Pasta, pizza and coffee are all a given when it comes to eating out in Florence, and if you’re planning a trip, you’ll no doubt be hoping to fill your days with all of them. But if you want to really taste Italy, you need to try the city’s more specialist edibles, the things the locals eat. From traditional offal-laden snacks to the must-try steak cut, and a few sweet treats thrown in for good measure, here are my top 8 things to eat in Florence…
Bistecca di Fiorentina
You have to try the steak in Florence! This traditional cut is, in a word, huge, and in a few more words, an incredibly flavoursome and juicy piece of meat on a hulking great bone. It’s grilled for a smoky, charred taste and to ensure the middle stays really pink. Even if you ask for it medium (which you shouldn’t), it will err more on the rare side, and there’s no need to order a lot to go with it because it will come with a side salad and you won’t have room for much else. Though, if you insist, or are sharing with your dining partner, I’d recommend a bowl of roast potatoes – a side dish that’s very popular in Florence and really good, but nothing like the roasties back home in the UK.
Black sesame ice cream
I’m being specific here because this was the most unusual flavour I tried and I loved it, but there are SO many options when it comes to your daily scoop of gelato in Florence. The ice cream in Italy is so creamy and not too sugary – most gelateria’s make theirs with only the very best milk and cream and don’t add anything unnatural – and the portions are generous. I’d also recommend trying pannacotta, tiramisu, pistachio and the really dark chocolate one that most place’s offer – it’s really intense and flavoured with either coffee or maraschino. I don’t have a picture to share with you for this guy, ’cause it was too damn good and I ate it all before I thought to get my phone out. As my boyfriend will attest, that NEVER happens…
I believe this dish originates from Milan but it’s big all over Italy and you’ll be hard pushed to find a menu in Florence without it in some form. It’s effectively veal shin that’s been cooked low and slow until it’s falling apart. I think it’s served with polenta traditionally and covered in a meaty sauce, but I had it ‘Florentine style’, which meant it was smothered in a stock-y, tomato, carrot, leek and onion concoction. DELICIOUS. This should be high on your list of what to eat in Florence, and Italy, for that matter.
The suped-up mozzarella trend is rife in London but it’s fair to say, Italy had burrata first. And theirs is, unsurprisingly, the best. The mozzarella ball stuffed with cream is dense and creamy and juicy and is readily available in the antipasti section of most menus in Florence. If you want something a little lighter the mozzarella is also great – just be sure to choose ‘buffalo’ for the best taste. I didn’t take a picture of this either – straight down my neck! – but you can perv on my snaps of a rather Italian Creamed Burrata with Balsamic and Roasted Figs from a fab little restaurant closer to home in Winchester, Hampshire here.
Probably not one for the squeamish, lampbredotto is meat from the 4th (and most tender) stomach of a cow, soaked in broth and tucked into an equally broth-soaked crusty roll. This is what locals eat in Florence. It often comes with a bit of punchy salsa verde too and is always served in a plastic bag (to catch the broth!) from street vans. There are lots of street vans and hole-in-the-wall-type places selling this, but when it came to it, we struggled to find one quickly, so head to Via Dante Alighieri, which a cobbled street in between Il Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio. I really wanted to try this traditional Florentine staple that dates back to the 15th century and I’m glad I did. The meat was pretty soft but stringy in places, which put me off a bit, but the taste is great. It’s salty and moreish and works really well with the bread. Go on, give it a go!
Thin and succulent slithers of raw beef are something of a fad in London restaurants but it all started in Italy. In Florence, you can buy carpaccio in the supermarkets, but at home, you’ll have to follow this recipe to make your own. The carpaccio we had in Florence was like nothing I’ve ever tasted – slightly sweet, meaty and fresh – and proved a lot less filling than I imagined it would be, dressed simply with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Figs are big news in Florence and I certainly had my fill when we visited. From fig-flavoured ice cream to fig-topped pizza, it’s everywhere and it tastes much better than in the UK. Sweet and jammy yet light, these figs are the real deal. The best way to have them? Fresh from a local bakery, teamed with frangipani and a crumbly pastry bottom. I got this beauty from a little bakery, which was a 10-minute walk from our Airbnb apartment. The town it sits in (Arcetri) is well worth exploring too – but be aware that it’s pretty authentic and no one speaks English – with its cute coffee shops under pergolas, delis, and lively haberdasheries. This is a great place to visit to really get to know what the locals eat in Florence.
You can get these in the UK but just like the coffee, it’s nothing like the genuine Made in Italy article. Canoli is a super sweet, hard cylinder of pastry that’s filled with either custard or chocolate. I like both but if you’re a Nutella fiend you won’t be able to resist the choc.
Have you been to Florence? What are your must-try Italian treats?