It takes a lot of guts to eat like a local in the historic Italian city of Florence, and some would say the whole experience is just a load of tripe.
Before I travel I often go over a quote that seems to resonate with me. It’s from a gentleman by the name of Barry Lopez from his book About this Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory.
It goes like this: “If I were to now visit another country, I would ask my local companion, before I saw any museum or library, any factory or fabled town, to walk me in the country of his or her youth, to tell me the names of things and how, traditionally, they have been fitted together in a community. I would ask for the stories, the voice of memory over the land. I would ask to taste the wild nuts and fruits, to see their fishing lures, their bouquets, their fences. I would ask about the history of storms there, the age of the trees, the winter colour of the hills. Only then would I ask to see the museums. I would want first the sense of a real place, to know that I was not inhabiting an idea.”
Pretty powerful stuff.
For me, food is an essential part of this equation. The traditional dishes of a region and the places where the locals eat and carouse are increasingly the sort of places I want to go. So with that said, let us take a look at Florence, a city that seems to effortlessly steal the heart of any visitor and one with a deep traditional food culture.
There are just two rules to eating like a local in Florence. Rule one: avoid any place with a tourist menu. Rule two: get outside your comfort zone. In Florence this means embracing offal or trippa and, in particular, lampredotto, the lower section of the cow’s intestine.
You’ll find lampredotto stands scattered throughout the city. It’s a classic street food dish and a panino al lampredotto smothered in salsa verde is a Tuscan rite of passage. I have a few favourites I’d like to share.
Near the Sant’Ambrogio market, you will find the standalone cart, Pollini (Via dei Macci, 126, 50122) for arguably the best panini di lampredotto in Florence. Choose to have your bread bagnato (half dipped in the broth) or not and add salsa verde or chilli oil, grab a can of beer and enjoy. Congratulations. You are a little less touristy.
Just around the corner from Pollini you will find the always immaculately dressed Marco Paparozzi at Semel Street Food (Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti, 44, 50122). I just love this tiny hole-in-the-wall. Paparozzi handwrites the menu every morning. He offers a more contemporary take on lampredotto — it is jazzed up with cheese. A glass of wine and a panini here is just a pleasure with beautiful combinations such as truffle, pear and pecorino and stewed wild boar with winter greens.
All’antico Vinaio (Via dei Neri, 74/R, 50100) is another classic but be prepared to queue as it is wildly popular and justifiably so. While lampredotto certainly graces the menu here, I think the sbriciolona (a type of salami similar to the famous finocchiona of Southern- Tuscany) served with an artichoke and pecorino spread is the panini to aim for, but they have a huge range of selections for all tastes.
Tucked away in the south-west corner of the touristy Mercato Centrale you will find the wonderful Da Nerbone (Piazza del Mercato Centrale, 12 red, 50123) where a throng of locals usually wait for some of the wares from one of Florence’s oldest panini shops. Lampredotto, porchetta and bollito (boiled brisket) are the order of the day. On a recent visit I had their delicious trippa alla fiorentina, a slow-cooked tripe and tomato stew that was earthy, toothsome and lick-the-bowl gorgeous.
For those in search of the total trippa immersion, Osteria Tripperia Il Magazzino (Piazza della Passera 2-3, 50125) just over the Ponte Vecchio is the high altar to all things intestiney. Try the trippa meatballs and the life-changing lampredotto-filled ravioli topped with Tropea onion sauce; in fact everything on the menu is amazing. Try to arrive to your booking a little early to wander around the nearby alleyways for some cool street art spotting and don’t forget a killer coffee at the awesome Ditta Artigianale after lunch (dittaartigianale.it) just a few doors up from the restaurant.
If your gustatory pleasures lean towards something a little less offaly, a dinner at Trattoria Sostanza (Via del Porcellana, 25/R, Florence, 50123) is very special traditional experience. I would gladly crawl across town for a serving of their Petti di Pollo al Burro, chicken cooked over coals then poached and served in an obscene amount of butter. Last meal on earth material.
There is no shortage of great places to eat in Florence but to feel and get treated like a local, trust me, embrace the tripey goodness of that last part of the cow’s intestine, lampredotto. You will thank me for it.