If you’re new to Florence, welcome! Ready for tripe or lampredotto, ribollita soup that resembles curry, or even fried brain? Tuscan food, when you get down to the nitty gritty, is probably unlike anything you will have experienced in your home country. Be adventurous! You’ve already made the trek to a foreign country, so what’s stopping you from trying something completely different? Here are five handy suggestions to help you best approach Tuscan food.
1. Channel your inner Andrew Zimmern.
When you see trippa or lampredotto on a menu, just put yourself in Andrew Zimmern’s shoes! Be a bizarre foods eater. I promise you’ll live to tell about it.
2. Avoid restaurants with long menus and pictures.
Tuscan food, and regional Italian food in general, is premised on freshness. Ask yourself how hard it is to make a full course meal for yourself and friends from scratch. There is no way, unless the venue has a massive kitchen and a squad to match (this is Florence—most places are tiny!), that 20 primi on the one menu are all freshly prepared. If someone has to convince you with pictures they are trying to communicate to tourists, which means tourist prices and inferior quality. Look for handwritten, rotating menus with a short list.
3. But I don’t speak Italian (yet!). How will I know what’s on the menu?
Follow local blogs and articles from The Florentine to brush up on your Tuscan food lingo, and 9 times out of 10, even if a place doesn’t translate its menu into English, there will be someone on hand who can explain the menu for you. Italians are modest about their English, perhaps because they take pride in pretty much everything they accomplish, but Florence is an English-language catered town.
4. Take a cooking class.
This will help you not only to learn new tricks in the kitchen (something to impress your friends and family back home), but it will bring you closer to understanding Tuscan cuisine. My advice is to steer clear of tourist cooking schools that do pasta and tiramisu, and invest instead in a small group cooking class with a local chef or out in the countryside.
5. Visit local markets like Sant’Ambrogio or shop at your local fruttivendolo (produce stand).
The best way to understand which ingredients go into Tuscan cuisine is to get to the belly of it at a local food market. Notice what’s in season, figure out who is a local farmer versus a reseller, and ask questions. Buy vegetables that you have never seen before, then ask the farmer what to do with it. Not only will you really gain priceless culinary knowledge, but you will be able to work on your Italian, too. Or look up a recipe and ask for the ingredients for the dish you’d like to make. The locals love to share little tips like how to boil beans and layer flavor in with aromatic herbs. Take a market tour with a small group to get oriented with the market and then return on your own.
Join Coral on her food market tour!