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 the Amalfi Coast – What to See, Eat & Do

Italy

In the blazing heat of the Italian summer, the entrance to the Amalfi Coast is a sight for sore eyes. Houses and terraced vineyards sit atop undulating precipices against the bluest ocean. The ride on the coastline is beguiling in the picture-perfect scenes that surprise at every twist and turn. In the evening, the coast glows like a placid dream. Along the Italian Riviera, the towns light up to form a trail of stars. Elsewhere, glasses of limoncello clink.

Many have claimed the romance of the Amalfi Coast, and few would contradict that assertion. It is a place where the sweltering sun rays melt into a sultry warmth for sunbathers lounging on the golden sand. Where boats are waiting in front of summer villas, ready to whisk day trippers away. Where every dinner is preceded by an endless flow of aperitivi. In every season, in every decade, the Amalfi Coast still stuns the well-travelled. 

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POSITANO

Positano sparkles like a jewel on the coast, with ornate buildings climbing down a cliff that falls sharply into the ocean. A trip here will cost in parking, but the jaw-dropping views it affords are not to be missed. These views are best enjoyed from the balconies of Le Sirenuse.

Once a summer house of four Neapolitan siblings, the hotel is now the vacation home of the upper echelon. The rooms are designed with an eclectic mix of Italian antiques, mosaic-patterned cushions and cream-coloured linens. Doubles start at €470. Also on the premises of Le Sirenuse is the ultra-chic Franco’s Bar, where Negronis are paired with sunset panoramas.

But of course, the celebrated Il San Pietro di Positano will never be forgotten as the 19th century villa hang gracefully off a cliff edge. At the foot of the hotel is the guest-only beach club. Tangerine sunbeds and umbrellas gather on a cove accompanied by a bar. Private charters on a yacht and cocktail masterclasses are also available. Doubles start at €442. For another sun kissed view, Residence Villa Yiara is an adults-only hotel with bougainvillea-clad rooms. Doubles start at €230.

From Positano, a five minute boat ride brings you to Da Adolfo. This beach shack hidden from footpaths does grilled local fish, mussel soup and mozzarella on lemon leaves. Saraceno d’Oro is also a crowd-pleaser for being friendly on the wallet, and for the vongole and seafood pasta. The best finisher to a meal there will have to be the limoncello shots. 

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RAVELLO

Unlike the glitz of Positano, Ravello enchants with a sonata. It is little wonder that Ravello is the stage for the Ravello Festival of music at the Villa Rufolo, a 13th century villa with a well-manicured garden of climbing figs, hydrangeas and umbrella pines. Ravello’s villas and gardens are like the museums of Florence, and the Villa Cimbrone Hotel and its garden the masterpiece. Owned by the Vuilleumier family, the estate is a favourite of the literary set. The hotel is furnished with frescoed halls leading into 19 bedrooms and an outdoor tea room. Doubles start at €300. On the same grounds is the English garden. It can be hard to leave once you set foot on the path rambling along the rose gardens, the shaded walkways dripping with wisterias, and the unrivalled view from the terrace leading out to the ocean that knows no end.

You will most certainly pass by Villa Maria towards the town square from Villa Cimbrone. The hotel breathes old-fashioned Italian style. Small, family owned, marble staircase, and mahogany furnitures that look centuries old. The hotel only has one restaurant and that is the only restaurant to be. The menu is made up of produce from the garden sprawled below the outdoor dining area, overlooking the valley.

Back in the square, the most talked-about restaurant is Mimi Pizzeria. You get the classic margherita or prosciutto crudo di parma, and contemporaries like the Mimi – San Marzano tomatoes, anchovies, garlic burrata and lemon zest. The outdoor dining area is perfect for having a slice under a vine-covered canopy. 

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CONCA DEI MARINI

The biggest draw to Conca dei Marini is the Grotta dello Smeraldo. Visiting this Emerald Cave is uncomplicated – a staircase, an elevator and a boat tour. A less than 5 minutes car ride away is Fiordo di Furore, an inlet that narrows into a fishing village. In the late afternoons, the beach there is a sanctuary for some unobstructed swimming. For food, Le Bontà del Capo is best known for its lemon and ricotta ravioli. Ask for the outdoor area seating that juts out into the ocean for the best views. 

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PRAIANO

Praiano has always been the one for affordable stays within reach of Positano, but really there is more than meets the eye. There is the view. The buildings seem to be etched vertically into the cliffs, and staying at Calanteluna will make you feel like you are at the edge of the coast. This small bed and breakfast has a casual beat to it. The occasional homemade lemon cake and lemon juice in the afternoons. The after-dinner laughter and cheer resonating from the floor below. Doubles start at €90. Then there is the food without the crowds – La Strada for the seafood risotto, or Kasai for quiet dinners by the sea. 

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