What to Eat in Florence
Florence is responsible for turning me into a foodie. I arrived there, 18 and naive, only having eaten American-style pizza. I was converted (it was indeed religious!) after my first meal there. I wandered into a tiny pizzeria, at an odd time of afternoon after flying overnight from Montreal. I picked at random a pizza from the Italian-only menu and ate the entire thing. I stayed for a year, finding my own little routines of eating cornettos instead of croissants and fettunta instead of “bruschetta.” Florence will always hold a special place in my heart.
Regional Tuscan cooking is like any other Mediterranean country, it can change dramatically depending on which city or village you’re in. If you’re visiting Florence, you should try the gastronomy specific to this beautiful Renaissance city. The traditional foods of Florence are very much tied to Tuscan Cucina Povera. These are the most common dishes, and most traditional, you’ll find all around the city. See my article about the Markets of Florence for more information on where to find these delicacies.
The original garlic bread. Also what is known in Italy as Bruschetta.
To celebrate the first olive oil of the season, they make this simple fettunta – or “greased slice.” It’s simply grilled bread, rubbed with a raw garlic clove, drizzled with the best olive oil possible, and then sprinkled with coarse sea salt.
Crostini di Fegato/Crostini Neri
The equivalent of tapenade on crostini in Provence. Crostini di fegato is chicken liver paté served on toasts. This will often be served with aperitvo.
These are naked ravioli. Just the spinach and ricotta filling without the pasta. Often served with a butter or tomato sauce. Absolutely delicious. You can only image how this recipe came to be.
Pappa al Pomodoro
For me, a symbol of culinary Italian triumph. Like Panzanella, this is simply bread, olive oil, tomatoes, and basil. A typical Cucina Povera dish, it’s still very popular in Tuscany today.
This is the famous Tuscan potage made with bread and vegetables. Often described as a soup, this is actually a peasant dish that was the re-heated leftovers (re-boiled) of the vegetable soup of the previous day. It’s thick, cheap, and heart-warming.
Pappardelle sulla Lepre
Thick flat pasta served with hare sauce.
In a land of Cucina Povera this is the pride of Florence. A steak that is 2 inches thick and that always includes a bone. It’s delicious, but can be a little daunting!
Peposo alla Fiorentina
Originally cooked at the cooling down kilns at terracotta factories. I was hesitant to try this as I make a rather lot of daube (Provencal boeuf bourguignon) at home. I was surprised by how flavourful this is. Peposo is made with stewing beef, wine and a rather lot of black peppercorns.
Trippa or Lampredotto
I remember a dashing Italian man taking me out on a date in Florence. My knowledge of food was limited at the age of 18. He ordered me a large plate of tripe. I wasn’t wild about the texture but oh my the sauce! I ate some of it though, and just barely passed the test.
Lampredotto is particularly a local speciality for Florence. It is the fourth and final stomach of a cow, slow-cooked with tomato, onion, parsley, and celery. Both tripe and lampredotto are traditionally served on a crunchy bun, often first soaked in the broth and with spicy or green sauce. The best place to try either of these is at the street foods stands in various piazzas in Florence.
The Florentines love their beans. I didn’t understand until I tasted their preparation. The white beans are served with garlic, sage, and peppercorn.
Spinach and Artichokes
You’ll see these ingredients everywhere in Florence. Topped high on pizzas, in panini and pasta. Often generously drizzled in olive oil. You can buy pre-prepared spinach in grocery stores and butchers. Also, you’ll find large jars of cheap artichokes. I took quite a few home!
This is, of course, synonymous with all things Italian. However, it is believed that gelato first was created here in Florence. Numerous guides will recommend the best gelaterias but I found that the quality is so much higher than regular ice cream that you basically can’t go wrong. My favourite flavours are nocciola (hazelnut) caffé (coffee) and fior di latte. I noticed that since I’ve been back to Florence, the more Americanised flavours (think caramel, pecans, double chocolate, any candy bars) have crept their way into the gelato display cases. Try the favourite Italian flavours first:
Fior di latte (FYOR dee LAH-tay) – Gelato in it’s purest form. The best test of a gelateria. Literally “flower of milk” and it’s a wonderfully subtle sweet cream flavour. Simplicity and elegance.
Crema (KREH-mah) – This is a kind of egg custard flavor, and shouldn’t be confused with vanilla.
Zabaione (zah-bah-YOH-nay) – This is based on a dessert of the same name, made from egg yolks and sweet Marsala wine.
Amarena (ah-mah-RAY-nah) – Fior di latte with sour cherries.
Bacio (BAH-cho) – Named for the famous chocolate candies that come from Perugia with little life musings in them. This is a chocolate hazelnut combination.
Stracciatella (strah-cha-TEL-lah) – The more elegant, Italian version of chocolate chip ice cream. It’s a fior di latte base with chocolate bits in it.
Pistacchio (pee-STAHK-yoh) – Pistachio
Mandorla (mahn-DOOR-lah) – Almond
Nocciola (noh-CHO-lah) – Hazelnut
The legend has it that a cook in an English household just outside of the hills of Fiesole was quite thrifty. She layered the uneaten biscotti with a liquid custard cream and served them for dessert. You will often find this on the menu with a might of alchermes (Italian liquor). My English boyfriend is extremely fond of custard and consequentially, a lover of this dish.
A local cocktail that you’ll see on every drinks menu in the city. A favourite in clubs despite it’s considered an apéritif. Most likely because of it’s kick! It’s composed of
one part gin, one part vermouth rosso, and one part Campari, garnished with an orange peel.
It is historically associated with a squat bottle enclosed in a straw basket, called a fiasco. The fiasco is only used by a few table winemakers of the wine now. Chianti wines are composed of at least 70% Sangiovese grapes. I would suggest a Chianti Classico. These are premium Chianti wines produced between Florence and Siena that tend to be medium-bodied with firm tannins.
We tried local wines at a trendy hole in the wall- if that makes any sense! Wine Bar Il Santino has about only 15 seats so get here early. They offer free delicious cold cuts on toasted bread with each round you order. The dishes look pretty lovely too.
When in Italy, also make sure to try:
This is the smaller, denser version of a French croissant. It’s filled with sweet custard. Enough said. Often sold at bars where you stand to drink a coffee. Usually, all gone after 9h30 am.
The Italians know how to do coffee. It’s strong and smooth. You’ll have to pay for the coffee before you drink it.
It can be difficult to find somewhere to take in the atmosphere while sitting down. You’ll have to pay extra if there are seats. Don’t order any type of coffee with milk after midday if you’d like to try and blend in. I order a lungo (slightly longer espresso) or macchiato (espresso with a tiny bit of milk).
A bitter soda drank at aperitivo hour when you’re not yet ready for alcohol. It’s a deep red colour packaged in small glass bottles. Like Campari or Aperol, Sanbitter has a distinct bitter citrus note upon the first sip, ending with a pleasantly sweet finish. I’m addicted and stock up whenever I see it.