Most people coming to Florence, will be hopefully be looking for “authentic”, non-touristy food. Chances are that if you are looking for “authentic” food, you may not realize that what you should be looking for are: places that do traditional food of their region well.
This may seem obvious to those of us who work in the food world or are extremely studious of food, but I doubt most travelers will know that this is the simple recipe for finding authentic food. I say this, being from the states and even being from (one of many) bastions of the local/artisan food movement, the West Coast (Seattle, specifically). However, I don’t quite think the cultural concept of regional/traditional has reached the masses. It is now becoming understood and diffused in food articles/media, but by who I believe to be those particularly fond of food, international food culture or already involved in the industry. This is not a criticism, but just a reminder that we can’t take for granted these terms which make a world of difference in someone’s understanding on how to approach finding good food in a foreign country.
So what is “traditional tuscan”? why is it important?
Instead of listing every single aspect of traditional Tuscan, I’ll focus on Tuscan bread and it’s pane sciocco (leftover, stale bread) used in traditional Tuscan dishes. 3 (of many) representative dishes in Tuscany are: Ribollita (leftover bread, bean and garden vegetable soup, most suitable in the winter), Pappa al Pomodoro (leftover bread and tomato soup) and Panzanella (fresh summer salad of bread, tomatoes, cucumber and onion) All three of these are based on cornerstones to Tuscan cuisine and that is: stale (saltless) bread, not wasting anything (i.e. finding resourceful ways to utilize leftover bread) and eating with the seasons. All of these dishes are served in different times of the year, with seasonal ingredients and one ingredient in common: stale bread. If there is one thing you take away from my blog, is to understand that the bread in Tuscany is made without salt, intentionally.
The bread is not bad, because they lack technique or they forgot the salt- they just don’t make it with salt and have been for centuries. There are several competing legends about why salt is absent, from historically high taxes on salt, city feuds resulting in withholding salt and “the cuisine is so heavy/flavorful that you don’t need salt. Whatever legend you hear, bear in mind that Tuscan is not the only region with pane sciocco, as the bread in Umbria (among others) is made similarly where access to salt was challenging. But they don’t have the same traditional dishes, such as la ribollita. The culinary repertoire of Traditional Tuscan was formed over several centuries, influenced by noble families, foreign presence, economic & agricultural systems (mezzadria), etc.
Apart from stale bread dishes, there are many others worth a taste. If you love pasta, check out pappardelle (flat, wide pasta noodles), gnudi (naked ravioli dumplings), pici (thick spaghetti-like noodles), tortelli from mugello (potato-filled ravioli!), maccheroni, testarolli (flat, triangles of pasta from the area bordering Liguria, and commonly served with pesto). For pizza, look for topped schiacciata (skeeya-chata, meaning flattened/squashed). Schiacciata is Tuscany’s answer to flavorless bread, a flatbread similar to focaccia oily salty and all. I love schiacciata with candied tomatoes, foraged mushrooms or artichokes. Next post: where to get the best schiacciata!
Tuscany’s food is extremely important and diverse. I don’t quite get why certain regions and cities get more trendy celebrity media attention than others, but even if Tuscany is “popular”- its cuisine is worth paying attention to. Tuscany’s regional cuisine varies from village and region. Florentine cuisine is even more specific, and differs from Lucca’s for example.
Now that you got a taste of a food lesson, here is where you can best feast on Traditional Tuscan food in Florence. That’s if you even made it this far (I’m told people don’t read- if you made it this far, thank you for putting up with me) I will only list 5 because things would start getting crazy if I had to list every single place that I like for traditional Tuscan. These are where I think the essence of Tuscan food is perfected and every single time I go, it is on point and delightful. They truly showcase the Tuscan culinary repertoire with extremely high quality ingredients. When people ask me my top 5, these spots immediately come to mind:
- buca dell’orafo- I get goosebumps talking about this place. The best polpette (meatballs) I’ve ever had were had here, as well as sliced shoulder steak with nutty pecorino on top and the pepperiest of olive oil doused. It’s underground in a former goldsmith shop and probably one of the 3 valid dining destinations off the Ponte Vecchio. Their pastas are smooth as butter, their fried anything (zucchini flowers) are divine and their dedication to procuring regional Tuscan food impressive. Their wine list is wildly good as well, from cult names to boutique, small garage producers. Go for anything that is underlined on the menu, as these dishes follow the Florentine Tuscan culinary discipline. Address: Via dei Girolami, 28, Phone: 055 213619 closed Sundays
- ristorante del fagioli- I think I Latini gets way too much cred and much rather put my money with these badass guys. As I placed in a recent article I did for Conde Nast, their bistecca fiorentina (sourced from the heritage chianina breed) is one of the best in town with service, wise wine list and soul to match. Other reasons why I love them: hand written menu, at least one grandpa in the kitchen and where you can actually get seasonal vegetables, delicious potatoes and a salad you actually look forward to eating. Address: Corso dei Tintori, 47-r Phone: 055 244285 closed Saturdays and Sundays
- osteria vini e vecchi sapori- this is where I’ve had the best ribollita in town, and has that elbow-to-elbow, straw and wood decor with Florentine soul. The guys who run the front of house are incredibly nice and jovial- and I’m honestly not a regular but they still treat me like one anytime I stop by (which means they are nice to everyone!) I will be loyal and do anything in my power to support a business that is genuinely nice to strangers. Unfortunately, that is a rarity! Address: Via dei Magazzini, 3r Phone: 055 293045 closed Sundays
- il magazzino- there are some places that have a niche, and Il Magazzino is that. They do one of Florence’s most iconic foods extremely well: lampredotto- the fourth cow’s stomach. They do fried polpette di lampredotto, lampredotto filled ravioli, lampredotto fried tempura sushi (the chef Luca Cai spent time in Japan- read all about their story on these piece I did for Vice.) I am certain any doubter of lampredotto will be converted with a meal at Il Magazzino. Plus their house wine label is worth a visit (and really is true to the term “foodporn”) Address: Piazza della Passera, 2-3, Phone: 055 215969
- trattoria cibreo- I really admire what Fabio Picchi does in Sant’Ambrogio and Florence in general. He does not tout pizza and pasta, and procures extremely, obscure and historic dishes with high quality ingredients. Such as beef cheek (guanciale di manzo) “francesina” (an ancient Tuscan style of re-boiled meat with onions, spoken of in Artusi’s food writings) The name “Cibreo” is the name of an Tuscan dish of Artusi based of chicken crests and livers. I just read in the September issue of Food & Wine Magazine (in print!) that Cibreo is in Mario Batali’s Essential Italy article on where to eat in Florence, and even called out their capello del prete! The only thing to know is that this isn’t Tuscan, but a rather strange dish of gelatinous sausage (cotechino) then stuffed in cotenne (pork skin), typical to Emilia-Romagna, served with a candied fruit chutney. I’m curious about Batali’s nod of it, because it’s somewhat ancient and obscure, not to mention kind of weird tasting. In any case, hit up the trattoria of Cibreo for more of a local experience, as the restaurant (right next door) to me is a bit pricey and known for filling with travelers than locals (probably because locals are priced out) Address: Via dei Macci, 122r, Phone: 055 234 1100. closed Mondays
Bonus tip: Trattoria Sergio Gozzi. They are only open for lunch in San Lorenzo. Super bustling, rustic feel historic eatery (around for over 100 years! Bonus Bonus tip: Trattoria da Burde. Outside the center, in part run by one of the country’s best sommelier (Andrea Gori) and family-made old-world mind-boggling Tuscan food. I know this post was for 5, but I couldn’t leave without letting you all know that if 7 could be 5, kind of like my dress size (ha), these would be my “5” picks.
Curious about my criteria? Rest assured that I would not list a place if: they didn’t use local (flavorful) produce, applied proper culinary techniques (like letting meat rest before serving it- so many places in this town screw this simple thing up). I wouldn’t list a place if they did not place special importance on heritage varieties (i.e. chianina, tropea onions, garfagnana spelt etc) or were ill-proportionately priced (service, quality, ambiance, location) or were known/over-discovered by tourists.
Have you been to any of these eateries? What’s your favorite traditional Tuscan item on the menu?
In your traditional trust,
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