Whenever I have guests, I tell them that they must try lampredotto from a banco mobile (food cart) that puts the whole “street food”…”food truck” fru fru scene in America to shame. I recommend it because it is an authentic food experience besides “pizza and pasta.” And it’s what the general blue collar work crowd can comfortably afford for lunch. I am about to explain. I will use this post to squash some ideas Americans and tourists have of Italians and Italian life. Okay, so we come here like it’s Disneyland, voyeuristic in taking snapshots of the old ladies buying fruit at the open-air markets, or as one of my friends told me- taking snapshots of him buying tomatoes in the store. Which if you think about it, is pretty creepy. How would you like some tourist taking your picture in Trader Joe’s? But the reason people shop at these “open-air markets” that tourists think is so glamorous, is because life in Italy for some is poor and that 10 cent difference between bananas at the market and at the store is worth something that most tourists could hardly fathom.
So my point is, unlike living in the states, life is modest here. I’m not complaining, but most people in Italy don’t exactly have the luxury to eat out expensive meals multiple times a week . I’m not writing this to incite sympathy or pity- It makes me uncomfortable to talk about money in my sort of public blog but I think people should understand this. And nothing irritates me more than people who think Italians live this life of vespas, ferrari, gucci and cappuccino. The vespa part is kinda right, but because the gas is cheaper for scooters. Gas costs almost the equivalent of 10 dollars a gallon. Cappuccino is also kind of true, but it’s part of breakfast and there is a national “cap” on how much a bar can charge which is not the Stumptown fancy schmancy 4 dollar cup to-go but 1.20 at the counter.
Anyways…do you know what lampredotto is? It’s this:
Florence and Tuscany in general should be known for la cucina povera which is a cuisine based on peasant food that most cultures have. Tripe, chitterlings, liver “crostini”, tomato bread soup, minestrone, etc- are all cheap and crucial to real Tuscan cuisine. It’s a no-waste philosophy that dates back to when Italy was limited on resources during post-war depression periods. Because Italians are sticklers for tradition- these foods are still as popular as ever. And sadly, Italy has in a sense returned to a depressed economic state. Meno male that la cucina povera never went out of style. :/
So today I had to do an interview with the Cordon Blu culinary school for an article I am writing and I asked the director if they taught lampredotto in the Tuscan cooking courses. She said no, because most tourists and Americans are scared of it and think that they don’t like it. It made me smile that she said they think because picky eaters drive me crazy- how can you not like something you’ve never tried?!
Then it made her smile when I asked her where her favorite lampredottaio “banco mobile” was. She said near the bronze porcellino near Piazza della Repubblica. I didn’t know what the porcellino was, which apparently is the lucky rub-for-luck tourist attraction bronze pig. So I decided for lunch today I was going. I realized I’ve been here for 4 months and haven’t had lampredotto yet AND I didn’t know what the lucky porcellino was. It was a sign.
This sandwich with a glass of wine will cost under 5 euro. The meat is stewed in a simple broth and then made to order. These innards are then cut up and laid a top a crusty bread roll, doused with salt and pepper.
Then a half of the bread is dipped in the lampredotto stock and topped with a kind of herb paste made mostly of parsley. I chomped on this at the “banco” counter of the food truck, observing the guy make sandwiches and noticing that most of the clientele were men and I was seriously the only woman eating a cow guts sandwich. I felt oddly proud of my “bizarre food” Andrew Zimmern inspired moment.
It was okay. It had a weird fatty consistency and there was too much salt and parsley sauce to really be able to get an idea of what lampredotto tasted like. It was a nice, filling lunch that I think my stomach was confused about how to digest (which enzymes to I make for this thing this crazy lady just ate? lipase or protease?) You could for sure taste that the meat was stewing in a broth yet it was soft and flavorful. And I could see why this would be a pit-stop for the Florentine lunch crowd- especially because there is cheap wine that you should for sure have with it. Why not?
So if you are in Florence or in Tuscany- be adventurous, be curious! Taste everything! Unless you are a vegetarian or celiac- you can’t knock it till you try it:)