Florence may have a reputation for being an exquisite repository of priceless art, but as hungry travelers already know, this Tuscan city is just as pleasing to the stomach as it is to the eyes!
Though Florence may scream chic and upmarket these days, the city actually has humbler origins that go hand in hand with its famous nobility and most of its most popular dishes have been built around easy-to-find, rustic ingredients that are sourced from the surrounding countryside.
Let’s start with the basics to begin our foodie guide to Florence:
The Bistecca alla Fiorentina
Florence’s signature hunk of meat La bistecca alla fiorentina is a T-bone steak from the local Tuscan Chianina cow breed. It’s usually a thick slab of meat that is best shared between two diners, and is typically cooked on a wood burning grill and served rare. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth splashing out on. Osteria del Caffe Italiano, located on the ground floor of a 14th-century piazza, serves up an especially good version.
The Simple Pappa al Pomodoro
This beloved Florentine recipe exalts something most of us wouldn’t consider: hardened bread. This thick, tomatoey soup blends classic Italian ingredients, including olive oil, garlic and basil. The bread is simmered in a soupy concoction until it’s as soft as dough. You’ll see Pappa al pomodoro on menus at a wide range of establishments all across Florence, but if you’re struggling to pick one, try Za Trattoria in Piazza del Mercato Centrale, where it sits on a reasonably priced menu among other traditional offerings.
Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu
With so many wild boar, known locally as cinghiale, roaming the Tuscan countryside – many boldly feasting on grapes under the cover of darkness and incurring the wrath of the local vintners – it seems inevitable that boar meat ends up on the plate. In this classic dish, the meat is slowly simmered for hours on end along with finely chopped onion, celery, carrots, tomatoes, garlic and a splash of red wine, then served with wide Pappardelle pasta.
Crema di Tartufo
Truffles are a delicacy that come with a high price tag, but it is possible to get them a little cheaper in Tuscany, where they are hunted by sharp-nosed dogs and harvested by their handlers. If you want to experience the truffle flavor without shelling out too much cash, scour menus for sandwiches that come with a slathering of Crema di tartufo (truffle cream), a truffle-flavored condiment. At Procacci, a delicatessen slash wine bar that has been in operation since the 19th century, just a five-minute walk from the Duomo, you can enjoy snack-sized truffle panini for a couple of euros each.
Tuscany’s World Famous Wines
Tuscany is wine country par excellence. The region plays host to some of Italy’s most famous appellations, including Chianti classico, Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, Vernaccia di San Gimignano and Carmignano. This means you are rarely far from an excellent glass in Florence. And it’s not just the wines that are good, the settings in which you can drink them aren’t too bad either, like on our Florence wine tour at an operating vineyard in the Florentine hills with dinner at a private 15th century villa overlooking the surrounding countryside. Not only is Tuscany a lauded wine producer, it’s also a prolific one, which means even return visitors will find new discoveries, producers and bottles to try.
The bread served in Florence’s restaurants, whether flatbread, focaccia or thick-crusted loaves, is famous for the one thing it lacks: salt. The reasons behind the salt-less bread are a little hazy. Some say it’s because the blander bread balances better with heavily salted Tuscan foods such as Soppressata di Toscana. Others believe it dates back to the medieval era when the salt supply was heavily taxed by Florence's rival Pisa, and its proud people decided they could do without it all together in spite.
Arguably Florence’s most down-to-earth culinary delight, this beloved sandwich has been a feature of Florentine life since back in the Renaissance era and it’s still sold at street carts all over the city. Though there aren’t records to prove this, odds are Michelangelo would at one time have found himself biting into one of these bad boys in between chiseling sessions on David.
The sandwich is filled with a rarely used cut of tripe (beef belly) that has been slowly simmered in a broth with tomato, onion and celery until meltingly tender. You can choose to have your bread dipped in the cooking broth for an extra punch of flavor, and add a drizzling of salsa verde or chili sauce. Though many restaurants in Florence now serve a version of the sandwich, locals still tend to go street-side for their Lampredotto fix, with Pollini, a stand found on Via de' Macci near Piazza Sant’Ambrogio, serving up a stellar version.
The Negroni Cocktail
Though it’s a cocktail menu staple in bars all across the globe from Brooklyn to Brisbane, the Negroni actually originated here in Florence. According to local lore, it was invented in 1919, when an aristocrat by the name of Count Camillo Negroni told a barman he wanted his usual drink, Campari and Vermouth, but with an extra kick. The obliging barman added a measure of gin, and garnished it with an orange twist. Today, you can sip a Negroni in the bar where it was invented. Though it was then known as Caffe Casoni, it has since been rechristened as Giacosa Café.
City Wonders has a number of Florence tours that savor Tuscany’s culinary delights. Our Tuscany Castle tours whisk you to the Chianti countryside for wine tastings and free time for lunch in the postcard-perfect town of Greve in Chianti. Not making it to Florence? Don’t give up, our Tuscany day trips from Rome include a Brunello tasting, Tuscan lunch and visits to hill towns Montepulciano and Pienza.