What to Eat in Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy, is the capital of Tuscany — and one of the best places to experience traditional Tuscan cuisine. These five dishes bring together the best of the region: rich stews, thick steaks, and some sweet surprises.
Many Florentine dishes have origins from the countryside, and no dish better exemplifies that than ribollita: a hearty stew of bread, white beans and any variety of vegetables.
Ribollita was originally a peasant dish made from day-old bread and leftover vegetables. In fact, the word ribollita means reheated! But this century, you’ll find ribollita in haute restaurants throughout Florence. Some chefs make it with very little broth, only soaked bread. Some stick to just black kale or cabbage for the vegetables. All include delicious cannellini beans.
Similarly, try pappa al pomodoro – another bread and white bean stew, this one made with tomatoes.
Only one dish symbolizes Florence to its core: the bistecca fiorentina. Nothing exemplifies the city of the Renaissance better than a juicy, succulent Florentine steak, expertly charred and charged by the gram.
A word to the wise – Florence is not the place to order a steak medium-well. Florentine steaks are served al sangue, or bloody rare. Most of the time, the waiter won’t even ask you how you’d like it done!
This is one place to put your trust in the chef. Chances are that he’s been cooking flawless steaks for decades. If you’ve never tried a rare steak, this is where to do so. The only thing you have to worry about is spoiling yourself for life!
Cantuccini and vin santo
Cantuccini and vin santo, the quintessential Tuscan dessert, originated in the town of Prato, just northwest of Florence. Cantucci are hard, biscotti-like almond cookies made with many egg yolks; cantuccini are tiny cantucci, ranging from off-white to canary yellow. Vin santo is a sweet dessert wine made from raisins.
Eat your cantuccini like a Florentine: dip them vin santo, soaking up the alcohol until they become spongy. The crumbs dropped into the bottom of the glass give the vin santo a distinctly almond flavor. As a digestif, the remainder of the vin santo is then sipped to aid digestion. There’s no better way to end a meal in Florence.
Image: Daniele Muscetta
You can thank Florence for gelato – the dish was reportedly invented by Florentine Bernardo Buontalenti in the sixteenth century as a gift for the Medici.
Part of the fun of gelato is sampling the different flavors, many of which are only found in Italy. Go for fresh fico (fig), classic limoncello, or stracciatella, a sweet cream-flavored gelato with bits of chocolate. Love chocolate and hazelnuts? Nocciola, bacio and nutella all beautifully integrate both ingredients in marvelous different combinations.
Gelaterie are located throughout the city, but a few stand above the rest. Vivoli is Florence’s most famous gelateria and draws both tourists and locals. For the best flavor assortment, try Festival del Gelato. My personal favorite? Gelateria dei Neri, just down the street from the Uffizi.
You can always opt for pricey bottles. But with the vineyards of Chianti a mere stone’s throw away from the city center, the quality of house wine in Florence is often outstanding. And at just a few Euros per carafe, it’s one of the best deals in town!
Sample the house wine, and strike up a conversation with the restaurant’s owner. Each house wine has its own story. Who knows – he might even make the wine himself!
This piece is Assignment I, Part II, at MatadorU.