After years of coming to terms with culture clashes and accepting that things are simply done differently in Italy, I still from time to time cannot get over how inconvenient the Italian pausa is. La pausa is the break. The break that is a total pain in the back for travelers and locals alike. Italy, I love you for everything- the good and the bad. You are what I consider the closest thing to a husband- I take you for what you are. I can only hope you can forgive the following post as seemingly insensitive criticism to your cultural quirks.
I get it, it’s in the culture. Food, friends and family come first. In my American brain, which is still not completely washed away, I can’t help but think but you are turning customers away! I agree that everyone needs a break, and in the states I cannot accept that employers expect you to eat lunch in 30 minutes to the second without feeling like a prisoner. But there needs to be a balance. It is simply not good service to be closed for 3-4 hours a day. Again, I get it is in the culture and one should never mutter “As an American, I’m used to doing things this way” but this is a frustration that conflicts me on a fundamental level since I also work in the service industry. Because I am a generous and understanding (and quite humble) soul, I am happy to offer a compromise, Italy. How about a 1.5 hour break?
Unless pigs start flying in the next 5 years, I will have to accept this quirk as just part of the deal. The cost of admission for being in one of the most spectacular countries on this planet. Over the years, more places are starting to catch on to this and are extending their hours. It is not all doom and ghost town gloom. And mind you, my frustration comes mostly from shops that close, like retail shops and pharmacies. The pharmacy pausa really grinds my gears- basically people are only allowed to need medicine between the hours of 9-12 and 4-7 otherwise you need to book it across town to the one of 3 non-stop pharmacies. Restaurants? I can understand that they need a break after working their brains out during the lunch service. Nevertheless, the pausa can be equally as frustrating for someone who is traveling and may have a good reason to want to have a bite or an early dinner.
Recently, I had a great challenge and request from a friend to find wild boar fresh pasta in Florence at 5pm on a Saturday.
Okay…I had to fulfill this challenge. I was determined to find wild boar pasta at a place which did not suck (and in Florence, there are many round-the-clock eateries which do). After this challenge, I started to think…for those of us who have a life which does not revolve around the pausa– where can we go? For example, what if you had a super early morning flight and didn’t want to eat late the night before? The Italian response would be to “arrangiare”, to get around it by perhaps going to a snack bar or a grocery store. But what if you don’t want some crappy, stale panino from the bar or picnic foods from the grocery store? What if you just want some Tuscan wild boar and fresh pasta to have a memorable last supper in Florence?
If you are hungry in Florence during pausa and looking for places to eat (which do not suck OR cost an exuberant arm and leg), Curious Appetite has a few where to eat in Florence tips yet again:
1. Konnubio- This was the place which I found (which apparently is subject to debate) that had that fresh pasta with wild boar. Potato filled ravioli with a rich wild boar ragu’ and more wild meats ensued such as taglierini with faraona guinea fowl touched with black truffle. The service here was cozy and swift. Welcome glasses of prosecco did not hurt a first impression. We wanted to share these 2 dishes and the chef was so polite and split each pasta into 2 on individual slate platters- without us even asking! My paranoia started to kick in and for about 12 minutes, I was convinced I was on planet Mars with that 5 star service. Turns out, the chef has a history of working in hotel restaurants- ahhhh the extremely thoughtful service made sense. Konnubio Via dei Conti 8R, Florence
2. Antica Mescita- Located in San Niccolo’ just before Piazzale Michelangelo, this little rustic eatery is a good pick when in a time bind. This is a great spot for I have reviewed this place in depth in a previous post for where to eat in San Niccolo’. This is a great find for someone wanting some fresh pasta before exploring the rose garden nearby or climbing up to Piazzale Michelangelo. Or simply to have some wine and snacks outside in this cute Florentine square. Via di S. Niccolò, 60r, Florence
3. Top Floor of San Lorenzo Market aka Mercato Centrale- When in doubt, beam up to the top floor of Mercato Centrale and be comforted by the array of afternoon pausa choices: the mozzarella bar, the wood-fired oven pizzeria, Tosca for pasta and second courses, the bio stand for fresh squeezed juices and vegan burgers, the non-so-vegan place across the way brimming with cured meats and don’t forget the TRUFFLE bar which has a whole menu of all things truffle’d. Piazza del Mercato Centrale, Florence.
4. Cipolla Rosa in San Lorenzo- I will admit that I have not been yet, but it was one place I would be willing to go and an (Italian) friend of mine (who is a bit critical about food) honestly recommended it. It is on my list of places to eat for when I am in a bind, once again. They seem to have a good selection of appetizers such as fennel salami with artichoke hearts, artisan cheese platters ranging in age with marinated vegetables from the mountains of Pistoia (!) as well as a beef tartare with truffle over Parmesean and fresh greens…Said friend affirmed that the meat here was definitely acceptable in the chance you needed to get steak fix. Via dei Conti, 53/r, Florence
5. Osteria Santo Spirito- The name should be a give away as to where one would find this place. Yes, you guessed right: Piazza Santo Spirito in the Oltrarno District. A great part about this Osteria is that they can do half-portions. My personal favs of this osteria is the tagliata and the gnocchi with truffle. In full transparency, this would not be a place I would go to for a 1st choice. It is a laid-back eatery with a lot of options and obviously good hours. This would be a pick when you are in a bind on a Sunday or a Monday or during pausa times, like say after you’ve been wandering the Pitti Palace and Boboli gardens and realized you missed normal lunch opening hours. This is not a criticism, I am speaking to those who have a limited time in Florence. This is a dependable back-up plan during odd days and hours which will not disappoint you. Piazza Santo Spirito, 16/R, Florence
In general, there are loads of little wine bars that are usually open round the clock and other little eateries and shops.
Want to take the worry out of dining and try a few eateries in one night? Consider a Progressive Dinner Crawl!
Have you been to any of these places? Or have suggestions to share? Leave a comment!
On a pausa,
The Curious Appetite
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bonniegmMay 25, 2015 at 11:43 am (8 years ago)
We encountered the “pausa” our first trip to Italy in 2003. We trained from Venice to Firenze, picked up the rental car, beat feet to Montalcino to make an appt. for a wine tour and found ourselves STARVING at 2:30 in the afternoon. We were saved by a bar/enoteca in the very tiny village of Sant’Angelo in Colle. After that we have been very careful to plan all travel taking into account the hours for lunch and dinner!! I would not want it to change as it is an integral part of Italian lifestyle and culture so visitors, do your homework so you don’t get caught!!