BonAppetour – Dining with Locals

Some of the best meals I’ve ever had in Italy came from home chefs, and not in restaurants.  Italian cuisine is the result of poverty + resourcefulness over lots and lots of time to prefect the dishes that remain unique to each area of Italy, and change from town to town, and region to region.   So it makes sense that if you want to eat something really authentic, you need to get something homemade.

I was lucky to recently meet two young entrepreneurs out of Singapore, who started BonAppetour, hoping to capture, and make available to tourists, something that restaurants cannot.  Below is Rinita, one of the founders, on the right, and Alexandra, their local community manager/organizer.

On their site, you can select filters that show you what dinners (and often, classes) are available, and you can read other diner’s comments.  You reserve and pay online and are then basically invited to someone’s home for a kind of dinner party – with the host present.  This makes it not just an experience of the food, but also a way to connect tourists to locals.  It’s not often easy, or possible, to score an invite into someone’s home!  This way, you get a great meal, and the kind of insight that comes with meeting people of different cultures, who are happy to share their knowledge and open up their homes to you.

Our host, Francesca, made us a Milanese-themed dinner of liver paté, ossobuco (veal shanks) and risotto alla Milanese (flavoured with saffron), finished with a kind of tiramisù cream and pavese biscuits.

They seem to have a strong presence in Asia, their stomping ground, but also have many hosts/chefs in France, Spain in Italy – probably the three places most people want to have a home dining experience in.

Just a note though – authenticity is not synonymous with the postcard perfect/stereotypical vision that many people have of their destination.  So be prepared to get out to areas that real locals live in and to perhaps engage in conversations that reflect surprising opinions!

Bonappetour can be found on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram.

 

 

La Taqueria – Mexican street food in Rome

For expats in Rome, and some visitors as well, the lack of good Mexican food is a hardship.  After living here over 16 years, we’ve given up on certain foods we used to love – such as Mexican and Chinese, either not finding any of it edible, or not being able to justify the high price tag for something “exotic”.  All that changed today when I popped in to La Taqueria for lunch.

Located right around the corner from the Piazza Bologna metro station, it’s impossible to miss – the three large, bright, colorful windows that face the street are in bright contrast to the monochromatic neighborhood.  Once inside, I was struck by the creative design.  Plastic crates, tires, and old gasoline cans have all be repurposed to become suspension lamps, and plant holders.

The menu has all the basics – tacos made with homemade, corn, soft-shell tacos, stuffed with either meat or a vegetarian bean and soy version.  Nachos, made with their own fried corn chips, and burritos, either with meat or vegan option, wrapped up in homemade tortillas.  They make fresh guacamole, pico de gallo, and a variety of other salsas.

All in all, I was seriously impressed with how good it was, and found it affordable as well (from 6-8 euro for tacos or a huge burrito).  The owner, a young guy from Honduras who speaks perfect English, was super nice and helpful and added the perfect vibe to his lively and delicious little place.

La Taqueria
Via Giacomo Boni, 26
Metro:  Bologna (blue line)

Open from 12-3pm for lunch and 7-11pm all week (except Sunday at lunchtime)

Off the Beaten Path in Rome’s Monti Neighborhood

by Amy Knauff

Monti is the historic area located between Termini Station and the Colosseum/Roman Forum.  It’s where Woody Allen shot a good deal of “To Rome with Love” – so it’s your picture postcard version of Rome: ivy covered buildings, narrow cobblestone streets – but it’s less touristy, more authentic and hip than the area around Piazza Navona/Pantheon.  On a rainy autumn day, here’s what we’d consider an ideal visit:

9:30am: Start at the Cavour metro stop. Walk straight up the street in front of you, via Leonina. Here you’ll find two great cafés to choose from for breakfast. Ciuri Ciuri, at nr. 18, is a classic Italian bar with yummy Sicilian pastries (cassate, cannoli, marzipan, Modica chocolate, sweets made with Avola almonds and Bronte pistacchios). 2 Periodico Café, at nr. 77, is a cozy spot where you can enjoy a more leisurely breakfast while listening to chill-out music, snuggled up in an armchair as you read the morning paper.  For a typical Roman bar, with amazing coffee and good pastries, head right up Via del Boschetto to Er Baretto on your left at nr. 132 (has a few outside tables too).

10am: Head back down via Leonina to nr. 46/48, where you’ll find a big, blocky industrial-looking building that stands out like a sore thumb from the more quaint buildings in Monti. It’s a parking garage, and on Saturdays and Sundays, the ground floor is home to Mercato Monti, a small but interesting vintage-styled market. Purists, take note: most stuff in here is not actually vintage. But it’s the style that counts, and it’s a fun spot to pick up some interesting, offbeat finds and hang out with creative types.

11am: Leave the market and head out for a wander around the narrow cobblestone streets of Monti. This neighborhood is charming, picturesque and packed to the brim with interesting, eclectic shops for clothing, jewelry, and home goods. Stop by the uninspiringly named Candle’s Store (via Urbana, 21), which has gorgeous homemade candles. Aromaticus (via Urbana, 134) is like being in an adorable greenhouse; they sell garden and home decorations (and you can enjoy lunch or an organic smoothie or snack surrounded by greenery). On via dei Serpenti (nr. 141) check out Pifebo Vintage Shop, which has authentic vintage finds.

Of course, Monti isn’t just about shopping: the architecture is fascinating, as the mix of individual homes with street entrances, ivy-draped streets, and planters exploding with red and pink flowers make you feel like you’re not in otherwise chaotic Rome. Being something of a bohemian/artsy area, there is also plenty of interesting street art and graffiti to see as you walk around. (See if you can spot the space invader mosaics!) And of course, it’s de rigueur to pay a visit to the neighborhood church – the Church of Santa Maria ai Monti right in the main piazza was designed by none other than Giacomo della Porta.

1pm: You’ve earned a long lunch. Monti is loaded with good restaurants (for all budgets). Urbana 47 (at via Urbana 47, of course) is one of the most popular ones in Monti, and it’s “zero-kilometer” (locally sourced). But in general, it’s hard to go wrong in this area – it has mostly authentic, non-tourist-menu restaurants. Even La Bottega del Caffè located smack dab in Piazza della Madonna dei Monti is good, packed with tourists and locals alike. It has covered outdoor seating (so it’s great for people-watching) and I like their pasta with salmon in cream sauce. If you’re in the mood for something non-Italian, you can also get sushi at Daruma (via dei Serpenti 1) or Indian at Maharajah (via dei Serpenti 124) or Sitar (via Cavour 256) to name two of the four different Indian restaurants in the area.  Down Via dei Madonna ai Monti, almost at the end on the right, is Taverna ai Fori Imperiali (via della Madonna dei Monti 9), a well known Roman trattoria with great food – but you’ll definitely need to make a reservation.

2:30pm: Stretch your legs after lunch – climb the stairs next to the Irish pub on via Leonina and cross the busy street (via Cavour). On the other side there is a big tunnel with stairs. Walk up the stairs and keep going straight until you get to Piazza di San Pietro in Vincoli. Follow the hordes of tourists into the church and visit the stunning marble statue of Moses, sculpted by Michelangelo.

3pm: Leave the church and keep going straight, away from via Cavour. You’ll soon get to the back end of the Colle Oppio park, which overlooks the Colosseum. On Sundays the dirt soccer field (called “la polverera” for its dustiness in the summer) in this part of the park is used all day by Latin American soccer teams. They play rain or shine. Huddle under your umbrella for a while and watch the back-to-back soccer games with the Colosseum as a backdrop. The smell of South American food and the sound of Latin rhythms add to the atmosphere.

4pm: It’s time for an afternoon coffee (or hot chocolate). Get out of the rain and into the closest coffee bar. Caffe dello Studente, just across from the soccer field, is Rick Steves-recommended and has a nice view of the Colosseum.

And no visit to Monti is complete without a stop at Fata Morgana on Piazza degli Zingari (up at the end of Via degli Zingari, and not on the lower part near the Cavour metro).  This is one of the top 3 gelaterias in the entire city and not to be missed.

Want to stay in the neighborhood? Here’s some of our top suggestions:

Piccola Venere from €129/night

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Appartamento Panisperna from €114/night

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Apparatmento Urbana from €110/night

 

The Food Police – The Rick Steves Episode

What happens when everyone’s favorite travel writer is accused of food misconduct? Can the Food Police trio take on someone as untouchable as Rick Steves?

We’ve moved all the Food Police episodes to a dedicated site – you can read agent’s profiles and other tips about staying safe at www.foodpolice.it

 

 

The Food Police – Episode III

Food Police Episode III from Cross-Pollinate Travel on Vimeo.

Frozen food stakeout. In this newest episode, a sous chef comes to the Special Unit ready to confess her involvement in a major crime.

See earlier episodes of the Food Police here:

Episode I – the girls of the Special Unit hear from the new head of the Food Police that tourists are being ripped off in Rome.  They set out to gather evidence and show you what to look out for.

Episode II – In this episode, The Food Police – Special Unit, are in the medieval hill-town of Orvieto, famous for its black truffles, in pursuit of a dangerous perp who’s about to commit an unthinkable crime.