Many travellers who end up in Florence are there for the art, the Duomo and the city’s heritage as the epicentre of the renaissance. However, as you wander the streets of the Tuscan capital, you begin to notice quite another kind of heritage. One that involves tiny doughnuts and pork rolls.
While not as famous for its food as the south of Italy, Florence has plenty of local delicacies to discover. To find out more, we took a food tour with The Roman Guy.
After assembling at the rather beautiful arch on San Pier Maggiore, we headed to the delicatessen just opposite, which used to be a toll house. There’s a front room full of cheeses, cured meats and other goodies – but we don’t stop there. Our guide Mara ushers us behind the counter and down to the basement. ‘The prison,’ she says, before handing out glasses of wine and plates of cheese.
We try mozzarella, scamorza and pecorino among others, while Mara points out a dark-looking doorway which at one time was part of a network of tunnels leading to the Palazzo Vecchio.
Next stop is Pane & Toscana, a few doors down Borgo degli Albizi street, where we try the local delicacy sciaccita, a sandwich made of typical florentine bread and porchetta (rolled roast pork). There are plenty of places to try this around the city, notes Mara, and queues don’t always mean quality.
After walking towards Sant’ Ambrogio market, we stop at a food stall to try something which requires a little more of an acquired taste – tripe. Specifically, the fourth stomach of the cow although, Mara points out, it’s anybody’s guess as to what kind of research process led to the use of the fourth stomach and the fourth stomach only. ‘The sauce would be good,’ says one of the other guests on the tour, a pained look on her face, ‘if it was on something else.’ The locals seem to disagree – the stall is never empty, and tripe sandwiches seem particularly popular.
By the time we arrive, the open-air market at Sant’Ambrogio is closing up, although it’s still busy inside. Mara shows us to Rocco, a goldfish bowl of a restaurant where the tables are accessed only from glass doors which open out into the market, leaving a clear inner run where Rocco himself struts and indiscriminately hands out compliments to ladies and dishes of pasta to everyone else.
We squeeze into a booth and a huge bottle of chianti lands on the table almost immediately, along with pesto lasagne, tomato pasta and pappa al pomodoro, a local dish of vegetables and breadcrumbs. For secondo, there’s ‘roast beef’ and potatoes.
We stop at a local pasticcheria (for torta della nonna and pear and ricotta tart) and, as the grand finale, at Il Coccolo. This is a blink and you’ll miss it place on Via Matteo Palmieri, where coccoli – little round donuts – are made to order and neatly arrive at the front of the shop on a conveyor belt. Guests are then able to fill their own coccolo with custard, Nutella or fruit.
And so, 5000 or so calories later, we say goodbye to the rest of the group and wander home. Here’s the big question. Was it worth it?
We think so, for the local tips, the friendly group and the things that we never would have discovered without Mara.
Gusto Guides received a complimentary food tour in exchange for fair coverage.