Rome Travel Tips from Katie Parla, Journalist

Conversations with Locals

Rome-based journalist Katie Parla is a food writer and cookbook author. She wrote about the sumptuous Roman dining scenes and expounded on its ancient food culture in publications such as Conde Nast Traveler, Bon Appètit and The New York Times. Her book Tasting Rome reads like a treasure trove of old world Italian recipes, straight from the tables of Rome’s renowned kitchens. Katie reveals where to go for an aperitif, the restaurants to avoid and the unlikely Roman classics to order.

Photo: Reva Keller

What do you feel defines Roman cuisine? 

Roman cuisine can be defined in a number of ways. We can think of it as the natural evolution of cuisine passed down from the Popes, peasants, and shepherds of the past with the important addition that a lot of what we eat in Rome is influenced by the food of the Jewish community, which was confined to a Ghetto by the Pope for centuries. We can characterise it by its main ingredients and techniques: Pecorino Romano, lamb, pasta, tomato-based sauces, offal, and seasonal produce; frying, braising, roasting.

What is the one local dish you feel travellers can’t leave Rome without trying? 

I’ll give one vegan dish and one that is the opposite of that. Cicoria ripassata in padella, a classic side dish of blanched, ideally wild, bitter greens that have been sauteed with extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, and peperoncino is a must try because it is nearly impossible to recreate elsewhere. I have tried. Roman cicoria is special. The other is rigatoni alla pajata. Everyone associates cacio e pepe and carbonara with the city. They are great. But ordering them is a no-brainer. Rigatoni con la pajata, pasta with the intestines of milk fed veal cooked in tomato sauce, is so profoundly and soulfully Roman. You would be hard pressed to find it anywhere else and it speaks to the Roman affection for offal, which I share.

What about your favourite restaurants?

I have so many! In the trattoria category I love Cesare al Casaletto, Santo Palato, Armando al Pantheon. All do classics with a few of their own spins on things. For coffee and pastries, I love Regoli. For coffee, I go to Sciascia for a classic experience and Faro for third wave.

Photo: Reva Keller

Where would you go for an aperitif?

I have a ton of go-to spots if I’m grabbing wine for aperitivo – Mosto’ in Flaminio, Litro in Monteverde Vecchio, Il Goccetto in Centro, La Mescita in Garbatella, Sorso in San Paolo, Il Vigneto in Pigneto. For cocktails, Mezzo in Pigneto or Fischio in Trionfale. I love Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa’ and Artisan for beer.

Photo: Reva Keller

You talked about the quinto quarto on Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy. It was born out of poverty, but it seems like a no-waste approach when it comes to Italian cooking. Do you think it is more relevant today in light of the emphasis on environmental sustainability?

In reality, the quinto quarto (offal and poor cuts) isn’t just born out of poverty. If you look at Bartolomeo Scappi’s work, he documents plenty of offal cuts for Papal consumption. Organ meats taste good so the Roman nobility wanted to eat them, too. Certainly some of the quinto quarto classics derive from a culture of poverty, but not exclusively. Absolutely a no waste approach is typical of Italian regional cuisines, but it was typical of every cuisine I know of before the mid 20th century when the world began producing way more food than its population could reasonably consume.

The sustainability question is an interesting one. In Rome, there is more food waste than ever and while offal cuts remain a feature of the cuisine today, they aren’t as popular as they once were and the hunger for prime beef cuts is out of control. The number of Italian owned steakhouses and burger joints in town has absolutely exploded.

As you were originally from New Jersey, what’s the difference between coffee in America and coffee in Italy?

In Italy, coffee is pretty much exclusively related to two production methods – espresso machines and moka pots, both inventions of the early 20th century. Espresso is consumed on its own or with milk (cappuccino being the most popular example of this), quickly as the name suggests. Moka, which is not espresso by definition due to the lack of pressure in the pot, is consumed at home also on its own or with milk. Neither tradition calls for large quantities of lingering over a cup, whereas in New Jersey we have a little bit of everything, from gas station coffee to Starbucks to more thoughtful third wave coffee shops. I suppose we can also add the Swiss-born Nespresso machine to both Italian and New Jersian coffee practices!

Name some tourist traps travellers should avoid in Rome

Any place with a table out front overflowing with pasta dishes, pizza, pre-made cocktails and withering produce! All the places in Piazza del Colosseo. There are many others, of course, mainly situated near tourist attractions, but there are exceptions and you can eat really well at Armando al Pantheon even though it’s 150 feet from the Pantheon.

Name one best kept secret of Rome

If you have €100 cash and “know a guy”, you can visit the Jewish Catacombs off the Appia Antica. There’s no lighting system so you go in with flashlights and walk through these underground burial chambers and it’s amazing.

Where would you go in Rome if you’re longing for the countryside?

The Caffarella Park. It’s incredible. There are grazing sheep, ancient ruins, rolling hills and it feels totally rural even though it is trimmed by a densely populated residential neighbourhood.


WHERE TO EAT IN ROME


Trattoria Da Cesare al Casaletto
Where: Via del Casaletto, 45, 00151 Roma RM, Italy
For: Roman classics

Santo Palato
Where: Piazza Tarquinia, 4 a/b, 00183 Roma RM, Italy
For: Carbonara and daily specials

Armando al Pantheon
Where: Salita de’ Crescenzi, 31, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
For: Offal specialties

Pasticceria Regoli
Where: Via dello Statuto, 60, 00185 Roma RM, Italy
For: Coffee and pastries

Sciascia Caffè 1919
Where: Via Fabio Massimo, n.80/a, 00192 Roma RM, Italy
For: Coffee

Faro
Where: Via Piave, 55, 00187 Roma RM, Italy
For: Third wave coffee

Enoteca Mosto’
Where: Viale Pinturicchio, 32, 00196 Roma RM, Italy
For: Aperitivo

Litro
Where: Via Fratelli Bonnet, 5, 00152 Roma RM, Italy
For: An extensive wine list

Il Goccetto
Where: Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 14, 00186 Roma RM, Italy
For: Small bites

La Mescita
Where: Via Luigi Fincati, 44, 00154 Roma RM, Italy
For: Italian wine bar

Sorso
Where: Via Ostiense, 187, 00154 Roma RM, Italy
For: Aperitivo

Il Vigneto
Where: Piazza dei Condottieri 26/27 00176 Rome, Lazio, Italy
For: Aperitivo

Mezzo
Where: Via del Pigneto, 19, 00176 Rome
For: Cocktails

Fischio
Where: Piazzale degli Eroi, 00136 Roma RM, Italy
For: Cocktails

Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa’
Where: Via Benedetta, 25, 00153 Roma RM, Italy
For: Beer

Artisan
Where: Via degli Aurunci, 7/9, 00185 Roma RM, Italy
For: Beer
 

WHERE TO GO IN ROME

Appia Antica
Where: Via Appia Antica, 42, 00178 Roma RM, Italy
For: Jewish catacombs

Caffarella Park
Where: Via della Caffarella, 00179 Rome Italy
For: Rome’s countryside

Florence Travel Tips from Franco Mazzetti, Florentine Menswear Consultant

Conversations with Locals

Florentine menswear consultant Franco Mazzetti gives his pick for the mandatory schiacciata stop, where to find Italy’s long lost tailors and how you can avoid eating unsavoury food in Florence. 

Photo: Men In This Town

What is the one local dish you feel travellers can’t leave Florence without trying? 

The richness and abundance of choices in Florentine cuisine make it quite difficult to find a single dish to recommend. Let’s say that those who come to Florence should not leave before having tasted a Fiorentina steak. Obviously you can’t even give up tasting the famous ribollita soup.

In any case, walking through the streets, I would highly recommend stopping at one of the kiosks scattered around the city and ordering our street food for excellent food, the famous sandwich with lampredotto.

What about your favourite restaurants?

A very large space would be required for this answer. To mention one restaurant rather than another is really difficult also because there are many extremely valid places in Florence, where you can eat well at fair prices. Notwithstanding the fact that Florentines prefer to go to restaurants around Florence that are out of the tourist crowds of downtown, I will answer this question simply by citing the places I most love to frequent in the city.

I’ll mention three places where I like to eat and would recommend to a friend – Trattoria dei 13 Gobbi, All’Antico Ristoro di’ Cambi and La Buca dell’Orafo.

As for the cafés, I can only recommend a good glass of wine and a small truffle sandwich at Procacci, after which an obligatory stop at Caffè Gilli in Piazza della Repubblica.

Obviously, a visit to the Antico Vinaio, the most reviewed restaurant in the world by Tripadvisor, is mandatory, where you can give room to your imagination by ordering your schiacciata with any filling you want and where you will be amazed by the quantity of ingredients you will find inside. 

Name some tourist traps travellers should avoid in Florence

To tell the truth, I could not say that there are real traps in which tourists can fall. Rather, I would say that there are many places, especially restaurants, that sell ingredients that very often come from large-scale supermarkets and come with very high prices as Tuscan cuisine. Here, what I would like to recommend is to always pay attention to what you eat. Thank goodness today there are websites like Tripadvisor that manages to warn the most unwary.

Are there still many of such restaurants in Florence?

Unfortunately, it is very common to come across restaurants or trattorie that sell ingredients that are of low quality as high quality products. Obviously, the main problem that is worth pointing out concerns the main dish of our kitchen, the Fiorentina steak. The quality of the meat must necessarily be the Chianina loin. Unfortunately, some use other types of beef, often from foreign countries which obviously have a lower price but are passed off as meat of this quality. My advice is to ask for the certificate of origin of the steak when ordering. Every restaurateur is obliged to show to those few customers who know they have this sacrosanct right to know before ordering.

What’s the perfect itinerary to explore Florence? 

Florence is the tourist’s dream because its entire history is contained in a few square kilometres. The most beautiful monuments and buildings are all very close to each other and it is extraordinary to walk through the streets of the historic center, because it is a succession of emotions.

The only place outside the center that a tourist should visit is the splendid view from Piazzale Michelangelo, easily reachable in 20 minutes by bus, alongside which stands the wonderful Basilica of San Miniato a Monte. Even the museums are close to each other even if, given the large crowds, booking via the web is essential.

In my opinion, all a tourist has to do is reach the center and walk calmly through the streets of the city and they will be amazed to see how much history will pass under their eyes in a very short period of time.

Is being well-dressed part of the Italian culture? 

Absolutely yes. The Italian elegance that gave rise to “Made in Italy” is still very much present and deeply felt today. Cities like Milan, Naples and Florence are still tied to the tradition of being well-dressed.

Milan, the undisputed Italian financial capital, still sees extremely elegant men and women wandering the streets of Brera today. The great sartorial culture of the Neapolitans is still well rooted. In my personal point of view, the elegant Neapolitan man is the best expression of a relaxed elegance, not showy but absolutely full of charm. Florence, which still has a strong sartorial tradition, underwent strong Anglo-Saxon influence after a very high number of British citizens in the period following the Second World War decided to move to the surrounding countryside, especially in Chianti, which later became famous as Chiantishire.

As can be easily understood, this peaceful invasion has given life to a mix of style between the rigorous Florentine style and the English country. Hence the birth of the Anglo-Florentine style.

Photo: Fabrizio Di Paolo

Where do you go for tailored suits in Florence?

Unfortunately, the evolution of modern times, let’s call it globalisation, has decimated the myriad of small tailors that were once well represented in town. Many of my older dresses have been expertly crafted by the expert hands of tailors who unfortunately had to stop their activities. Currently, my outfits are supplied by companies and tailors based from various parts of the world.

Among the few safe addresses for tailors still present in Florence, I would mention Liverano and Liverano, l’Antica Sartoria Cisternino and, last but not least, the small Sagliano tailoring where the young Rosario, tailor of Neapolitan origins by family tradition, operates in the historic center of Florence in the Oltrarno area.

I would also like to give some advice for those looking for a highly prestigious pair of shoes that are meticulously and completely handmade. Roberto Ugolini Shoemaker, also located in the Oltrarno area, is one of the few remaining artisans of indisputable mastery.

Will the art of the tailored suit disappear from Italy?

No, I don’t think so. Although many of the old tailors have disappeared and despite also a sort of small “invasion” that in recent years has seen some of the most important Italian tailoring “brands” acquired by Japanese and Korean tailors, I would say that the Italian tailoring tradition is now well alive and rooted.

This is thanks to a generation of young tailors, who in the vast majority of cases, have learned this art from their family tradition. Not only that, I can also say that I see more and more interest in the tailoring world, almost every day on Instagram, I receive requests for information from young and very young followers, which gives me hope for a return to this beautiful way of dressing.

Do you have a tip for men who want to be well dressed?

The same advice that I always give to those who ask me this question is to seek their own style without forcing or unnecessary refinements. ALWAYS feel comfortable with what you are wearing, whether it is a tailored suit or an inexpensive suit, it is always necessary to try to convey the same message. Security, kindness and understatement. As I always say, however, the use of good manners comes first because they are by far your best business card.

WHERE TO EAT IN FLORENCE


Trattoria dei 13 Gobbi
Where: Via del Porcellana, 9R, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
For: Florentine steak

All’Antico Ristoro di’ Cambi
Where: Via Sant’Onofrio, 1R, 50124 Firenze FI, Italy
For: Tuscan cuisine

Buca dell’Orafo
Where: Via dei Girolami, 28/R, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
For: Tuscan cuisine

Procacci
Where: Via de’ Tornabuoni, 64R, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
For: Wine and truffle sandwiches

Caffè Gilli
Where: Via Roma, 1r, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
For: Coffee and pastries

All’Antico Vinaio
Where: Via dei Neri, 76R, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
For: Schiacciata
 

WHERE TO GO IN FLORENCE

Liverano and Liverano
Where: Via dei Fossi, 43, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
For: Tailored suits

Sagliano Concetti Sartoriali
Where: Borgo S. Frediano, 47 rosso, 50124 Firenze FI, Italy
For: Tailored suits

Roberto Ugolini Shoemaker
Where: Via dei Michelozzi, 17/R, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
For: Handmade shoes

Piazzale Michelangelo
Where: Piazzale Michelangelo, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
For: A view of Florence

120 Hours in Tuscany – What to See, Eat & Do

Italy

It’s a clear day in Tuscany as warm sunlight blankets a stretch of chartreuse green. Italian cypresses line the roads, curving through hilly grasslands to unending vineyards, solitary hilltop towns, and saffron-coloured farmlands. At the brink of twilight, a nonna (Italian grandmother) is calling out to her family for dinner as she brings out the feast.

Tuscany is the crown jewel of the Italian tourism scene, and many have swamped the accessible cities where the tourist buses go. Yet, there is an understated beauty that still lurks in uncharted territories that surprises at every bend of the road. 

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THE WINERIES

Many associate Tuscany to its thriving wineries – after all, the undulating countryside of well-manicured greens are a result of vineyards and wineries that have been around since the 8th century. Drinkers and non-drinkers alike wine trip through this hilly region in search of the Tuscan reds. Castello della Paneretta stands tall in the Chianti region, where you can take a tour through the castle grounds. A wine tasting there includes pairing the wines with bread, cheeses and cold cuts.

Drive through the cypress-lined path to Poggio Antico for their Brunello di Montalcino wines. If you can spare a meal in the country, head to the winery’s restaurant to feast on Tuscan flavours and uninterrupted views.

For the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, head to Azienda Agricola Poliziano. You will be taken through the vineyards and cellars before the wine tasting. 

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THE TOWNS

Pecks of old-world towns dot the hilltops – a stop at any one of these is a must, to get acquainted with the Tuscan vibe. Many speak of glorious towns like Siena, Pisa and Lucca, but it’s the unsung hero towns that give you a peek into the people’s everyday lives. A long way down south of Florence is Pienza, home to pecorino cheese. Pienza has some of the best views of the Val d’Orcia due to its high vantage point. A visit to any of the cheesemongers there will get you stocking up on a plethora of cheeses (truffle cheese, pistachio cheese, and what have you). Just a few kilometres east and west of Pienza are the towns of Montepulciano and Montalcino for impromptu wine tastings at bars and more stunning views. 

Hands down, the best way to stumble into an obscure town is to drive aimlessly, not caring where you end up in. That is the spirit of exploring Tuscany – to let it surprise you. 

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THE FOOD

When it comes to Tuscan food, it has got to be meats, cheeses, olive oil, and plenty of good wine. Tuscany is one of the few regions in Italy where you can find Chianina cattle. This fabled beef is what makes a mouthwatering piece of Florentine steak. Ragus (meat based sauce) are what Tuscans pride themselves on. Ground meats are stewed for hours with tomatoes, celeries and carrots, and served spooned over homemade pappardelle sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan cheese. For more on what to eat here, check out the eating guide

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ROOMS

The expanse of the Tuscan countryside means that there is plenty of room for country houses, which were erected during the days of old. Over time, these copious dwellings have been converted into swanky bed and breakfasts for travellers. On top of being a winery, Castello della Paneretta has a villa that can house ten to eleven people next to acres of sprawling vineyards. Never mind the sheer size of the villa or the glistening swimming pool, it’s the ambrosial meals cooked by the hosts that guests rave about. If you want to take home a recipe or two, you can always go for the cooking class. 

For those who love the city and everything abuzz, Le Tre Nonne in Florence is an affordable accommodation with antique rooms and a hearty Florentine host who’s more than happy to share with you every nook and cranny of the artistic city. 

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