Discover all the secrets of Florence food specialties with Italia Delight
Florence, the capital of Tuscany, is the fulcrum city of the Italian Renaissance, thanks to which we can still admire artistic and architectural beauties such as Botticelli’s La Primavera in the Uffizi Gallery, Brunelleschi’s Dome in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore, or UNESCO sites such as its historical centre and the wonderful villas and gardens of the Medici family.
If you feel it is already worth visiting the city for these few things listed here, you should know that Florence also boasts a local food and wine tradition that is recognised all over the world and that can satisfy all palates. From street food to trattorias and restaurants, you can really range far and wide in search of typical or more unusual dishes that will suit your tastes.
Of course, since Florentine cuisine is world-famous, you can also find its products outside the city itself; however, I strongly recommend you to taste the foods in their place of origin, since they always have that something extra, both in terms of taste and the emotions they will make you feel!
So if I’ve piqued your curiosity a little, follow me in this article and I’ll show you the best food to eat in Florence to make the most of the city!
The best things to eat in Florence
In case you want to visit the Tuscan capital, here are the typical Florentine food specialities you can find while wandering around the city in search of trattorias, restaurants or, why not, street food from the local markets.
1. Fiorentina T-bone steak (Bistecca alla Fiorentina)
“Under three fingers height, it’s carpaccio”. If you ask a Florentine what is the right height for this special steak, he will answer exactly that way. Bistecca alla fiorentina, made from a cut of veal or scottona beef, originally from the Chianina breed, is perhaps Florence’s most known typical food.
The origin of this typical Florentine recipe seems to date back to the celebrations of the Night of the Shooting Stars and the Medici family, where, during the festivities, on the various bonfires that were lit, large quantities of veal meat were roasted and then distributed to the population, among which the Fiorentina cut probably appeared. Thus, a cut weighing about 1 kg, with the famous T-bone, and between 5 and 7 cm in height is obtained; the steak is then cooked on a grill heated with wood embers (possibly oak, holm-oak or olive). The result of cooking must be a tasty outer crust and a rare, tender and juicy inner meat.
Born out of the need of poorer families to optimise bread consumption, crostini have become a staple dish in Florence cuisine, especially around Christmas time. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the recipe, as these slices of toasted bread accompanied by chicken liver pâté or pan-fried black cabbage are the main starter of Florentine cuisine, simple and quick, but delicious to say the least.
Also a typical Florentine hors d’oeuvre, coccoli are nothing more than irregular balls of fried dough that can be served with just about anything, although they are often accompanied by sliced meats and/or local cheeses such as Prosciutto Toscano PDO., Finocchiona PGI, Prosciutto di Cinta Senese PDO., Caciotta della Lunigiana, goat cheeses from the Maremma and much more.
4. Pappa al pomodoro
Another typical first course in the cuisine of Florence is pappa al pomodoro. This dish is by far the simplest you will find here but that does not mean you will not like it. It is based on stale bread and tomato sauce with large amounts of basil. This dish also originates from the need to eat on the cheap and involves cooking the bread in the sauce until it disintegrates, but as they say the simplest things are the best, and this is a good example!
Originating from the need to feed the poor population of old Tuscany, ribollita is a semi-solid soup that, as its name suggests, must be reheated at least twice. This first course typical of the cuisine of Florence is based on simple vegetables such as onions, tomatoes, potatoes, black cabbage, carrots, beans, and bread. Despite the simplicity of the products used in its preparation, you will notice its strong and enveloping flavour, and above all its satiating power.
Obtained by boiling in water the abomasum, one of the stomach sections of cattle, with tomato, onion, parsley and celery. You can eat lampredotto as a simple dish of boiled meat, perhaps accompanied by a green sauce; or, as is more in vogue, you can buy it from the various “lampredottai”, street kiosks located throughout Florence, and eat it inside a sandwich soaked in its own cooking broth, and then consume it as street food while you continue to explore the city.
7. Beans all’uccelletto
A poor man’s dish based on beans and tomato, it is used in Florence mainly as a side dish but, if in large quantities, can also be enjoyed as a main course. To prepare it, the beans are first boiled in unsalted water and then mashed in a fairly thick tomato sauce flavoured with garlic, pepper, sage and rosemary. We owe this recipe to the passion Caterina de’ Medici had for the beans she grew in her gardens; while as for the name “all’uccelletto” (which is an italian nickname to say bird), Artusi, father of the most known italian recipes book, explains that it is due to the spices used, which were the same ones for preparing roast birds.
8. Florentine-style crepes (Crespelle)
A traditional Florentine dish, you can enjoy crespelle throughout the year, even at lunches and dinners for special occasions. This recipe also has its origins under Caterina de’ Medici, who we understand was a woman of good appetite. The crespelle are filled with ricotta and Florentine courgettes and then baked au gratin under a generous amount of béchamel sauce. Although this is the original recipe, you can find variations in their filling, such as using spinach instead of courgettes.
Florentine-style tripe is a simple but very tasty dish, already popular in 15th-century taverns. To prepare this Florentine food speciality, the tripe must be cleaned and pre-cooked, then either steamed or blanched; it must then be added to a sauté of celery, carrot and onion, and blended with white wine. The tomato is added last, with which the tripe will cook over a low heat for about 90 minutes before it can be enjoyed.
You won’t find a bakery in Florence that doesn’t sell schiacciata, a classic Tuscan flat bread seasoned with EVOO and salt. You can enjoy it on its own, to savour the aromas and freshness of the dough, but in my opinion, schiacciata is at its best when paired with local cured meats, becoming a real flavour bomb in your mouth.
This recipe, for those who love pepper, was invented during the construction of Brunelleschi’s Dome to feed his helpers. Less noble cuts of meat, good Tuscan red wine and, of course, plenty of pepper are used to make it. The peculiarity of this dish is that it was cooked in the same ovens in which the crock was made.
The simplest and most common snack in Tuscany, a slice of toasted bread seasoned with EVOO, salt, garlic and pepper.
13. Florentine peas
A late spring side dish of typical Florentine cuisine, simple but tasty. In this dish you can note and taste how the sweetness and freshness of the peas is perfectly balanced by the savouriness and aroma of the pancetta.
If you plan to visit Florence during summer, you can’t miss the chance to enjoy a good ice cream in its hometown. In fact, its invention is attributed to the architect Bernardo Buontalenti, a pupil of Vasari, who, on the occasion of a visit by some Spanish ambassadors, created this recipe based on milk, honey, egg yolk and a little wine. This mix gave rise to the “Buontalenti ice-cream” or “Florentine cream”, a flavour that you can still taste in the best ice-cream parlours in Florence.
15. Florentine Zuccotto
The zuccotto is a traditional semi-frozen Florentine dessert. Also invented by Buontalenti, it takes its name and shape from the small infantry helmet of the Medici period, called “zuccotto”. Inside this cake you will find the refreshing notes of Alchermes, used to wet the sponge cake, the creaminess of cream and ricotta, the crunchiness of chocolate and the aromas of candied fruit.
Although you will probably find them at any time of the year, cantucci are dry almond biscuits typical of the Christmas season. These are made by slicing the still-warm strands of dough, which are then baked for a few more minutes to give the finished product its rustic appearance. If you want to try these excellent biscuits, remember that they are at their best when paired with Vin Santo or Vin Brulè, as per tradition!
The most famous wines to pair with food in Florence
If you really want to visit Florence, in addition to the typical Florentine dishes I have listed above, you certainly don’t want to miss out on the excellent local wines!
Here are some of them:
- Chianti Classico DOCG, a red wine with a fresh taste and floral hints, excellent with meat, especially roasted meat;
- Carmignano DOCG, a red wine aged eight months, with a moderate presence of tannins and fruity and floral aromas;
- Montepulciano DOCG, a red wine with a very intense aroma, which can be paired not only with meats, but also with mature cheeses;
- Vin Santo DOC, a white wine with a yellowish colour that, as already mentioned, goes well with desserts and especially cantucci.
In case you are a wine lover, you will see from time to time small wooden windows along the streets called “buchette del vino”, from which, in Renaissance times, workers could drink glasses of wine at the end of the day in exchange for a few florins, the ancient Florentine currency; although most of them have been renovated on the outside, the ones that still offer the possibility of enjoying a glass of wine in exchange for a few euros are the buchette along the outer wall of the Babae osteria in the Oltrarno district.
And now that you know all about what to eat in Florence, book your next food and wine tour now! What are you waiting for? 😍
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Featured photo: ali-nuredini-unsplash