Gambero Rosso, Italy’s leading food, dining culture, news and wine publication powerhouse, came out with the 2017 edition of its street food guide to Italy and guess who touts the title for Tuscany? Marco Paparozzi’s Semel in Florence. Semel serves just panini and wine- and a few forgotten old-fashioned Italian sodas like Tassoni Cedrata and Chinotto. Water is served as a last resort. Marco has been officially recognized for having the best street food in Tuscany- by the most food and drink culture publication in the country. The article can be found here (in Italian)
This tiny humble panini shop in Sant’Ambrogio, by now an institution for locals and culinarians alike, sits perched on the market’s doorstep. He creates distinctly flavored fillings that are based on Tuscany’s culinary identity- not just your usual salami and cheese carb stack. Think stewed boar, porchetta with robust winter greens, pork loin with candied tomatoes, wild boar ragu’ taglierini or tortelli pasta (carb on carb), saffron laced chicken and more. The offerings change daily/with the season but you’ll always find some fillings as permanent fixtures such as the truffle, pear and pecorino, And all of this served with soulful humor by Marco and his nephew Niccolo, dressed dapper daily in dress shirts, ties and pins- even in the summer.
For my first 1st two years in Florence, I lived right in the middle of the Sant’Ambrogio market chaos. It was this area that duped me into falling in love with the local food culture. It was this market that convinced me that living in Italy was better than life in America. No matter what, I could manage to get healthy (fresh) vegetables at dirt cheap prices- and this simple human right of healthy affordable food rejuvenated my hope and love for Italy.
Florence is a tough city to live in. From very “mean girls” insular gossip-ridden bubbles, not getting paid on time, territorial expats, to grumpy shop-keep, provincial mentalities, to mindless drivers, lack of taxis, tiny sidewalks and tiny everything, laughable public transport, harsh weather, crowds of suffocating tourism and obstacle course bureaucracy- you really need to have some grit to make it. It’s almost as if I’ve tortured myself to live here when really the only thing that kept me here for so long was the food culture.
What does this have to do with Semel?
One of my favorite memories of Marco at Semel is when I went in after quitting my last job in 2014. I was fed up with Florence and decided to go back to America. After saying arrivederci to work- I gave my apartment notice I was leaving, packed my bags and thought I’d never return. I was also fed up with working for other people, especially in Italy, and decided to start my own thing. It wasn’t easy making this decision since I had actually had a work contract, and for a growing company that had already taught me so much about food and wine, but my gut told me it was time to fly on my own and I went with it.
On the prowl for lunch, I stopped by Semel. Marco asked me how I was doing- I simply said I just quit my job, but thinking (holy f*** I’m terrified what the hell is going to happen next). His response was genius: “do you know how many times in my life I’ve resigned?” And I thought, if this man in front of me, with one of the coolest panino shops I’d ever seen in my life, had resigned from working for other people too and was making it on his own, following his dream- then so could I.
That moment extinguished that feeling of being terrified by the time I finished my panino and left his shop. Less than a year later, I came back to Florence and ready to launch my plans. My fast and furious goodbye did not last for long- the day I landed back in the states is the moment I realized I made a huge mistake. I spent some months resolving and strategizing. Ultimately, Florence’s food and a precious baby of a business plan I eventually gave birth to called me back.
Even though I no longer dwell in Sant’Ambrogio, I make it a point to lunch at Semel frequently- even if I swear I’m on a diet. I’d go as far as call Marco a friend- and I relish every moment I get to spend dwelling and sharing his special creations (and spirit) with my food tour guests.
So congratulations, Marco and Niccolo of Semel- you deserve every ounce of recognition the food world gives you.
In your street food trust,