Required Reading: Katie Parla's Rome Reading List

Katie Parla, author, guide, and American expat living in Rome, shares her favorite books—historical tomes, personal memoirs, ancient compilations, info-packed insider guides, and more—that best capture the essence of Italy’s ancient capital.

Katie Parla
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It’s never easy to crack a foreign land's code. In Required Reading, cultured residents provide a peek into their city’s deepest secrets with an expertly curated syllabus.

To a non-Italian speaker, Katie Parla is the holy grail of Roman guides. Not only is she fluent in the local dialect (much to the chagrin, she says, of “proper speakers”), but she’s also an expert on Roman topography, Italian art, and, most importantly, the fuel that keeps the Eternal City burning: food.

A New Jersey expat who’s called Rome home for 13 years, Parla was seemingly destined for a career in which eating pizza was a daily ritual. At the age of 16, the Italian-American knew she wanted to make a life in the historic city from the moment she stepped off the plane, and so, after studying art history at Yale, she did. “The attraction was immediate,” Parla says. “I loved the shock of seeing that what I thought was going to be a pristine European capital, was actually so much more than what I’d read about.”

Since then, she’s made a name for herself as a local guide and Roman food expert, hosting everyone from wayward Australian tourists to culinary notables like Mario Batali and Andrew Zimmern. And the culmination of her experience was published this March in a beautiful tome, Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors & Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City (Clarkson Potter), co-authored with photographer Kristina Gill. A meditation on Roman food—from Italian classics like carbonara and cacio e pepe to traditional Jewish cuisine—Parla’s smart, discerning voice is truly a lodestar for those seeking an insider’s understanding to how Romans eat and drink.

Likewise, the characteristic that distinguishes Parla from other guides is that she rarely separates her own habits as a Roman local from the tours she provides to foreigners. High season or low, she frequents all of the places to which she introduces voyeurs: Panificio Bonci for porchetta-filled pizza, Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà for rare craft beer, Roscioli Café for coffee, and Carapina for gelato. “These are rituals that are part of my daily life,” she says. “And I treasure getting to see the city through a local and foreign lens. It’s critical to seeing how the city works.”

Image Credit: Clarkson Potter