‘Going local’ with Florence food requires a little more courage than sampling aperitivo in Milan or the meat dishes of Rome because one of Florence’s favorite traditional mid-day snacks is (drumroll please) tripe, locally known as trippa. For the uninitiated, tripe comes from the inside of a cow’s first stomach or, less commonly, its second or third stomach. When the meat comes from the fourth stomach, it's called lampredotto.
Florence tripe is mostly served from small carts called a trippai and is treated more or less like any other fast food – like eating a hotdog in New York or grabbing a plate of pad thai in Bangkok. While the city used to have dozens of trippai, sadly less than ten remain today, but those few still do make a roaring trade. People drop by while running their chores or on their lunch break and order from a short, mostly unchanging menu. Orders are consumed at the cart which will usually have a ledge to rest your elbows on and are washed down with a glass of wine or a bottle of beer.
For the most part, tripe sandwiches are the order of the day. Having been boiled since the early morning or even overnight, tender tripe is served up in rolls that have been briefly dipped into the cooking broth. Often the tripe comes in a tomato sauce or with various toppings such as chili oil or salsa verde, literally a green salsa made of parsley, capers, garlic, and anchovies with a few extras thrown in. Carts will also offer a platter of long-simmered cuts of tripe or a lampredetto sandwich. Made of the fourth stomach, lampredetto is by far the most tender cut of meat, the delicate flavor of the sandwich is usually complemented by fresh vegetables, leek or artichoke.
But what does it taste like? Rest assured that tripe tastes nothing like you think it will. It doesn’t have the potency of liver or the texture of kidneys. Instead, it is soft, tender, fresh and surprisingly tasty when prepared correctly (which it always is in Florence.) In fact, it’s hard to understand why we shun this kind of meat at home. In Italy, and Tuscany in particular, there has always been a tradition of eating all of an animal to prevent waste which is why Florentines always eat what they call the ‘fifth quarter’ or quinto quarto of the cow. And why should cow’s cheek be a delicacy but not cow’s stomach, Florence tripe?
You’ll find trippai all over Florence and the quality, like all things in Italy, is best judged based on the length of the queues. If you’re in a rush though, look for Trippiao del Porcellino in the southwest corner of Piazza del Mercato Nuovo, or for Mario Albergucci at Piazzale di Porta Romana.
While the best way to sample Florence’s oldest fast food is on the go from a cart – like it was intended – you can always sample a more refined version in trattorias across the city. This might be your best bet if the other members of your group aren’t quite so keen on internal organs. Trippa alla Fiorentina is one of the most popular dressed-up tripe dishes you’ll see.
Go on, give it a try. We bet you’ll like it.