The Piglet2017 / First Round, 2017

Tasting Rome  vs. Taste of Persia

Tasting Rome

Katie Parla and Kristina Gill

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Taste of Persia

Naomi Duguid

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Judged by: Katie Quinn

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Katie Quinn is a food video journalist based in Brooklyn, NY. She produces, shoots, edits, and hosts the food & travel videos for her YouTube channel, QKatie. She graduated from Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris, but she began her media career as a Page at NBC and has brought that full circle as a frequent guest on NBC’s TODAY show, sharing her favorite food tips and recipes. She loves contributing to Food52, and she also contributes to Tastemade, Great Big Story, CNN, and Serious Eats, and she's the author of the Short Stack Editions cookbook "Avocados."

The Judgment

Watch Katie's first-ever Piglet video judgment, or read the transcript—we've pasted it below for your convenience. (And you can find more of Katie's videos here.)

 

Food52 is one of my favorite food websites and culinary resources. Every year they hold an epic cookbook challenge called The Piglet. This year they asked me to be a judge and I was so honored I couldn’t say no.

The two books they assigned me were: Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors & Forgotten Recipes From an Ancient City and Taste of Persia: A Cook’s Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan

Tasting Rome, Taste of Persia. (Let’s taste another part of the world, shall we?) Both cookbooks are culinary travelogues. They are about places just as much as they are about the food; in fact,  these books make the case for the two being inseparable. 

And lucky for me, I adore both of these cuisines. I couldn’t wait to dive in. 

The authors of each book walk us through the streets they describe so beautifully—even journalistically. In Tasting Rome by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill, I felt like I was walking through the cobblestoned streets with them. Each photo, taken by the very talented Kristina Gill, is impeccably and gorgeously composed. It’s a fun walk, and with Katie Parla’s entertaining descriptions you peek into different cafés and homes and you get a series of snapshots of what life is like in this city. Stunning aesthetics. Mission accomplished: I was already daydreaming of a trip to Rome. Parla and Gill wooed me. 

You can’t judge a book by its cover—and yet, of course, we all do. So my initial impression of Tasting Rome was more favorable because I felt like it'd be so hard to top. 

Then I picked up Naomi Duguid’s Taste of Persia to familiarize myself with, as she says, “Cuisines Without Borders.” 

These photos feel more journalistic. But the content is so compelling, that you slide inside the pages. Duguid took all the photos herself while she travelled solo through these countries. (Which, food aside, is incredibly impressive to me: a woman traveling alone in parts of the world that are considered to be dangerous, especially for a Westerner, and even more so for a woman). As I was walking through Persia, I didn’t feel like I was walking with Duguid as much as I felt that I was in her shoes. 

So in Georgia, for instance, I would get a peek, then investigate. I’d spy a woman making khachapuri, then go up to her doorframe and be welcomed into her home. I’d watch her and her friends make khachapuri, then sit with them on the grass, “talking and drinking Georgian red wine.” I really feel like I got to know the author while I was reading this—so, I'll call her Naomi. Hope you don't mind.

Naomi emphasizes the people behind the food and brings them close. She introduces the people behind the news headlines we read about, the part of the world that can feel so alien. 

And the food! Oh man, my appetite was cheering about so many of the recipes found in Persia. I loved the Italian food from Tasting Rome, but the Persian dishes lured me into that world—and I was drooling over everything.

By the time I’d finished my first pass of each book, I discovered that Tasting Rome was sprinkled with sticky-notes, whereas Taste of Persia was absolutely littered with them. I wanted to make everything Naomi described!

The first issue I came upon was at the grocery store. Both books call for difficult-to-source ingredients. Fennel pollen (from Rome) and blue fenugreek (from Persia) are not going to be found at your local grocery store. Even my Brooklyn Whole Foods couldn’t help me there. Luckily, the authors of both books have the home cook in mind and do offer suggestions for online specialty store recommendations. You can get by without an ingredient hiccup through most of Tasting Rome, and Taste of Persia occasionally offers a substitute you can use instead.  

Tasting Rome is not organized like most cookbooks, by traditional courses, but rather collections of, for example, the classics, and dishes from specific Roman communities (such as the dozen pages devoted to Cucina Ebraica, Jewish culture and cuisine in Rome). One of my favorite dishes from this book was from that chapter: the pumpkin frittata. Really, all the dishes I made from this cookbook were delicious. My favorite was the beef rolls, in which thinly sliced rump roast meat is wrapped with proscuitto around julienned carrots and celery, then is slow-cooked in a tomato and wine sauce until the meat just falls apart. My fiance, Connor, loved the rice stuffed tomatoes surrounded by chunks of potato. And I enjoyed trying my hand at the classic carbonara. But with many dishes, I had recipe questions along the way; I wanted clarification. Like when I was roasting the peeled cherry tomatoes for the garlic, oil, peperoncino and roasted tomatoes dish, I wanted a visual cue: what should the final tomatoes look like? Like, how roasted should they be? I ended up just guessing. 

Taste of Persia’s table of contents is organized more traditionally, by salads and vegetables, soups, fish, sweets, etc. Naomi further breaks up each of those sections by country and expounds on regionally-specific distinctions within each category. The dishes I made were so stinkin’ good. They were simple and hearty. Pomegranate-Walnut Chicken Stew was ridiculously easy for that addicting burst of flavor surrounding and infusing the bites of tender meat. Spinach Borani was something that I’d welcome as a side dish to just about any meal on my plate. Baked Persian Rice that, to me, exemplifies comfort food. And a lot of the recipes are quite healthy, although that’s not something that Naomi emphasizes. Culture and flavor trumps in Persia

She’s more of an anthropologist than a chef; I appreciate that her recipes are just as approachable to a home cook as her travel anecdotes are entertaining and informative. I so enjoyed her stories and somehow felt more of an understanding of and connection with the food I was preparing and eating because of it.

I thoroughly enjoyed both cookbooks, but alas, I must choose a winner. Because Taste of Persia will remain on my kitchen shelf, whereas Tasting Rome will likely make its way to my coffee table, Taste of Persia wins. 

And the winner is…

Taste of Persia

Taste of Persia

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Do you Agree?

49 Comments

Lissa March 13, 2017
I much prefer the written reviews.
 
annmartina March 7, 2017
Have you tried Kalustyans on Lexington Ave for hard to find ingredients. I heard an interview of Padma Lakshmi and she swore by this place. It's on my list for a visit in April
 
beejay45 March 7, 2017
Another lover of the video format! I'm a visual person and having a look at the books, their photos, the foods!!! It really makes it easier for me to want the book. On the down side, it makes me want both books.<br /><br />I grew up with a great Italian cook for a mom, and I had many Persian friends in college who fed me generously, So, I would be inclined to want both books anyway, but the video just pushed me right over the top. ;) Thanks, Katie!
 
Ileana M. March 6, 2017
Such a fun, thorough and compelling review!
 
lkalan89 March 6, 2017
I thought this review was so unique! I love the video format. Being able to see home cooked versions of these recipes was really helpful. I want both of these books!
 
Michelle March 5, 2017
I loved this review more so because it is in video form. I appreciated having visuals of the recipes she tried from both books; its making me want to buy both books immediately! To add to her credits, i believe she was a Chopped contestant and mentioned she was attending cooking school to further her cooking. I'm happy to learn she finished and has been advancing her career :-)
 
Rhsant March 5, 2017
I was waffling on buying Taste of Persia because I don't eat much meat these days. Persian food seems meat-heavy to me based on the many Persian restaurants and stores on my street. However, I have greatly admired Naomi Duguid's books for many years. After this review, I'm buying the hardcover which is rare for me. I'm not quite at the Diana Henry level for number of cookbooks(find the photo somewhere on Food52), but considering that I live in an apartment, I would also have books spilling out of crammed bookcases and onto chairs and other surfaces. In other words, buying a hardcover is a big deal. New dilemma, do I also buy the kindle version because I don't want to get the book dirty?<br /><br />P.S. Thank you for the hardworking people behind The Piglet and all the judges. It's been a bit sad to see some of the nasty comments for something meant to be fun.
 
marmar March 6, 2017
Hey, <br />Just wanted to set you at ease. Don't believe what you see with the rice/kabobs sold everywhere here. Meat was (and is) expensive in Iran and Kabobs are special-occasion food. Persian food relies quite heavily on vegetables, herbs, legumes.
 
JennC March 5, 2017
Fun video. I read the transcript of it first, probably because I've loved the beautiful, even narrative, writing of previous reviews in the round. Interestingly, and not surprisingly, this was my least favorite to read. As far as the actual review, there's not much detail about the actual cooking. The video seems a little like a commercial or mini Food Network spot.
 
Morizou March 4, 2017
Brilliant video! (I was in love--I mean, she also wrote a book on avocados!--and then Katie mentioned her fiancé . . . lucky man!)
 
Sandy March 4, 2017
Food52, please get rid of the Sharp Oven ad that obscures the video and can't be removed. Sometimes I'm afraid you all have sold your souls to Mammon. Enough with the ads.
 
BocaCindi March 4, 2017
I don't have any ads obscuring the video. Perhaps you could check your computer setting for cookies before you enter the accusatory area. Just a thought
 
greg T. March 4, 2017
I had it as well BocaCindi.
 
Rhonda35 March 7, 2017
I did not have any ads obscuring the video.
 
Veronica March 4, 2017
I have thoroughly enjoyed being taken on a virtual culinary journey with the reviews and this one has been no exception. I have had my eye on The Taste of Persia for a while so think it might be time to indulge. <br />
 
Chocolate B. March 4, 2017
All of the reviews this year have been excellent, but this one stole my heart. I haven't been too excited about cooking lately, but the moment the video ended I ordered Taste of Persia and I'm eager to get started.
 
Helen P. March 3, 2017
Just got to watch the video. This was awesome. What great way to review a cookbook. Her enthusiasm and candour just burst through. More please.
 
BonniePHL March 3, 2017
I'm having a really good time so far with Taste of Persia, especially now that I've got plenty of khmeli suneli and barberries on hand. The leek pate and kharcho are the winning recipes so far that we've tried. Glad it's making it to the next round.
 
Transcendancing March 3, 2017
One of my favourite reviews yet - I really love when reviewers talk about or show us the process of going through the book and what it was like to cook from it and how they felt about it all.
 
Shalini March 3, 2017
Yay for Naomi! I got to test some of the recipes for Persia (as it's called in Canada) and can attest to their ease. It's true Naomi's style of cookbook writing is anthropological, this combined with the photos makes it lovely to read.<br />I didn't watch the video yet but read the judgement, looking forward to it!
 
Julie March 3, 2017
The video was awesome and I hope you do more!!!
 
Sherry E. March 3, 2017
best of all the reviews, greatly enjoyed her approach, video and energy!
 
XenaB March 3, 2017
This was fun, informative and showed the reviewer's willingness to sincerely test out both books. Bravo for the video and the review.
 
Greenstuff March 3, 2017
I made that pomegranate-walnut stew a couple of weeks ago, and it is a keeper. Even better the next day.