In a country that’s famous for food Tuscany has a reputation for being one of the best places to eat. Even Italians from other regions grudgingly admit Florence produces and prepares some of the tastiest dishes and wine in Italy. Meals however don’t have to be formal and simplicity is often the best way to satisfy a palate. Besides traditional trattoria where you can sample local specialties the city has a long tradition of street food. Below are some of Florence’s ancient and authentic dishes every traveler should taste:
- Antipasti: Appetizers are a delicious way to begin a meal. Choices include bruschetta (or crostini as they’re called in Florence) along with cured meats and cheeses. These are very often served in wine bars on wooden platters and accompanied with honey and olives. Central Italy is a major producer of prosciutto and other hams. The local variety is spicy and some say it’s to compensate for the unsalted bread.
- Crostini: A lighter version of bruschetta that consists of grilled bread topped with oil, chopped tomatoes, or fegato (ground chicken liver similar to paté).
- Ribollita: A hearty, vegetarian stew served mainly in winter, when the black cabbage in the recipe is in season. It can also be found throughout the year with substitute vegetables.
- Pappa al Pomodoro: A vegetarian, tomato-based stew that’s perfect in summer. It’s reminiscent of Gazpacho although the bread used gives it a thicker consistency and tomatoes are the main ingredient.
- Bistecca alla Fiorentina: A thick T-bone steak that’s the most popular main course in Florence. It’s cut from Chianina beef, a local cattle breed raised along the Tuscan coast and prized for its flavor. It’s priced by the kilo. Don’t bother asking for medium or well done: Fiorentina steaks are grilled for three minutes on either side and served alone on a plate close to rare. Contorni (side dishes) are ordered separately and generally consist of vegetables. The preferred sides are green beans (fagioli), broccoli, and zucchini. Roasted potatoes (patate arrosto) are also common on menus.
- Vino: Meat and wine are natural table fellows and Tuscany is home to some of the finest vineyards in Italy. Chianti or Barolo are world renowned but there are plenty of options. If you’re not an expert, the vino della casa (house wine) of any decent trattoria is usually very drinkable. Order it by the glass, quarter, half or full carafe. Chilled vino bianco (white wine) is popular in summer while vino rosso (red wine) is best with meat and cheese dishes.
The favorite fast food ingredient in Florence is tripe (trippa), made from the inside of a cow’s four stomachs (NOT intestines). This traditional ingredient is a holdover from past centuries when people didn’t waste anything. Tripe in fact has great gastronomic possibilities and is used to create a variety of dishes. A handful of traditional tripe kiosks still exist in the city and locals are happy to point the way. There’s considerable debate regarding the best ones and it all depend on tenderness of the meat, concentration of spices and personality of the venders.
- Lampredotto: Tripe simmered for several hours with tomatoes, onions, and parsley. It’s eaten as a stew accompanied with a green herb sauce or in a sandwich and was traditionally consumed by the working classes. Today, you can find it served at mobile kiosks around the city and inside Mercato Centrale.
- Trippa alla Fiorentina: Tripe sautéed with vegetables, tomatoes, and Parmesan, then simmered slowly until the sauce evaporates. It’s on many menus and a good introduction to tripe.
- Schiacciata: The Florentine version of focaccia, served at bakeries to make sandwiches or enjoyed straight up. It’s a speedy and delicious snack that’s thick and doughy, and often topped with grilled vegetables or stuffed with local cold cuts.
- Tramezzini: These triangular shaped sandwiches may not have been invented in Florence but have been perfected here and nearly every bar carries its own particular version. The advantage of tramezzini besides the taste is the price which rarely exceeds €2.50.
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