Katie Parla—scholar of Italian cooking, tour guide, and cookbook author—may be the best possible person to eat with for a day. Fresh off writing her latest book, Tasting Rome, she invited me for a day of feasting, Roman style. Who would say no?
10 a.m., Prati neighborhood
We meet at La Fiorentina, a 1940s bakery filled with every brilliant idea Roman bakers has ever had, from bomboloni (cream-filled donuts) to sturdy little biscotti. I’m going full Parla, so I order her usual: a doppio macchiato and a danese, an Italian Danish, both knocked back quickly at the bar. It’s all to fortify us for a trip through the nearby Mercato Trionfale, one of Rome’s classic farmers’ markets, and somewhat of a conservation project for Katie, who shops here frequently. As we zigzag past boxes of chicory curls and fat sardines on ice, I think it’s everything you dream of an Italian market being, and yet “the markets aren’t thriving,” she says. “They’re only open from 9 to 1, and most young people can’t shop then, so I spotlight great vendors on my blog and on my tours to help lead people to their stalls.”
10:45 a.m., La Tradizione, Cipro station
Katie introduces me to La Tradizione, one of the few authentic delis in the city. “A lot of people presume that Rome’s deli counters are stocked with pristine artisanal products," she tells me. "In reality most of what is sold at local food shops and supermarkets comes from factories. La Tradizione, however, is that mythical place people imagine.” And there’s certainly some magic to the tiny space, which somehow contains 400 different cheeses, a tower of fresh pasta, salami of all stripes, and a glass case densely packed with everything from purple-black olives to fresh burrata, Katie’s favorite in the city.
1 p.m., Quartier Trionfale
We’re huddled with other fanboys and girls in front of Pizzarium, Rome’s most famous purveyor of pizza al taglio, the rectangular street-food pizza that Romans inhale by the pound. Dough genius Gabriele Bonci is known for using Italian heirloom wheat and allowing a long fermentation time, which creates an airy, flavorful crust. We order his pizza con patate (potatoes with mozzarella) and a version layered with porcini and shaved pecorino, among other slices. They’re pure flavor bombs, but more important, they also support an increasingly fragile local food system. “Gabriele changed a belly-filling Roman food into a much needed connection with farmers, millers, and salami makers,” Katie says.
Next it’s off to Panificio Bonci, Gabriele’s bread-and-pastry outpost. It’s where Romans flock daily to buy loaves of his naturally leavened bread, and where I begin to doubt my ability to consume more carbs. We order pizza con la porchetta, a sandwich of flatbread, roasted pork, and crispy pork skin, and a paper bag of ciambelline, sugar-dusted cookies to dip in wine sold by the cup.
4:55 p.m., Pigneto neighborhood
Thirsty, we Uber out to Pigneto, a neighborhood of artists. “This is where, when all is said and done, I go to get a beer,” Katie says. There are robot murals, and graphic posters for counterculture block parties. We’re the first to arrive at Birra+, a garage-like space serving a global beer list with a plenty of local options. Over Italian wheat beers from craft brewery Pontino, I ask the obvious: How does she do this every day? It’s a juggling act, she says, one that she manages by eating at home at least twice a week and accepting that “sometimes I just don’t want gelato.”
9 p.m., not far from the Termini station
Katie's off to interview a local chef, but not before pointing me toward Michelin-starred Pipero al Rex for dinner. I linger over anchovy-accented ravioli and a minerally white wine that smells like sunflowers before heading back home to the D.O.M. Hotel to plot my next stop in this eternally food-obsessed city.