Garum? Damn near killed 'em
April 12, 2018 9:18 AM   Subscribe

We're going to be in Rome and Naples and I would like to buy some garum and Lachryma Christi but have no idea what too look for to not buy overpriced tourist garbage. Help?

I guess I'm basically asking for brands/labels/etc. to look for because I have no idea what I am looking for except for "authenticity" and even then I'm not sure. For the garum I don't want to buy just some random fish sauce branded "garum" but something that is made at least close to the Roman type. For the Lachryma Christi I don't know much about wine but my wife does so we just need something to go on.

Also please let me know what I shouldn't spend more than on either. I'm certainly not looking for top-tier stuff, just something that tastes good and isn't pawned off on tourists who don't know any better like me. Last time we were in Europe (Barcelona) we were more than pleased with 12-15 EUR bottles of wine.
posted by griphus to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Lachryma Christi is a DOC so in a sense anything calling itself that is "authentic"

For who the better producers are looking at something like Cellertracker will usually point you in the right direction, and the notes will say who are the better producers or anyone really outside of the main stream (but again DOC generally means there is some required tipicite)
posted by JPD at 9:44 AM on April 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

For the garum, I have a hunch you may do well by simply looking for the proper name. Hear me out - I actually had to Google "garum", because I was under the impression that it hadn't been served in Rome since the days of Caesar. And I found this article, which claims that the modern-day equivalent of garum is now called colatura di Alici. So my hunch is that if you do see "garum" for sale, that might be the stuff that's for "pfft, here's the clueless guy who doesn't know the difference between ancient and modern Rome - yeah, give him that bottle, he won't know the difference", but if you ask for colatura di Alici, that'd be "oh, that stuff, yeah. Yeah, we have that over here."

The prices I'm seeing are pretty spendy, but I'm only finding "shops that import from Italy to the US at great cost" (i'm seeing between $25 for a teeeny bottle and $75 for a 100g bottle), so the simple act of buying it there may cut down on cost.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:48 AM on April 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't think there's enough documentation about how garum was actually produced (let alone anything like a recipe) to identify any particular product as more "authentic" than another. Sadly. I'd love to try it as well.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:49 AM on April 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Last year when we were in Rome, we went to the Roman version of Eataly, and found a lot of delicious expensive stuff that we have enjoyed ever since. BUT, we also agreed we won't do it again because it is out of the way and not worth the trip. In central Rome, there are many supermarkets and stores that are sort of hidden, but have all sorts of delicacies. The area close to Campo di Fiori has a lot of them. I guess that would be a place to try.
When in Italy, I always buy anchovy paste in tubes, which is not garum, but which is useful for many purposes. Lachryma Christi should be pretty easy to find.
Once my aunt lived in the Prati area where there is a great food market and tons of shops. I haven't explored it since she lived there, but I'd guess it's still on.
posted by mumimor at 10:13 AM on April 12, 2018

This bbc article Says that recipes for garum have been developed based on ancient writing and modern archaeological findings, and also links to a cookbook with a recipe.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:28 AM on April 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I just did a quick look to confirm my suspicions and a not too recent chowhound post suggested that you can buy Colatura di Alici at Volpetti, a specialty food shop in Testaccio. The shop is pretty amazing, its stuffed to the gill with meats, cheeses and other specialty goods - they make some pretty amazing sandwiches (just give the guy a suggestion of something you like and let them tell you what to get - the semi dry cherry tomatoes are incredible) and if there are hot fried things coming out of the back to be set on the counter you should probably buy one immediately.

Its popular with tourists but not really all that touristy - and the staff are friendly and happy to help you in English.

If you aren't too burdened by the weight of your purchases, you can take your sandwich or picnic up the hill to the Giardino degli Aranci to eat with a view. its a short walk up the hill and on the way to the park/garden you'll pass a pretty great keyhole view of st peter through the doorway of another church - it not a view worth waiting in line for but if your passing by its worth a quick look. When we went to volpetti in 2013 they had printouts of a map to guide you from the shop to the Giardino, but theyre hardly necessary since its basically up the hill on the street across from the shop.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 10:52 AM on April 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

For garum you're quite frankly better off in any Asian supermarket back home.

Ancient Roman garum was a highly varied product produced over a long period of time in a huge area, made with different fermentation methods and recipes and species, none of which are incredibly well understood. While there are anchovy-based preparations and sauces in regional Mediterranean cuisine there's really no directly descended product (possible exception being Colatura di Alici, which isn't very widely used and doesn't really reflect the place garum had in Roman cuisine). Southeast Asian cuisine, on the other hand, has innumerable fish and shrimp-based condiments that probably more closely resemble the available range of garum in the Roman world.
posted by Rust Moranis at 10:52 AM on April 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

Castroni is another excellent option for fancy foods in Rome, with two branches in the center so you don't have to get all the way down to Testaccio, and they also carry Colatura di Alici; but I agree with others above that the most direct analog is more likely to be something along the lines of fish sauce.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:07 PM on April 12, 2018

We just got back from Rome, and I can vouch for Volpetti - very nice staff, with quite fluent English, so you can be very clear about what you want.
The nearby Testaccio Market might also have what you want, but without the English fluency.
posted by dbmcd at 2:28 PM on April 12, 2018

If you are going to look for Asian fish sauces with high protein content then the two I would recommend are Red Boat and MegaChef. In ancient Roman recipes liquamen is the nice first draw of garum and then the worst levels, muria, would be fish dregs with boiled water. There is a very nice paper on garum, "In Defense of Garum" by Curtis. But the colatura is probably the last surviving remnant of a very ancient sauce and the one you would want. But affordability and ancient Roman cooking says SE Asian fish sauce.
posted by jadepearl at 9:03 PM on April 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

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