Buongiorno city-lovers! Welcome back to another Wednesday edition of I Heart My City. Today’s insider guide to Rome was sent to us by American expat and foodie Katie Parla, who writes about mouthwatering eats in Italy and beyond on her Parla Food blog. Discover Katie’s favorite places to eat, shop, and play in the Italian capital, then download her Rome for Foodies app to get more delectable tips on eating, drinking, and food shopping in Rome.
Rome is My City
The first place I take a visitor from out of town is for a stroll around Monti, the neighborhood near the Forum and Colosseum where I have lived for the last five years. It has a sort of village atmosphere, has lots of nice cafés, and maintains its character in spite of being next to the heart of the tourist center.
When I crave great beer I always go to Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa’ in Trastevere. It’s a bit of a dive, but they have the best selection of beer in Rome and are routinely named among the best pubs in Europe.
To escape the oppressive summer heat I head to the Piscine delle Rose, an Olympic-size swimming pool in EUR (Rome’s business district). I don’t have A/C and some days you just need to take a dip without leaving the city.
If I want to buy a gift I go to Spazio Artigiano on Vicolo dei Serpenti in Monti, a shop that sells ceramics from small Italian producers and scarves woven by the owner, Cristina.
For complete quiet, I can hide away in the Parco della Caffarella where sheep and goats graze just outside the city walls.
If you come to my city, get your picture taken with a gladiator in front of the Colosseum. Just kidding. Don’t do that. They are predators with unruly hands.
If you have to order one thing off the menu from Da Danilo it has to be spaghetti alla carbonara (with egg, pecorino romano and cured pork jowl), a drier version of the classic recipe and one of my favorite dishes in town.
The Mercato di Campagna Amica is my one-stop shop for great local produce. There is also excellent cheese, meats, and honeys, and you can grab a beer and some prepared food to eat in the courtyard adjacent to the market.
Locals know to skip the market in Campo de’ Fiori, which is overpriced and packed with junk, and check out Mercato Trionfale or Mercato di Testaccio, two neighborhood markets with better selection, instead.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go to I Porchettoni in Pigneto. They serve olives, slices of roast pork, cheap wine, and massive bowls of pasta for next to nothing.
For a huge splurge I go to Il Sanlorenzo for fish. This place in the historic center has some of the freshest fish in Rome, much of which is local to Lazio (Rome’s region).
Photo ops in my city include the Colosseum, Pantheon, Piazza Venezia, Piazza Navona, St. Peter’s Square and the best vantage points are the Janiculum, Monte Mario, and the dome of St. Peter’s (or so I’ve heard—it’s one of the few major destinations I’ve never visited!).
If my city were a celebrity it’d be Sofia Loren: tax evading, past her prime, but still alluring.
The most random thing about my city is the 200 cats living in Largo Argentina, one of the most ancient archeological sites in town.
My city has the most eyebrow conscious men. I swear mine will never be as perfectly sculpted as those of most 20-something males I see out and about.
My city has the most metabolically blessed women– physique I will never match, no matter how many laps around the Circus Maximus I do.
In my city, an active day outdoors involves cycling to work, strolling with clients through the Vatican Museums, biking home, strolling through Monti or Pigneto with friends.
My city’s best museum is the Musei Capitolini, which is home to a stunning collection of ancient marble and bronze sculpture.
My favorite jogging route is from the Circus Maximus to the Via Appia and through the Caffarella Park.
For a night of dancing or live music go to Circolo degli Artisti, a polyfunctional venue in Pigneto.
(Blank) is the spot for late-night eats. (I’m leaving the blank there, as not that much open after midnight is worth recommending).
You can tell a lot about my city from its traffic: a disorganized mess that inexplicably manages to work without self-destructing.
You can tell if someone is from my city if they can effortlessly multitask on a scooter.
In the winter you should always carry an umbrella. Some winters it starts raining in November and doesn’t quit until the spring.
In the spring you should eat braised or deep fried artichokes.
In the summer you should book seats for the Opera at the Baths of Caracalla.
In the fall you should eat lots of puntarelle, a type of chicory typical of Rome dressed with a pungent anchovy-garlic sauce.
A hidden gem in my city is the Centrale Montemartini, a former power station that was turned into a museum for ancient sculpture and mosaics. The contrast is really interesting and there are hardly any visitors. Most days I have the place to myself!
For a great breakfast joint try…I don’t think there really is one. Rome isn’t really a breakfast city and the brunch spots don’t really do it for me. I’d say hit La Caffetiera, grab a seat outside in view of the Temple of Hadrian, and enjoy a coffee and a pastry in one of Rome’s most beautiful squares.
Don’t miss the bigne (fried choux pastry filled with custard) made for the Feast of San Giuseppe in March.
Just outside my city, you can visit the spectacular ruins of Ostia Antica, Republican Rome’s former port and imperial era commercial center.
The best way to see my city is undoubtedly on foot. By bike is amazing but a death wish is a prerequisite.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
If my city were a pet it would be one of those fat cats in Largo Argentina living in the ruins.
If I didn’t live in a city (and I had unlimited funds!) I would live on a vineyard in Bozcaada, Turkey or a dairy farm somewhere remote.
The best book about my city is (this is where my nerdiness shows) Krautheimer’s Rome: Profile of a City, 312-1308. I am obsessed with the middle ages.
When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is something out of tune on the accordion. In Rome, it’s unescapable.
Seeing a prominent politician walk down the street licking scoops of gelato from a cone could only happen in my city.
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Photo: Leire Unzueta/My Shot