Cheap and traditional

Jack Land
September 24, 2009

Peposo, ribollita, trippa, farinata, bollito. Not knowing how to pronounce them is no excuse for not trying Florence's tastiest traditional bites. Florentine cuisine is known as ‘cucina povera' for its robust and simple dishes made with local products.

 

Let's start with a predictable but important fact about dining out in Florence: this is a tourist town with tourist restaurants. Learning to recognize and avoid these places is simple, they are the ones with life-sized murals of the Duomo, ‘sample' dishes displayed garishly in the windows and a waiter outside who wants you to believe he is your new best friend. Making the mistake of eating in one of these restaurants could definitively cure you of any desire to stray from your beloved sandwich spot.

 

Luckily, Florence boasts plenty of authentic and traditional eateries with affordable prices where you can eat well for 10 euro or less. Discovering each of them could prove to be one of the best experiences of your semester. A word of advice: try to avoid going to eat in large groups; select a couple of trustworthy friends and set out to find the best food in the city.

 

Rule number one is to get out of your comfort zone. Undoubtedly, the best way to find authenticity is to get off the beaten path and go where the locals go. Some of Florence's best lunch spots are near the three biggest markets San Lorenzo, Mercato Centrale and Sant'Ambrogio where Florentines go to eat. Typically open for lunch only, these places are packed to the gills with local workers-from bankers to plumbers alike.

 

Plan on getting there before 1pm to grab a seat or a place at the banco to avoid getting elbows in your primo.

 

One of the best examples of a ‘working man' trattoria is Nerbone in the San Lorenzo market. Some might argue that it is too famous to be truly authentic, but the food is so good it deserves a mention. Piazza del Mercato Centrale is home to Trattoria Mario (via Rosina 2r), the quintessential hole-in-the-wall that serves up some of the best Florentine specialties in town. Step inside and you'll immediately fall in love with the easy-going yet vivacious atmosphere, not to mention the outstanding quality of the ingredients which makes its dishes truly unforgettable. Eat there once a week and you'll live to be 100.

 

Other traditional San Lorenzo lunch spots include the Casa del Vino (via dell'Ariento 16r) and Palle d'Oro (via Sant'Antonino 43r), a trattoria open for lunch and dinner where you can get a heaping portion of pasta al ragù for just 3.50 euro.

 

Head to the Sant'Ambrogio market for lunch at Da Rocco a delicious and extremely affordable trattoria where you'll always clean your plate. If you are in the area at night, try Il Giova (Borgo La Croce 73r), a slightly over-modernized trattoria but one that offers classic dishes at great prices.

 

One rule with very few exceptions is to immediately distrust restaurants located in the city's main piazzas, especially Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Signoria. However, there are two notable sandwich spots on the streets in between that are definitely worth a trip. First is the famosissimo I Fratellini (via Cimatori 38r) where you will find an extensive list of panini and a long line well into the afternoon. Enjoy your sandwich and a small glass of wine amidst a crowd of locals and (discerning) tourists alike. Go around the corner to Il Cernacchino (via della Condotta 38r) for more local fare be sure and try the small panino con i fegatini (chicken liver sandwich) for only 2.50 euro.

 

Try Trattoria da Benvenuto behind Palazzo Vecchio (via della Mosca 16r) for great food in a 1950s-style atmosphere.

 

It may sound strange, but one invaluable tip is to avoid restaurants near the city's swankiest hotels. Wander down via Palazzuolo (in between Piazza Santa Maria Novella and Piazza Ognissanti) and take advantage of several scrumptious options for lunch and dinner. The most well-known is the Osteria dei Cento Poveri (literally one-hundred poor people) at 31r. It's so affordable that you can go crazy and even order a seafood dish! Though Il Contadino at 71r is a trattoria, the food is so effortlessly good you may feel like you're at home with a Florentine family. The 10 euro fixed price menu gets you three home-cooked courses. A little further down the street at 124r is I'Vinaino, a comfortable spot with exceptional prices. Looking for dessert? Turn the corner after exiting the restaurant and try the frittelle di riso (rice fritters) at the friggitoria (fry shop) for less than one euro.

 

Last but not least is the Oltrarno, the artisans' neighborhood and home to a wealth of traditional restaurants. (Note that residents of Santo Spirito and San Frediano are straightforward folk who tend towards sardonic wit be sharp while you are in this area and above all, be swift and decisive with your food order or you will quickly become the laughing-stock of the room.)

 

La Casalinga (the Housewife) on via de'Michelozzi 9r, between via Maggio and Piazza Santo Spirito, offers hearty portions at a nice price.

 

For a sandwich bursting with local goodness, try the alimentari next to Gustapanino (via de' Michelozzi,  13r) where a panino alla mortadella will cost you max 1.50 euro. Or cross through the piazza and head to Il Chicco di Caffè on the corner of via della Chiesa and via delle Caldaie. Though tables are sparse, diners turn up in biblical proportions so you may want to try it on a Saturday when the workers eat at home. Another must is the trippaio (tripe stand) Mario in Porta Romana (lunch only). Grab a bus to get down via dei Serragli quickly.  You owe it to yourself to try Mario's bollito misto, stracotto di guancia and lampredotto (lunch only) at least once during your semester. Just outside Porta San Frediano is Sabatino, (via Pisana, 2r) a trattoria open for lunch and dinner. It is an easy going and traditional favorite that is sure to please.

 

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