgers or pizza!
My signature dish? It’s chicken nuggets!
Nevertheless, dividing her time between Rome and Milwaukee for years has taught her a lot about food. Especially that quality is key! Dishes can be extremely simple yet extraordinarily tasteful if you use high quality ingredients. And the great thing about Italy is that you can buy fresh meats and produce every day of the year at one of the local farmer markets. Definitely a more difficult task when back in the States where farmer markets are just open on Saturdays and Sundays, or seasonally.
It feels like Italians have their priorities right. They care about their friends and families, they have a specific sense of community. Something that I’m sometimes missing back home in the States. This is what makes coming to Rome feel like coming home!
Bringing some of her knowledge about food back home to the States is one of Lisa’s goals. One thing everyone needs to understand is that they need to eat seasonal, that not everything can always be available. As long as people are making demands for non-seasonal food nothing will really change. There needs to be more understanding for the hard work of farmers who should also be paid more for their products, and chefs need to offer more local and seasonal fruit and vegetables in their menus. Change is definitely happening, just slowly. But even a single person can make the difference! A personal connection to producers can also help understanding the importance of a radical change.
Lisa’s Market Research & Tours
It is a given fact that it’s always best to discover a city’s hidden beauty with someone who knows the city very well. Chances are you’ll quickly fall in love with Rome then, too. Lisa helps travelers discover the Eternal City’s hidden gems during her art and food food tours that explore Rome’s diverse markets exposing visitors to the Italian approach to food and fresh produce. Focusing on returning travelers, those who are not visiting the city for the first time, her goal is to dive deeper, reveal the city as she sees it. All food tours are structured by rione (district) and every rione has its own specific food tradition that people living there identify with.
I came to Rome, first to study art history and later to teach it. I make any excuse to come back and stay as long as I could. I did research, came on holiday, gave tours at the Vatican and other outstanding museums … I know this city so well that it just became the obvious choice for me to start my food tours here versus anywhere else in Italy. Rome reveals her beauty slowly. I really believe that if you see Rome with someone who knows the city well, who has been deeply in love with it for years, you have no choice but to fall in love with it too!
The unspoken market rules
There’s truly no better place to discover the real Italy than in the markets of its capital, and Rome’s markets are every foodies heaven. Most of them are not touristic at all! If you want to discover the real Rome, simply head over to one of the many markets to stroll through the halls, talk to the vendors, gaze at the extremely colorful stands and enjoy some great street food. Many of these markets have been there for decades and have become the social center of their districts.
But be aware! There is an entire unspoken set of customs at Italian markets!
- Don’t touch before you buy! Let the vendor select your fruit and vegetables or kindly ask them if you are allowed to pick everything on your own.
- Be true to your vendor! Loyalty will always get you the best produce and they will let you try something for free, too.
- Ask the vendors! You don’t know how to prepare a specific vegetable or dish? Talk to the vendors. They always know best and will probably also pass you their family recipe.
Discover Rome’s markets
A trip to the markets can become one of your most memorable foodie-experiences in Rome. Buy some fresh snacks, ask the vendors for a recipe and try some of the best street food you will get in Rome. I visited the following markets in Rome with Lisa. Check out her insider tips!
1. Campo de’ Fiori
Campo de’ Fiori, open Monday – Saturday from 7am – 2pm
This is probably the best-known outdoor market in the center of Rome. This historical market place has existed for over 400 years and is a must-visit in any Rome guide. Beware of anything that is multicolored and do not buy anatomically shaped pasta! Even though this market is very touristic, you can find some vendors selling good produce for reasonable prices.
Insider tip: Come here in the morning and if possible with a local or a market guide. Get yourself a piece of pizza bianca at the Forno Campo de’ Fiori and stroll through the market while snacking on it. Also, check out our Campo de’ Fiori foodie highlights.
2. Mercato di Testaccio
Entrance in Via Beniamino Franklin, Via Alessandro Volta, Via Aldo Manuzio, Via Lorenzo Ghiberti, open Monday – Saturday from 7am – 3:30pm
The Mercato di Testaccio is of the best markets in Rome. Housed in a modern, covered building it is home to some of the best vendors in town! You can find everything here: from meat and fish to fruit and vegetables, wine and cheese, as well as fashion and home decor. Make sure to plan some time to see it all. On the one end of the market you’ll find housewares and clothes. On the other end there are numerous street food stands. Have only a small breakfast before going there. There’s so much you need to try!
Insider tip: Go there in the late morning, stroll through the market, pick up some olive oil from Lazio, some fresh local cheese or maybe an olive wood cutting board for your loved ones and then head over to Mordi e Vai (box 15) for lunch. This street food stand is selling panini filled with traditional cucina romana specialties!
4. Mercato Trionfale
Via Andrea Doria 41 (with several other entrances), open Monday – Saturday from 7am – 2pm, Friday from 7am – 7pm
The Mercato Trionfale is very known to locals but often goes unmentioned in Rome guides. Opened in the late 1800s as an open-air market, today it has moved indoors. It is located in the residential neighborhood near the Vatican and caters to locals rather than to visitors despite its vicinity to the Vatican. It is one of the city’s oldest and most authentic neighborhood markets, and also one of the biggest ones in Italy. Over 270 vendors are selling everything from fresh produce, meat and fish, fruit and vegetables, to home goods, shoe repair and more.
Insider tip: Check out Da Peppino near the main entrance at Via Andrea Doria 41. This stall has been selling fresh eggs at the market since 1924. Today they also have some organic honey and jams.
5. Mercato dell’Unità
Via Cola di Rienzo 245 / Piazza dell’Unita 53, open Monday – Saturday from 6:30am – 7:30pm
Unlike most other markets in Rome which close in the early afternoon, the indoor Mercato dell’Unità stays open until late. Located only about 10 to 15 minutes walking distance from the Mercato Trionfale, this fruit and vegetable market is housed in a white, arched neo-classical building from the late 1920s in the Prati neighborhood.
Insider tip: If your stay in Rome is a bit longer, come here to buy fresh fruit and vegetables and have a snack at one of the street food stands.
3. Nuovo Mercato Esquilino
Via Principe Amedeo 184, open Monday – Saturday from 7am – 2pm
The Nuovo Mercato Esquilino just around the corner from Piazza Vittorio, is actually one of Rome’s oldest markets and probably the only one that does show that some things about the Eternal City do change. It is a highly interesting melting pot of cultures. This market is known as Rome’s ethnic market. It has one of the best fish markets in town and you’ll find exotic fruit, vegetables as well as fresh Halal meat here. The vendors, their products and the clients come from all over the world. It is definitely not a touristic market, which makes it even more interesting and will make you discover a completely different angle of Rome.
Insider tip: Step into this souk-style market, ask the vendors how to prepare some of the strange-shaped vegetables and how to use the many exotic spices.
Lisa’s top 5 tips for your holidays in Rome
- Do as the Romans do! Be open to absorbing Rome’s culture.
- Be a traveler, not a tourist! Know something about Rome before coming here. Read a book about Rome’s history or some historical fiction.
- Research a lot before coming to Rome or take a guided tour with someone who knows the city very well.
- Take your time: if it’s your first time in Rome, make sure to stay for at least 3 to 4 days to get a good introduction.
- Come back and discover the city’s hidden beauty: you’ll leave unfulfilled if you just come once! Remember there is so much more to see: there are 600 churches, dozens of museums, artisans, and more!
You have to come back to Rome because there are not enough meals in a day!