A Taste of Florence

Any food lover is likely going to love to eat their way through Florence, but many of city’s most traditional dishes are probably not what you think they are.

The Florentines, like most Italians, have a very important relationship with their cuisine. They have very strict rules about what can be eaten when, with what accompaniments and in what particular order. You can even tell what month of the year it is by looking at a Florentine menu. It is a cuisine, however, that is simple, at times austere and based on those two obligatory ingredients, beans and bread.

For me, Florentine food is absolutely best eaten in the cooler months of the autumn and winter, as it is the kind of food that you crave when you want to feel full and warm, food that make you want to curl up with next to a fireplace with a bottle of Chianti. Ingredients such as fagioli – or beans, usually white cannellini beans – feature in many dishes. Pasta generally appears dressed simply in tomato sauce or in a ragù of sorts such as beef, duck, rabbit or wild boar.

But it is what’s known as the quinto quarto, the “fifth quarter” or offal that is probably the most Florentine thing that I can think of: lampredotto (cow’s stomach) panini (a tradition that goes back to at least the 15th century), tripe in tomato sauce, crostini with chicken liver or spleen spread, thinly sliced tongue carpaccio… They have even found a tasty way to use the crests of roosters. This is what Florentine cooking is all about it and this is what makes it unique in Italian cuisine.

One of my favourite Florentine scenes is catching the workers stopping for a mid-morning snack of lampredotto rolls washed down with a glass of table wine. There are some winter days where for some reason, nothing but one of these will do.

Florentine food is also historical – each dish has a story to tell and it reflects the age of the city’s traditions. There’s something about the fact that you can picture many of these dishes being cooked in medieval-style terracotta pots; indeed, many still are.

The star of Florentine cooking is of course, the bistecca Fiorentina – a T-bone steak at least “two fingers” thick, grilled over coals until rare and best served alone, without sauce or even lemon. I even had a retired Florentine butcher tell me that with a proper Florentine bistecca, meaning the steak that comes from a Chianina cow, you do not even need to add salt. The meat is so tasty it needs nothing to add to it and you shouldn’t cover its natural taste. Of course, there are those that are partial to a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a fresh grating of black pepper.

Dessert is quite often a simple finish of fresh fruit or biscotti dipped in Vin Santo. Tiramisu and other creamy desserts are quite often on the menu these days but to be honest, after eating a proper Florentine meal who has the space to fit in one of these?

Eating like a Florentine is luckily a very easy thing to do in Florence because the locals – proud and insistent as they are on eating their own food – have not given up their trattorias and eating habits to the tourists. Maybe it’s predictable but there is something quite comforting about the certainty of knowing that no matter what happens or how much time passes, the Florentines are still going to be eating their favourite dishes.

Here are some of my favourite places to get a taste of Florence:

Street food and quick snacks:

  • Lampredottaio – There are lampredottai (food vans selling lampredotto panini) in every quarter of Florence. Every Florentine has their say on which one is their favourite: my vote is for the one in the corner of Piazza Sant’Ambrogio.
  • Casa del Vino – This tiny, wonderful place is tucked away behind the stalls of the touristy San Lorenzo markets on via Ariento. You can get a panino made with whatever you like, but trust their combinations and go for one of the day’s specials, such as fresh anchovies with creamy burrata and cherry tomatoes. You won’t ever look back.
  • Café Verrazano – One of the best places to grab a quick snack when you’re in the middle of museum hopping or shopping, Verazzano do excellent focaccia in their wood fired oven and from time to time they have a wonderful cecina – chickpea flatbread. Their bakery is great for take away bread, biscuits and focaccia.
  • Nerbone – Inside the Central Market of Florence, this is one of the staples of Florentine food culture. Grab a porchetta sandwich inside the chaotic atmosphere of the market. Open Monday to Saturday until 2pm.

Trattorias:

  • Ristorante Del Fagioli – This is real, local home cooking. Nothing fancy, it’s comfort food at its best. The first courses such as pastina in brodo are things that instantly take people back to their childhood. The warm chocolate-filled biscotti from Prato are the perfect finish to a meal here. Find it on Corso Tintori 47red, open Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner.
  • Trattoria Mario – You cannot come to Florence and not try a meal here. It’s busy, yes, and no, you cannot book, but try it anyway. The Florentine institution. It’s only open for lunch.
  • L’Brindellone – This restaurant is situated in what is, in my mind, one of the best intersections in terms of restaurant choices in Florence near the corner of Via del Leone and Piazza del Carmine. Get an honest bistecca here with down to earth service. Piazza Piattelina, No. 10.
  • Trattoria Armando – in the unlikely neighbourhood of Borgo Ognissanti, this lovely restaurant is a proper jewel. The faces of famous performers of the nearby Teatro Communale look down at you from the walls while you eat spectacularly made local delights.
  • Osteria Tripperia Il Magazzino – one look at the word “tripperia” in the title should give you the clue that this place specialises in tripe and other offal. The house antipasto plate is a must – their lampredotto meatballs will turn even the pickiest eater into an offal fan. Offal’s not the only thing on the menu, don’t worry, their pear and taleggio cheese risotto is lovely too.

Wine bars:

  • Le Volpi e L’Uva – when someone asks me what is the best thing about living in Florence, I cannot help but think first of sitting here and having a glass of wine. The carefully chosen wine list of boutique or biodynamic wineries means you will always find something wonderful to drink here. The crostini with lardo, honey and black pepper or truffled sausage and cheese are to die for.
  • Il Santino – It’s not the same careful selection of wines as Volpi but they do have a wonderful selection of cheese and salumi, and the buzzing atmosphere in this microscopic wine bar is definitely a great way to start an evening.

Food markets:

  • Sant’Ambrogio markets – Forget the Central Markets. This is the place where the locals go food shopping. See what’s in season by walking through the fruit and vegetable stalls outside before heading inside to check out the delis, butchers, bakeries and fishmongers. Open daily except Sunday.
  • Santo Spirito markets – Every morning there is a quaint little morning market in the main square of one of Florence’s only remaining residential neighbourhoods of the historical centre. Every second Sunday of the month there is an antique market held here which is a great place for some street food (necci and porchetta being some of the favourites), and every third Sunday of the month there is an organic market here too.
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Comments

18 Responses to “A Taste of Florence”
  1. Juls says:

    I’m sitting at the airport waiting for my already late plane.. And I’ve spotted a few places we definitely have to visit together just like yesterday’s afternoon

  2. Jaroslav says:

    Emiko, I need a dish easy to prepare and sophisticated enough to impress a girl. Any recommendation?

  3. Really nice piece – truly captured the essence of Florentine cuisine – great read and lovely pics

  4. Marcello says:

    Great article and superb photos. Everyone can feel your passion about Florence and its food tradition!

  5. Francesca says:

    Can you believe that despite being from Siena and having lived there for my first 20 years of my life I have never had lampredotto?? I will definitely look for those places you suggest. Thank you!

    • Emiko says:

      I have to say, it wasn’t one of the first things I tried in Florence, but now I love it! A definite must for anyone who wants a real taste of Florence, if you ask me!

  6. After spending countless hours pouring over Italian food blogs, yours stopped me in my tracks.
    Photos, descriptives… all fantastic. Will be visiting Florence, Tuscany area & Sicily in late September & can’t wait to taste it all. Am a restaurant owner in NYC & looking forward to leaving behind “trying too hard” food for some good, honest eating.

    • Emiko says:

      Thank you Steven, wow, Florence and Sicily in one visit are going to make an incredible a taste sensation! September is also a fantastic time to visit for someone who likes eating – some of my favourite foods will be in season and the cooling weather just seems to stimulate the appetite and make it easier to eat the richer food that the Tuscans are so good at making! Enjoy your visit and if you need more ideas on places to eat well, drop me a line!

      • And thank you for the sooo friendly response! My partner and I are really looking forward to this trip & naturally we’d be thrilled to get whatever inside info you can offer as far as dining destinations. We’re not into the frou-frou dining experience… don’t need all the white tablecloth & over-designed stuff. (Plenty of that in NYC for us to enjoy!) So we’d be happy to hear about any of your favorites in the Tuscany area (Chianti, Montepulciano, Sienna area), Florence & Southeastern Sicily (Modica, Siracusa, etc…). Thanks again for the kind response & look forward to hearing more…

  7. Thanks for an excellent blog. I’m borrowing the section on Florentine steak for a restaurant review of my own (quoting source and linked to your blog). Feel free to to browse my site – lots of food blogs, dining reviews and recipes.

  8. Donna says:

    Only just discovered and immediately became a follower of your exquisite blog!…I loved Florence (was a student in university there) and SORELY miss …Brigidini…I can not seem to find an authentic version of my beloved stamped/waffled wafer…and wondered if you would happen to harbor such a recipe in your creative culinary catalogue?…

    I recall a lovely fennel/anis seed fragrance..and I believe that the “nonna” selling them used olive oil in the concoction….I actually still have the brigidini stovetop iron…but I sadly lack the magical formula to re-create them!

  9. Nicolas Santopaolo says:

    Dear Emiko,
    Wonderful blog that kept me glued to my screen!
    I visited Firenze in 2011 amongst other fabulous cities such as Roma, Siena and Sorrento on what was a truly amazing Italian road trip. One of my highlights was this wine bar tucked away in the middle of Firenze and I remember telling everyone when I got home how great it was and that I went there everyday during my stay. Well then, low and behold I’m delighted to discover that it gets a fully deserved mention in your blog…bravo to Il Santino!
    You, sorry we, have good taste :)

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