Florence Food Diary
Whatever you’ve heard is true, it is really impossible not to fall in love with Florence. The city is so incredibly beautiful that everywhere you look, you feel like you’re in a Renaissance fairy tale. I think this has something to do with the city being the centre of the Renaissance art world, remnants of which are all around you. The Duomo or cathedral of Florence is so massive and striking, we managed to get tongue tied every time we passed by, which was at least five times a day. Once you visit, you will realize that all roads lead to the Duomo, it’s somehow impossible to escape the overbearing presence of this spectacular monument though we wouldn’t complain.
There are two parts of Florence, the main city and then the more hipster, residential area across the Arno River. Florentines have a deep-rooted relationship with their food with each dish reflecting a part of the city’s history and being cooked in age-old ways.
Here are few of the standout dining experiences I had on my trip there –
We did a free walking tour in Florence which began at the Piazza di Santa Maria Novella and ended in Santa Croce, the area we found had the best restaurants. Our guide recommended Trattoria da Benvenuto which she said was a typical neighbourhood trattoria. A trattoria is a no-frills restaurant where you’ll get local dishes with a home-style touch. Prices are affordable and menus focus on local specialities and produce. Our meal here was simple, unfussed and truly memorable. The restaurant has a few tables on the sidewalk and two main dining rooms which are dotted with white-clothed tables. The service was quick, efficient and very friendly. I had the rigatoni with eggplant and cheese while my companion had a fillet with truffle sauce, both of which were cooked to perfection and faultless. Wash these down with a carafe of local wine and you’re ready to take on the day!
La Giostra is one of those places that every traveller will recommend and after a point, you start to realize that it may not always be because of the food. The restaurant is spread across three different rooms, but make sure you book a table or else you’ll be left twiddling your thumbs outside one of their many doors. What I loved most here was the ambience, the entire room was decked in fairy lights giving it a whimsical quality. I don’t think we saw any Italians here and though our meal was good, it was not the best I’d had. Between our six diners, we had various allergies and food preferences which the one and only English speaking waiter kindly addressed. He also translated the entire menu for us which was extremely helpful.
Gesto is a trendy tapas style bar located across the Arno in the Oltarno district. This is where the hip crowd of Florence hang out and you will notice lots of them milling between Gesto and neighbouring bars like Mad Souls and Spirits and Gecko and Zoe. Italians don’t stay out very late but when we arrived here, around 7 pm, we were the first people in. We had a reservation at Il Santo Bevitore down the street and wanted to get a drink before dinner, however, I think this place picks up post 10 pm. The décor is very trendy and we really enjoyed the atmosphere and vibe. You will find that in Florence, people tend to mill about, carrying their drinks onto the sidewalk and chatting with friends. There are lots of tourists, especially in summer, however, we found that this side of the Arno was more local.
Trattoria Alfredo was one of our last meals in the city and confirmed to us that in Florence, most trattorias will blow your mind in terms of food, no matter how tiny or unsuspecting. The menus remain somewhat constant with the decadent T-bone steak dominating recommendations. The T-bones here are at least two to three fingers thick, are cooked over hot coals, usually served rare and without any sauce or additional flavouring. A word of caution, though the menu may say the steak is for two we found that even with four of us, we barely made a dent.
While in Florence, make sure to visit the Mercato Centrale where you can buy all your fruits, veggies, meats, cheeses, sauces and pasta on the ground floor before heading up to the food court on the first floor. Being one of the tourist capitals of the world, we were pleasantly surprised with the quality of food and service almost everywhere we went. The key is to stay away from touristic centres and wander in to small alleys where you’ll find a nonna waiting to cook you the best meal of your life! Till the next meal at least.