Italy is well known for its rich food diversity and culture. What is less well know is that only some of these foods have made it overseas, and there are a staggering amount of differences in regional cooking and produce still to discover in different parts of Italy.
To explore some the Tuscan specialities I took a gourmet tour of Florence with local expert Filippo Bartolotta, CEO of Le Baccanti Tours, journalist and passionate foodie. I started the day with an open mind and an empty stomach in the hopes of discovering the city's best culinary hotspots.
Our tour began in Piazza Repubblica, historically known as the main marketplace and meeting square for Florentines. Here, we visited three spots for a typical Italian breakfast of coffee and pastries. Giubbe Rosse (Piazza della Repubblica, 13/14r), has always been a favourite for intellectuals and literary minds while classic choice Gilli (Piazza della Repubblica, 39) has been in business since 1733. Locals typically opt for a quick counter style coffe, the way to go if you want to blend in. Completing the trifecta is Caffè Paszkowski (Piazza della Repubblica 35), loved for its piano bar in the evenings.
On the way for our first glass of wine of the day, Filippo told me how Florence was once famous for its wine bars with over 200 during the 15th century. I Fratellini (Via dei Cimatori, 38-red) is a local favourite having been run by a different pair of brothers for three generations. He tells me there is always a long line-up from 11.30 a.m., but we're early so we only have to share the spot with some teenagers skipping school.
We sipped on delicious local wine, served in a Gottino (somewhat like a shot glass) as we tried the signature mini-panini. The first was filled with chicken liver pate, which I'm told is a classic Florentine appetizer, the second was pure lard (Michelangelo's favourite), and the last, raw sausage and eggplant made from an old recipe of the joint’s second generation of brothers.
After a couple of glasses of wine it was time to get back on the road. As I sauntered (slightly giddily) down the road Filippo pointed out to me the small windows beside the wine bars. These openings were used by the bars to continue their business during the plague. Italians maintain their food and drink priorities, in spite of a crisis, a fact I heartily agree with.
To end our morning we stopped by Arte di Cioccolato by Roberto Catinani (Via Porta Rossa, 7-red), a famous artisan. Here, specialities range from the purest of chocolate such as the Sao Tome, made from a rare cocoa bean discovered in Africa's smallest state, to traditional favourites, gifts and gelato, including fabulous Marron Glace.
Arte di Cioccolato by Roberto Catinani
With the first half of the day over, it was time to eat again. Procacci (Via Tornabuoni, 64) is the last historical shop in its area and still a favourite amongst Florentines for a snack or light lunch since its beginning in 1885. These mini-paninis were a flavour sensation and my personal favourite was the white wine truffle, foie gras and chicken liver panini. In this area Filippo also recommended 'Ino (Via de' Georgofili, 3) for a panini experience which is more modern and sophisticated, yet with equal quality.
On our way to the city's famous Mercato Centrale food market near San Lorenzo, we passed Cantinetta Antinori (Piazza degli Antinori, 3). This family-run operation has been making wine for 700 years so be sure to try a bottle if you get the chance.
We entered the market from Piazza del Mercato Centrale and took a right, then left to arrive at one of the market stalls, our next gormet destination. Filippo was a little reticent in decribing what were going to eat. Lamperdotto is technically the cow's third stomach, a very traditional meat in Florence. The flavour was strong and provided a great insight into the authentic Florentine diet. The market contains a wealth of fresh authentic local produce as well as a selection of the best products from other regions of Italy, like balsamic vinegar from Emilia Romagna.
Award-winning balsamic at Mercato Centrale
A wander around the market was an excellent way to prepare for lunch. Cucina Zibbibo was a short taxi ride away, where head chef, Benedetta Vitali serves up traditional Florentine dishes including home made pasta paired with exception local wine from a tiny kitchen.
Florence is a foodie's heaven, and one day is not enough time to sample the myriad of local specialities and cusine in this beautiful city, but at least its a start...Buon appetito!!
Giubbe Rosse: Piazza della Repubblica, 13/14r, Florence, Tel: +39 055 212280, www.giubberosse.it
Gilli, Piazza della Repubblica, 39, Florence, www.gilli.it/
Caffè Paszkowski: Piazza della Repubblica 35, Florence, Tel: +39 055 210236, www.paszkowski.it
I Due Fratellini: Via dei Cimatori 38r, Florence, Tel: +39 055 239 6096, www.iduefratellini.it
Cantinetta Antinori: Piazza degli Antinori, 3, Florence, +39 055 292234, www.cantinetta-antinori.com
Arte di Cioccolato by Roberto Catinari: Via Porta Rossa, Florence, www.robertocatinari.it
Procacci: Via Tornabuoni, 64, Florence, Tel: +39 055 211656, www.procacci1885.it
'Ino: Via dei Georgofili, 3, Florence, Tel: +39 055 219 208, www.inofirenze.com
Cucina Zibbibo: Via del Terzollina, 3/R, 50139, Florence, Tel: +39 055 433383, www.cucinazibibbo.com