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Apr 22, 2013 06:39 AM

Some Myths About Rome That Need to Die via Katie Parla


I found this blog entry on Parla Food very interesting and helpful.

  1. Katie Parla is an interesting read. There's merit to what she wrote. My uninformed takeaway is that she is moving on from Rome.

    6 Replies
    1. re: steve h.

      She's developing and app for Istanbul that is similar to her Rome app and has blogged about the food scene in London for some time now. It does seem that she is moving on from Rome.

      1. re: ttoommyy

        I only occasionally clicked onto Katie Parla's blog, but the random times I did, she wasn't in Rome but blogging from elsewhere. I began to wonder if she didn't like Rome, as she once wrote (here or there) she found it a disappointing place for food. I thought her internet writing was unsympathetic. People who like Rome tend to be people who have a feeling for myths, if only a humorous one.

      2. re: steve h.

        I don't think there is much "merit" to creating new myths about Rome such as "The rise of foreign chefs like Roy Caceres and John Regefalk of Metamorfosi means diners finally have access to properly cooked meat." I lifted that directly from the blog, but apparently it is also what US ex-pats teach in classes for visiting American students taught by other ex-pats). It's really hard to shake the feeling that a circle of friends prop up each other's absurd ideas, posing as food authorities to do it.

        If one's palate and food interests dovetail a particular writer's or blogger's palate and interests, then of course that's a real find and one should follow their recommendations. But I'm unpersuaded by the stuff that is posted as absolutist judgments, final statements and ultimate pronouncements. It's insufficiently thoughtful to me however snazzy it sounds.

        1. re: barberinibee

          Hi bee,

          Katie, Elizabeth, Maureen, Hande, others write books, articles and sell services. They're locals and share the benefits of their insights here on the Italian board with the rest of us. I've (politely) tangled with most of them over an issue here or there but that's just one traveler sharing opinions with another. They don't comprise an oligarchy. I like to read their opinions and see how they stack up against my own. Chowhound would be poorer without them.

          1. re: steve h.

            Thanks Steve! And just to clear things up, about Berninibee's comment: I agree. None of this is ever absolutist! Just personal opinions. I've never professed otherwise. It's all just about personal experience and personal opinions in the end.


            1. re: minchilli

              My wife and I brought a colleague to Palazzo Barberini two weeks ago. It's maybe my favorite museum in Rome. The bee is the family symbol. Hard workers those bees.

      3. My understanding is that ParlaFood will be less focused on Rome and more on other cities. Katie also collaborates with Irene de Vette, Sarah May Grunwald, Hande Leimer (vinoroma to CH folks), and Gina Tringali on the newly-launched Rome Digest, which obviously focuses specifically on Rome.

        11 Replies
        1. re: lisaonthecape

          I wanted to add, since the Rome Digest was brought up, that I thought part of the promise of the internet and forum discussion boards like this one was that it provided direct publishing access to "unbeholden" voices to offer a different perspective -- whereas the privately-owned media had a vested interest in pumping their own commercially driven agenda.

          I thought it was a mistake for the New York Times to give an essentially free ad to Rome Digest several weeks ago, singling it out for no apparent reason among all the other Rome blogs, even with a pro forma disclaimer that Katie Parla was on contract for them. The headline for the free ad was inadvertently telling (no doubt meant to be helpful): "When in Rome, Eat Like an Ex-Pat." Most of us going to Rome have been happy to join the Romans in eating what they enjoy.

          I think it is a mistake for internet posters not to put aside a sense of personal loyalty to a frequent fellow poster whom they also might have met on food tours. While I wish everybody well in their commercial endeavors, people come here to get some independent take and critical distance -- and I'm not implying that everybody who agrees with Katie Parla is lacking critical distance, but in some cases it's pretty obvious there is a circle-the-wagons to response to any hint of skepticism about what she or other frequent posters write.

          1. re: barberinibee

            Fair enough; I appreciate your comment. (BTW: I've never taken a food tour with Katie Parla, although I might like to do so in the future. I did take a wine tasting with vinoroma and enjoyed it tremendously.)

            1. re: lisaonthecape

              It wasn't directed at you! Or even a comment on Chowhound in particular. (The reply button just tagged it as a response to you.) It was a just a general observation about the internet, which has latched onto the word "community", and of course any "community" gets the idea it needs to be protected. We already have television for that, ladling on all the sentimentality to go with it. Internet food blogs and message boards easily drift into becoming places where small vocal groups of people band together to promote friends and protect friends at the expense of strangers seeking information. Don't think there is any stopping it, but I think food evaluation is poorer for it and its worth being wary about specific flattering recommendations and so-called myth-busting or myth-creating.

              Grain of salt time.

            2. re: barberinibee

              Rome is a very small town, and in fact we all do know each other. So the 'circle the wagon' stuff is bound to happen. Friends often have the same opinions as friends. But this tends to happen in any other city that is this size I think.

              But it's interesting that you mention personal loyalty, and relationships that exist between people who post on this board, which are sometimes hard to decipher. That's where the moderators of the board come in, and I think they are doing a very good job.

              But I have to point out that those of us who choose to use our real names are posting our own opinions , so being very upfront about where our opinions are coming from, who we are, and what informs our choices. Other people, who post regularly and often, remain anonymous, and so their loyalties and personal affiliations remain a complete mystery. Which always makes me a bit suspect.


              1. re: minchilli

                So right, Elizabeth. Everybody knows what you, I, Katie, and Hande, and others, think and who we are. People posting on a board like this are, of course, entitled to use a pseudonym, as most do, but I don't much care for the pseudonymous bloggers.

                1. re: mbfant

                  "People posting on a board like this are, of course, entitled to use a pseudonym, as most do, but I don't much care for the pseudonymous bloggers."

                  Most of us are not bloggers on these boards. I would never use my real name here since I really do not want anyone looking up my personal information. You, Katie, etc., are in the business of reporting information and with that you choose to lose your anonymity to gain credibility. It's a tradeoff.

                  1. re: ttoommyy

                    In fact, I made a distinction between bloggers and posters. There are blogs about Roman food that expect to be viewed as professional but that are signed pseudonymously, which is a choice I don't care for (and so, yes, I change the channel and rarely read them). Posters on a board like this are different, of course, but I will say that on the rare occasions that I feel attacked, as opposed to merely disagreed with, it does sort of creep me out not to know who's doing it.

                    1. re: mbfant

                      Sorry. The construct of one of your sentences led me to believe that you lumped the two together. My mistake.

                  2. re: mbfant

                    @ mbfant

                    Why don't you care for pseudonymous bloggers?

                    Over a long period of time, if you've read my many posts, you know what I think in terms of food and wine. What else is necessary?

                  3. re: minchilli


                    I post often and anonymously.

                    I do not understand your comment "so their loyalties and personal affiliations remain a complete mystery. Which always makes me a bit suspect."

                    What were you implying?

                    1. re: allende

                      I'm going to weigh in briefly on the anonymity issue. First, I'm a poster, not a blogger, with no professional food connections. Second, and more importantly, I post as "lisaonthecape" for the same reason I don't have a telephone listing in my name--to limit access to my personal data. As a litigator for my state's child support enforcement agency, my job frequently involves seeking jail sentences for people who don't pay their child support. The less these folks know about my personal life, the better.

              2. I do not wish to enter into a philosophical discussion about what internet is for or not (above the scope of discussion); neither about myth busting or creating (has been discussed many times here); but just want to clarify one point since it has been brought up:

                Neither Katie Parla, nor me, nor any of the other co-founders of The Rome Digest have a commercial interest in, or connection with, any of the venues or events we are writing about on TRD. There is only one single case of writing about a friend and that has been disclaimed in the text. The only "commercial interest" we have is creating an awareness of, and supporting, local businesses that reflect our beliefs in local, sustainable and seasonal agricultural initiatives - while being delicious, too.

                Just like anyone can write on CH forums, we write on our personal blogs (for example Katie on parla food), or in the case of TRD, a group blog. There is no need to justify why or if, but again, since it has been brought up: the co-founders of TRD are all qualified, trained and certified wine and/or food experts who have been living here and working in the field for many years.

                3 Replies
                1. re: vinoroma

                  I didn't write that Rome Digest had a commercial interest in restaurants and shops and such that it was writing about, but re-reading my own post, I can see where it could be interpreted that way.

                  However, If you look at The Rome Digest website, it is obvious that a major reason for its existence is to promote the commercial tours the site's founders do for a living. I still think it was a mistake for the Times to run this essentially promotional piece for the website as if it were some kind of news or innovation.

                  I have no intention of discouraging people who make their living in Italy in food-related endeavors from saying whatever they want to say wherever they want to say it, and I have no problem with them getting paid for it. However, I do want to point out that Italy is a very noticeably public culture and all things related to food in Italy are robustly discussed and out in the open with the exception of a handful of trade-secret recipes (which even bloggers can't get at).

                  It is a MYTH that going to Rome or Italy requires the help of "insiders" and "insider" knowledge. I'm not saying vinoroma is saying that, I'm just throwing up a general caution about making a "mystery" and a "hot secret" out of something that isn't.

                  Sure, if you are a stranger in a strange land, without the local language, you will need to read a lot in advance to make the most of stay when it comes to food. Food tours may very well richly enhance your experience and be life changing. Italy and Rome have long histories, there's lots of complexity to tackle, some of the best food is cooked up in home kitchens and of course there are restaurant owners who can be deceptive -- but honest to god, the overriding reality of Italy is just how public it is in comparison of most other places in the western world. I weary of seeing what I think is a misleading portrait of Italian food culture best approached through the lens of professionals that I think is painted for self-promotional reasons. This is a broad comment, not targeting individuals anywhere.

                  1. re: vinoroma

                    @ Vinoroma
                    Certified wine and/or food experts? Could you tell us what certification you or the others have? Thanks.

                    1. re: allende

                      hey allende! the info is on our site, but here it is anyway:

                      Irene de Vette, a Rotterdam, Holland native, works in Rome as a gastronomic guide and wine educator at vino roma. She holds two sommelier diplomas and is a member of the Associazione Italiana Sommelier (AIS). Irene has a master’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. She has written several cookbooks, many magazine articles and a Rome guide book.

                      Sarah May Grunwald is originally from California and lived in Australia and Germany before settling in Italy in 2005. She graduated from San Diego State University with a BA in European Humanities and has a sommelier certificate from AIS. Sarah is a professor at the Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici where she teaches the course “Wines of Italy”. She is also the co-owner and manager of Antiqua Tours, which offers wine tastings, winery visits and cultural tours in and around Rome.

                      Hande Leimer, the founder and owner of vino roma, is a certified sommelier, holds the WSET Advanced Certificate in Wines and Spirits and is a member of AIS. In addition to running vino roma, Hande also consults for restaurants and importers in the US, Germany and Turkey.

                      Katie Parla has a BA in the History of Art from Yale University, a master’s degree in Italian Gastronomic Culture from the Università degli Studi di Roma “Tor Vergata” and a sommelier certificate from the Federazione Italiana Sommelier Albergatori Ristoratori. She regularly reports on dining, wine and beer for internationally renowned publications.

                      Gina Tringali is a food historian, coffee connoisseur and cook. She has a master’s degree in Italian Gastronomic Culture from the Università degli Studi di Roma “Tor Vergata”, an MBA from NYU and is a certified sommelier and member of AIS. She worked for the Craft family of restaurants in NYC in business development and marketing and spent some time in the kitchen before relocating to Rome in 2007. She founded GT Food & Travel, a company offering small group and private culinary walking tours and wine tastings, in 2013. Gina also works as a freelance food and travel writer.

                      The 5 of us have 7 wine certificates have published hundreds of articles and books on food and beverage culture.



                  2. Thanks for posting, ttoommyy! Wow what a totally bizzarre discussion has evolved out of my myths blog post. The comments on Parla Food were so different:)

                    Here are a few points to clear up confusion expressed in the thread below:
                    -I live in Rome (and have for over a decade)
                    -I spend most of my time in Rome, where I teach food and beverage culture to private individuals, as well as at the university level.
                    -I also report on food and beverage culture in the US, UK & Turkey.
                    -I am almost done with my Istanbul app, but I am not moving on from Rome
                    -I don't like Rome (you are right barbarinibee!!!). I love it.
                    -In general, Roman restaurants serve overcooked meat. I stand by that and if you don't believe me ask any chef who knows her way around a grill.



                    1 Reply
                    1. re: katieparla

                      You're welcome Katie. I just knew your post would give the CH posters here on the Italian board "food for thought" and there would be some interesting responses. :)

                    2. As always I find Katie's stuff thought provoking.

                      Im grateful for the participation here of Rome food mavens, Their professional interests are disclosed

                      While I would be thrilled to have a bigger base of non-professional posters on the Rome food scene as well as all over italy, Im very glad, and I am sure many other Roman visitors are glad for the different slants we get here from folks who are passionate about good eating.

                      ps it would be worth talking more on a separate thread about the overcooking of meat in Rome - and elsewhere. I typically skip roast secondi for that reason.

                      pps - I was a little taken aback on my last visit to Volpetti that one of the guys immediately started in offering us tastes of balsamic vinegar - hardly a regional specialty! Clearly, they are beseiged by tourists now and selling highcost souvenirs may be a reasonable approach, but when we moved over to ask about other items, we were served very nicely.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: jen kalb

                        @ minchilli

                        Thought I might have the courtesy of a reply, but clearly that is not to be. You said: "Other people, who post regularly and often, remain anonymous, and so their loyalties and personal affiliations remain a complete mystery. Which always makes me a bit suspect."

                        I'm one who posts regularly, often and who choses to remain anonymous to most (not all) of those reading this board. That you would suspect "my loyalties and personal affiliations" is baffling. Your implication that I am doing something wrong is insulting. I have no real or potential conflicts.

                        I post here for only two reasons. First, hopefully I can steer people (people who profess to like good food and wine) to places (mostly) in the countryside in the north of Italy, places that my wife and I have found, during a period of more than 35 years, interesting for good food and wine. These are places that those reading this blog might not know. Secondly, I hope to keep people away from places that do not, in our opinion, serve good food and wine. That's it; I have no hidden agenda. When posting about places where we have close personal relationships e.g. Dal Pescatore in Canneto or La Buca in Zibello, I have always made that clear. I do not accept any free goods from any places written about. In fact, almost none of the places have any idea that I write about them. Additionally, most small ristoranti/trattorie/osterie in Italy are hurting today. As I'm sure you know, Italy is in a very very severe recession. Fewer Italians are going out to eat. At the margin, if I can get a few more non Italians to places I like (and where people work very hard to make a living), it would seem to me to be a good thing.
                        I do not have any business affiliations with the food world. I do not develop apps nor do travel shows nor lead food tours. I do not bring clients to particular restaurants because I have no clients. I do not have a contract with the NYT. I do not, as one famous journalist who wrote for the NYT did, blackmail restaurants, owned by my friends, by demanding free food and only the best bottles to drink or... there would be a mediocre review. There are always some bad apples in any profession. I write to try to be helpful in an honest and open way.

                        As one of your well respected colleagues (who writes here) said to me after dinner one evening (and I paraphrase)... you have more personal knowledge, by far, of the history of restaurants, during the last forty years, in northern Italy than any American I know of. We go to all the places written about. I don't fake it as some who have posted here do. I also don't say that "clients liked it." I don't just list places, but try to give a feel for what the place is like; what type of food and service; what are the flaws.

                        I simply hope to get people to go to places that try to meet these criteria: personal ownership (no multi restaurant empires); good cooks who know what they are doing and stay within their sphere of competence; serve regional dishes (no fusion); serve seasonal dishes whenever possible; have good, reasonably priced wine lists; use good wine glasses (you wouldn't want to eat on paper plates, would you); have a pleasant atmosphere; have a wait staff that is informal, friendly, but professional, and doesn't serve with an attitude. To give just a very few examples of the places that mostly meet these criteria I'll list: Il Centro and Da Bardon and Osteria Veglio (shout out for their vegetable dishes) in Piemonte; Da Ivan in ER ; La Pinetta in Tuscany; Pre de Costa in the Alta Badia; Conchilia D'Oro and La Brinca in Liguria; L'Angolo d'Abruzzo in The Abruzzo. Again, these are a few of many.

                        If Jen and the others who control this site feel that what I am doing is not good enough for this blog I'll go back to egullet or not post. Doesn't matter to me.

                        1. re: allende

                          just to be clear, I have no connection with the management of this site or any special "in" with anybody. I have participated as an individual eater (like you) on chowhound in my case since the late 1990s, and, I guess I am personally invested in there being good discussion on this Italy board, because of my own visits. This went overboard a couple of years ago, because I had a conviction that by enhancing the restaurant database then part of the site, this Italy board could become more useful and active, but of course that got killed after I and others input several thousand restaurants..As a participant here, I can only say that it would be a poorer site if you were not around.

                          I thnk it may be that some of the posters are distinguishing between bloggers and participants in discussion boards (like us).- the expressed concern was about anonymous bloggers not anonymous posters on discussion forums. Chowhound is not a blog. There must be a specific context of which I am unaware, but Im betting that no one intended to diss you, allende.

                          1. re: jen kalb


                            I hope you are betting a very small bet!

                            Despite nearly everybody's disclaimers of honor of virtue and the alleged joys of having such a panoply of posters (and what on earth difference does it make if they call themselves mbfant or hoppalongcassidy), the fact is that discussion on the Chowhound Italy board is generally sour, insulting, bullying and full of undeclared prejudices and ridiculous dogmatisms, insupportable claims of this is "simply the best trattoria" here or there or swooning language that creates false expectations and only heightens the desperation of travelers to Italy with only a few meals to cram in and without hundreds of euros to drop on food looking for this supposedly life transforming experience they keep hearing about when it comes to Italian food.

                            I just went to one of allende's favorite restaurants and I quite enjoyed it and quite admired and liked the owners but I dare say -- at the risk of allende going ballistic -- that it would be better if he didn't make it sound like unless you go where he recommends you are doomed to be eating manure. It's a nice restaurant, and a lovely project, and worth a stop if you are in the vicinity, but no more. There are other such restaurants in many other places in Italy of equal care and value.

                            I'm not saying this to pick on allende's contributions -- I thank him for raising my curiosity about this place and I enjoyed my meal -- but rather to say that what annoys me about the Chowhound competition for who has the most "credibility" when it comes to dishing about opinions about food is that -- for me -- it has NOTHING to do with why or what I like to eat in Italy.

                            For me, the joy of eating in Italy is that in so many places one finds that so little has been lost in transit between the home kitchen and the restaurant table. I like home cooking. I really don't care for "professional cooking." I don't care for an egg that looks like a cupcake. I don't need jargon, and I don't need my food memoralized even before I get a chance to put it my mouth.

                            What I have found in Italy is that one doesn't need a car, one doesn't need a wad of money, one doesn't need a degree, one doesn't need a 40 page wine list, one doesn't even need to speak Italian and yet -- miracle of miracles -- one can eat deliciously and educate ONESELF about the goodness of food while in Italy.

                            Many people come to Italy with just that in mind and I don't think Chowhound's Italy board has much to say to them.

                            The owner of a restaurant in the Emilia-Romanga said to me last week that the reason he thought restaurants in Bologna had lost their mojo was because they were so busy making money that the cooks never came out of the kitchen to talk to the guests. "How can you feed people if you don't know them?" he asked. I don't think he was saying he wanted to know their first and last names. He wanted to know what they hoped for.

                            People visit Italy hoping for different things and they come to Chowhound hoping for help finding those things and pretty much they all get the same answer. Drive a car, spend more money, read our old posts, do more research, hire a professional, and eat what we like or risk our mockery and disdain. Not everybody responds like that, of course, but enough that I think it kind of kills the spirit of adventure that can be part of the joy of eating here. Chowhound Italy's board probably is fab for people who are looking for the "best restaurants." For people hoping for a genuinely delicious experience of Italian culture, with all that implies --- ?

                            I don't think it is a myth that Italy has a very generous food culture, full of deliciousness, that even first time visitors can find easily.

                            1. re: barberinibee

                              Frankly, BB, people come here for YOUR very perceptive recommendations among others. Everybody has their own style and POV which - often - should be taken with some tolerance and a large grain of salt. As Ive said manytimes before, Id love it if we had more posters who came here solely for the love of the food, but sadly online forums as a venue fur food and other types of expression seem to be on a decline so that the participation of folks who are in the field professionally is more noticeable, its great that we actually have rome residents posting - so we occasional visitors dont keep regurgitating the same tired recommendations over and over again.

                              1. re: jen kalb

                                Well, if they are coming here to read me, they would do better to follow the Osterie d'Italia. If they like to spend their time reading about food in Italy, surely Fred Plotkin and Pellegrino Artusi are more rewarding.

                                But I hope I am not alone in secretly hoping/cheering that people are traveling to Italy for reasons beyond a love of food, professional or unprofessional. I can't blame Chowhound for being food-focused, and I have no problem with people who are as interested in food and wine as others are in golf or politics, but at the same time something has gone seriously awry in the way otherwise well-educated people have come to place/misplace the importance of food in their lives. It's a distortion.

                                By the way, in the above post, I didn't want to make it sound like I was excluding myself from the general knives out tone of this board. I've been a major contributor to it! I'm surprised I even still have an account given some of the things I've posted (that the mods swept away).

                                1. re: barberinibee

                                  I won't go ballistic barberinibee. I think Da Amerigo, if that is what you are referring to, is a very good restaurant, much better, in my opinion, than anything in nearby Bologna. You may think differently and there is no right or wrong, just opinions. Yes, as you say, "There are other such restaurants in many other places in Italy of equal care and value." So what! I'm telling people that Amerigo is a restaurant I've enjoyed many times and that has nothing to do with any other restaurant in Italy. When I speak about Da Bardon, I'm speaking of Bardon, not some other trattoria 20 km. away that may be every bit as good with care and value. Who cares about the other place... it is Bardon that I'm saying I like.

                                  Am sorry you wrote the sentence "that it would be better if he didn't make it sound like unless you go where he recommends you are doomed to be eating manure." People can go anywhere they want. I'm trying to get people to go to places that I like (and keep them away from places that I think do not serve good food, do not have good service and do not have decent wines lists). None of the ones I like have forty page wine lists and most of them do not cost a fortune. I will say, however, that when I see people talk about low prices with regard to fish, that fish is not manure, but it ain't fresh nor of high quality.

                                  I don't give people the same answers, because we go where most do not. Unfortunately, most of those places require a car to (easily) get to. If people who say they really care about food (why else would they be on this site), do not use a car to go to restaurants in Italy, they are missing some of the really great places, particularly in Piemonte, but elsewhere as well. That's where you and I differ most. Best, allende