For the fifth instalment of our Challenge Accepted series, we sent the British Topjaw crew all the way to Rome. Their task: to explore a foreign culture from a brand-new perspective.
And while there are plenty of possible options and approaches – think architecture, history or art – Jesse and Will decided to pursue a different path for their Italian adventure. One they’ve already covered in many videos: cuisine. Their ultimate challenge: To discover a city they don’t know, to learn from locals – and then to cook for the harshest critics they can find. Will Jesse be able to win them over?
To delve all the way into Rome’s cuisine and the city’s many signature dishes, Jesse and Will roped in culinary expert Francesca. Together, they embarked on a gastronomic journey to discover the city’s huge spectrum of flavours and specialties. So, lean back and join us for the latest episode of Challenge Accepted:
Inspired by their Italian adventure, Topjaw have returned with plenty of helpful tips and tricks:
Explore your area.
Whether on foot, by public transport or with the smart EQ fortwo*: It always helps to look around and get a feel for your area first. And while this rule applies to any new city, it’s also a good one for your own hometown to discover new things and places. In terms of food, you could, for example, look for great places to shop, the best sources of fresh ingredients, newly-opened eateries, spots you haven’t checked out yourself or even cuisines or dishes you’ve never sampled. You’d be surprised how many new delights are still waiting for you off the beaten track.
Get to know some locals.
One of the best things you can do after arriving in a new city is to ask locals for advice. Sure, there are plenty of digital helpers online, filled with local recommendations, but weeding out just the right information can turn into a bit of a needle-in-haystack hunt, especially in major metropolises. The sheer wealth of different references and opinions can be confusing and overwhelming. Topjaw suggest a simple shortcut: Cut out the middlemen and head straight for the locals. Locals like Roman-born expert Francesca, who offers cooking classes for tourists (and locals) and also hosts her own supper clubs: the perfect match for our two Brits abroad.
Eat where the locals eat.
The way to a person’s heart – and mind – is through their stomach. While tasty titbits satisfy the tongue, knowledge nourishes our spirit, culinary expertise broadens our horizon and helps us better understand a country and its people. A quick break or holiday is the perfect time to immerse yourself in new flavours and dishes. So, if you want to experience a foreign cuisine like a local, but lack a local friend or helper like Francesca, you can use foodie guides like Like a local or With Locals to explore your new surroundings. It also helps to walk around with open eyes and an open mind. Which restaurants attract an interesting crowd? Or simply stop and ask a resident for a personal recommendation.
Try as many local dishes as possible.
If it’s an option in the respective cuisine, don’t focus on a single main dish, but try to sample many small portions of the local specialties. In many Asian nations, but also countries like Spain (tapas) and Italy (antipasti), you’ll find yourself spoilt for choice. Pro tip: the larger the crowd, the richer and more varied the selection. And the sharing is caring approach is way more fun, anyway, as we’ve already explored in episode #3 of Challenge Accepted.
Buy regional ingredients.
One of the best places for experiencing local food and eating habits is a farmer’s market. Take our Roman episode: Here, Francesca not only shows James what to look for when buying artichokes, but also introduces him to plenty of delicious and fresh Italian staples. Once you know a few tricks of the trade, you’ll find that fresh, regional ingredients are perfect for prepping simple, typical dishes.
Eating where the Romans eat? Well, it does not get much more original than at Francesca’s home, a born Roman citizen!
Learn to cook like a local.
While it’s up to you how to pick up those skills, Topjaw asked Francesca to share some of her personal tweaks and techniques for making an authentic carbonara and artichokes, Roman style. Like her, many local guides have started offering cooking classes or tastings at their own homes or at small restaurants. You won’t even need to travel far since there are bound to be classes in your own city.
Put your new expertise to the test.
In our Challenge Accepted episode, intrepid Jesse decides to brave this challenge on his own and cook for real Romans: Francesca’s discerning parents. For him, this was quite a task since the seasoned gourmet and gastro guide rarely gets behind the pots himself. The rest of us are free to choose our own guests and setting. Why not treat friends and family to a dinner of your latest culinary discoveries? Although we tend to be our own harshest critics, a friendly second opinion might help to perfect those newfound flavours. And what could be nicer than praise from those we cherish the most?
Want to know how Topjaw tackled their challenge? Check out the video of episode 5 above. Did they pass their challenge? Do you have a tip on how to explore a foreign culture. Please share your thoughts and leave a comment on YouTube.
Further episodes of Challenge Accepted are available in this smart YouTube playlist.
And if you are in Rome and want to delve into the local food culture, get in touch with Francesca. She offers plenty of tours and courses.