Food in Firenze

Sasha Stoddard

This one goes out to all you “foodies.”

To all of you who favor flavor over fat content and would choose a little cream over calorie counting, Florence is just the place for you. On the other hand, if you are on a diet, “no carb” or otherwise, you might as well avoid Italy completely. The Italians are passionate about many things, but they especially love their food.

During my stay here I have tasted an incredible variety of new flavors and textures. Some of these have been a delightful surprise – such as wild boar – and some have been, to put it politely, interesting at best – like cow’s tongue. Nevertheless, the things I eat every day, even when cooking in my own kitchen, are an enormous part of the experience I am having during my six-month stay here. Aside from their passion, Italians are also very proud of the food they produce. Tuscany, especially, has a wonderful assortment of specialties to share. This region of Italy produces its own varieties of cheese, wine, oil, specially raised livestock and a large variety of herbs.

Here’s my cue to sneak a little history lesson in on you. Sorry to those of you who hate the stuff, but it has to be done.

Dating back to the Middle Ages, the Tuscan food tradition is one rich in history. Having been a historically poor region, the people relied on what fresh ingredients they could grow close to home, and combined said ingredients in the most flavorful ways possible. Recipes, in many cases, have been passed down through families for many generations, thus giving us wonderful foods such as bruscetta (fresh tomatoes and herbs on toasted, garlic-rubbed bread), prosciutto (specially cured “bacon-esque” pork), and a lovely dessert called Torta della Nonna (a crusty pastry stuffed with lemon cream and topped with pine nuts – my personal favorite), plus many more. Italians have perfected such recipes and take their preparation very seriously and their secrets guarded closely. So don’t go asking someone how to make their mother’s marinara sauce. They won’t be telling you; and besides, their mother probably hasn’t told them yet.

See, that wasn’t so bad, and I bet it made you hungry.

For all of Florence’s success in the culinary department, grocery shopping is another story entirely. Two suggestions: Avoid going to the store after five o’clock and never ever, if you can at all avoid it, go shopping on a Saturday. While the fresh markets, of which there are many, are always the first choice, for the sake of convenience and location many people go to the small local grocery stores. And many people go on Saturday. This is the day that all the children are out of school and the day that everyone buys food to last through Sunday and Monday, when most stores are closed. I believe at home we would describe this as “Mad House.” Boy, is it ever. Aside from all the people, good luck finding ingredients that remotely resemble what you’re looking for. If they exist at all, the packaging will be completely different or in an amount so small you will have to buy at least three units for any American recipe. I tried to make fried chicken one weekend, only to find that no one had ever heard of buttermilk! I will say, though, that as a result of all the “slow food” cooking that goes on here, fresh vegetables are always easy to find and very tasty.

Instead of my usual wrap-up, this time I’m going to give you a short list of things to try…if you can find them…whether you’re at home or in Italy:

-Torta della Nonna (which means “Grandmother’s Tort.” And like I said, I love this.)

-Pecorino cheese (typical of the Tuscany region and absolutely delicious.)

-Any Balsamic Vinegar older than five years (Italians put it on many things, including ice cream. Did I mention that the Italians are geniuses?)

-Chingale (This is the wild boar I mentioned earlier. It’s low in fat and high in taste, and you can find it anywhere in Chianti or the greater Tuscan region.)

-Vin Santo or Chianti wines (Strange as it may sound, biscotti dipped in the former is surprisingly good and a hearty salami with the latter, a perfect match)

So, if you are a like-minded food lover, as I am, travel to Italy, stop by in Florence, and sample some of their wonderful fare. You’ll find yourself welcomed warmly and your stomach and taste buds more than satisfied. Just make sure to avoid shopping for it.

Buon appetito and ciao, ya’ll.