Posts Tagged ‘Eating’

Eating Out in Florence

Florence does not simply regard itself as home to the greatest of Italy’s regional culinary traditions, but as the birthplace of all Western cookery. Florentines will tell you that it was the sixteenth-century Catherine de Medici who taught the French to cook by taking with her a team of Tuscan chefs when she married the Duke of Orleans, later to become King Henry II of France.

While it is hard to tell if the above is true or false, there is no doubt Florence can reward the wise traveler in search for good local food, especially if he/she manages to get off the beaten track. The key is to find a place that looks as though it’s popular with locals. If you find such a place, you’re probably onto a winner, both price and taste wise.

As in most cities, the cheapest eating places can be found in the area surrounding the main railway station, with the more upmarket restaurants being located in the central area. Some excellent, moderately priced establishments are located in Oltrarno, the traditionally less respectable south side of the river.

As it is always the case in Italy, it’s preferable to order dishes that are traditional to the region, not least because this helps ensure the freshest ingredients. Tuscan cuisine, and Florentine in particular, continues to adhere to many peasant traditions, combing basic ingredients and simple cooking methods. Nevertheless, the finished result is nothing if not impressive..

The Florentine steak (‘bistecca allla fiorentina’), believed to date back to the Etruscans, is a perfect example. Many in the English-speaking world would call this a Porterhouse or a T-Bone and wonder what the fuss is all about. In reality, a ‘Florentine steak’ is cut closer to the center of the steer than a North American T-bone, so it includes a full circle of the tenderloin. Apart from the cut, much of the secret is the breed of cattle: the best steaks come from the Chianina breed, which is known as the oldest breed of cattle in the world, and they are thick cut, weighting at least 800g. Cooked on the grill, served rare and, on occasion, with a wedge of lemon on the side, a Fiorentina can easily satisfy two people, but there are those brave enough who will attempt to eat one all by themselves!

The soups are well worth trying as they are derived from peasant traditions as well. The most delicious, famous Florentine soup is ‘ribollita’, made with a mixture of stale bread, beans, ‘cavolo nero’ (a black cabbage grown in Tuscany, similar to kale or Swiss Chard) and other typical Tuscan vegetables. As with many leftovers, ribollita always tastes better the day after! Other delicious soups are ‘pappa con il pomodoro’ (a tomato-based soup that’s thickened with bread) and ‘minestra di farro’ (spelt or barley soup with beans, tomatoes, celery and carrot). While some of these soups might not sound terribly appealing to your palate, they are absolutely delicious, simple and hearty.

Extra-virgin olive oil is held in pride of place in Florence, and it is never missing from the Florentine table. Olive oil is used as a dip for foods such as celery, artichokes and ‘pinzimonio’ (a selection of fresh vegetables). It is also used in cooking, and as a dressing for salads and delicious ‘bruschetta’ (grilled slices of unsalted bread topped in a variety of ways). The one made with red cabbage and beans is a local favourite and must be tasted to be believed!

Other Florentine and Tuscan specialities to look out for are ‘crostini’ (a smaller variety of bruschetta topped with pate’ or diced tomatoes), ‘panzanella’ (a cold mixed summer salad with breadcrumbs), ‘pappardelle sulla lepre’ (ribbon pasta with hare), ‘pappardelle al cinghiale’ (pappardelle with wild boar sauce) and ‘fagioli all’uccelletto’ (beans in tomato sauce usually served as a side dish).

If you have a sweet tooth, try to get your hands on a slice of ‘schiacciata alla fiorentina’. It is an orange-flavored sponge cake, covered with confectioner’s sugar and filled with pastry or whipped cream. Although typically served around Carnival, it can be found at Florence’s pastry shops year round. ‘Cantuccini di Prato’ are dry almond biscuits that are dipped in ‘Vin Santo’, a sweet, aromatic dessert wine.

Tuscany produces some of the finest wines in Italy, the most famous of which is probably Chianti. ‘Chianto Classico’ is produced in the area to the south of Florence – one of several production zones for Chianti. ‘Vernaccia di San Gimignano’, a white wine which was a favourite of Lorenzo de’ Medici, is another good local wine to try. If you are serious about your wines, pay a visit to an enoteca, where you can taste, enjoy and buy a range of quality wines.

Finally, if a quick snack is what you are looking for, head to a ‘friggitoria’, to have some ‘polenta fritta’ or ‘crocchette’ – or to one of the tripe stands which can be found all around the city. These traditional Florentine stands usually serve sandwiches filled with ‘lampredotto’ (stuffed cow’s stomach). They may not sound too appealing to your taste, but to paraphrase an old adage ‘When in Florence…’

This article is part of a series covering the most important italian travel destinations and regional cuisines. You can find similar articles about eating out in Rome, Naples, Milan and Venice.

Born in New York City, but now happily ensconced in the Tuscan Archipelago, Bob McCormack is a freelance writer with a very special passion for food and wine. His
Tuscany travel

articles and
Tuscany hotel

and restaurants reviews have appeared in numerous national and international publications.


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