A deluge of people gather by a wall lining one of Florence’s many meandering alleys, sipping petite glasses of red wine and chatting animatedly in between bites of their paninos. No restaurant or café in sight, it was an intriguing scene. The beginnings of a strange food-based flash mob? Or the revelation of one of the very many reasons why Florence is foodie HEAVEN?
I’m pleased to say it was the latter. Cutting through the crowd, we discovered the source. In a hole in the wall barely a few feet deep, two vendors redefined the notion of ‘fast food’, freshly but frantically making paninos from a lengthy menu in a matter of seconds. Behind them towered a bookcase filled with Tuscan classics such as Chianti Classico, and Brunello di Montalcino. Size clearly does not matter a jot in Florence, with this tiny eatery boasting a wine and food menu that rivals 99.9999% of the options you would find in Britain.
A truffled-pecorino and rocket panino, a glass of Chianti and the streets of Florence. And that’s how it’s done.
It may have been a few months since our trip to Florence, but culinary experiences like this refuse to dim. Gifted with a bounty of flavours and tastes that are sumptuously served up with oodles of class and character, Florence is a food lover’s dream. I can’t lie – our inspiration for visiting Tuscany was predominantly centered around exploring the food and wine delights the region is famed for. If Pisa was our Italian appetizer, then Florence followed with in style with an utterly delectable Primi and Secondi Platti. A city that would satisfy even the most fussy of foodies, our short stay was probably a blessing in disguise for my waistline. I tried to keep it brief, but I can’t, so this entire post is dedicated to Florence’s crowning glory – its AMAZING food and wine.
Forget what you thought you knew about the panini (aka panino in Italy). You’re thinking white bread, toasted and usually oozing with melted cheese, right? Not bad, but not mind-blowing. When the Italians refer to paninos, they mean any sandwich that is not made with sliced bread and they are a REVELATION. Best served up away from the main square at one of the many tiny ‘hole in the wall’ style vendors like that etch the City’s side streets, local recommendations served us well, rewarding us with delicious classics like sea-salt focaccia filled with fontina cheese, walnuts, chopped basil, tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. Served with an espresso of course, this is Italy after all.
Simple but absolutely faultless, especially when enjoyed before a view like this:
I’m a sucker for a good market. When they’re good, they’re a veritable treasure chest filled with mouth-watering ingredients that send my imagination into overdrive! Florence’s central market was certainly no exception, beautifully presenting an extraordinary array of produce. Porcini mushrooms, truffles, wine, cheese… I could go on. Yet another example of how Florence’s artistic delights are by no means being confined to the interiors of its galleries, I’d argue that few masterpieces could compare to the exquisite pieces on display in Florence’s central market.
Fast Food, Florence style
Scattered across Florence in outlets that range from up-market patisseries to the Italian version of a greasy spoon, you will find the most decadent examples of fast-food that you may EVER experience. I found my particular favourite at Cantinetta de Verazzano, an up-market bakery and enoteca boasting classics such as warm focaccia soaked in quality extra virgin olive oil, adorned with zucchini flowers and melt in the mouth mozzarella. Simply divine.
Oh MY do the Italians have the right attitude when it comes to food. Food is the cornerstone of all social activities, with evenings beginning at around 5pm with the fabulous ‘aperitif’ – a tipple accompanied by an array of delights presented on a groaning buffet. Stumbling across one particular bar at around 5pm, we paid just 7 Euros and were treated to a delicious glass of Italian Chardonnay, served with our choice from an eye-watering selection of food.
Restraint is a crucial trait of the aperitif-goer that we failed to master – the smorgasbord of food was so tempting, we filled ourselves up and struggled with our meal later on! Practice makes perfect though, and it would certainly be no hardship to practice…
Al Fresco Dining
In spite of one little hiccup, Florence defied rather dubious weather forecasts to give us hot, golden days and mild, balmy evenings. With a dizzying choice of al fresco eateries at our disposal, we wove through the many squares and side streets that engrave Florence’s surface to stumble upon Piazza de Cimatori.
A tiny square tucked away just minutes from the Duomo, two restaurants sit side by side, lighting up the square with the sound of local chatter, chinking glasses and utter contentment.
We sampled both restaurants during our stay, gorging on a variety of simple but stunning meals that made the very best of the local, seasonal produce that Tuscany is blessed with. The zucchini fritti was stunning – whole, fried courgette flowers encased an impossibly light batter and sprinkled with sea salt and pepper. All served with a carafe of Tuscany’s finest liquid nourishment, experiences like this were the very reason that drew us to Florence, and the reason why we didn’t ever want to leave!
What. A. Find. We were trawling the side streets of Florence in search of an Enoteca that had been recommended to us, but were drawn like magnets to this place instead. A rustic cubby hole adorned with hanging prosciutto, a bounty of cheeses and an exceptional wine list, it was perfect. Unable to resist its allure we visited on multiple occasions, enjoying a selection of the rich, earthy and typically Tuscan wines on offer, as well as a platter which married cheeses, hams, honeys and breads of such outstanding quality that I felt a little emotional as we finished our last bites! THIS was why we came to Florence.
In just a few short days I became completely besotted with Florence and its approach to food. From grand meals to humble snacks, Florentine food is a celebration of flavours and ingredients, making every mouthful and sip an absolute pleasure. An inspiring and emotional place for my inner foodie, I’m already plotting my return visit…