If you’ve been to Italy and didn’t gain any weight during your visit, that means you did something wrong. Or a lot of things actually.
Pizza, pasta and paninis. Gelato, canolis and tiramisu. Seafood, lasagna and risotto. With all that deliciousness around you, how could you possibly control yourself? And why would you even want to?
For me, food is always an integral part of truly experiencing a new place and its culture, but in a country like Italy, food becomes even more vital. It is the key to getting a real taste of the country—literally and figuratively. There are plenty of people who travel to Italy just for the food, and I don’t blame them. Dining in Italy is like an out of body experience that at the same time manages to demand the attention and use of all five senses. It’s a truly beautiful thing.
Having spent Christmas with my Italian friend’s family two years ago, I already knew all of these things about Italian cuisine. This summer, though, I was ready and eager to experience it all again but this time in a different region of the country: Tuscany. And what better place to start than Florence, the capital city of this wine-and-cheese-filled region?
Florence, or Firenze as the Italians call it, may be known as the home of some of Michelangelo’s most famous masterpieces, but a little research taught me that the city is also quite the foodie paradise. To be sure that I wouldn’t miss out on any of the best treats the city has to offer, I signed up for a guided foodie experience with the Florence Food Walking Tour.
On the morning of the tour, Coral, our guide to Tuscan food and the blogger behind thecuriousappetite.com, was incredibly chipper for having woken up so early (I can’t speak for everyone, but being out of my hostel by 9 is early for me). To get everyone on her level, Coral took us to the most appropriate first stop for an Italian food tour: a coffee shop.
Coffee is a big deal in Italy and for a good reason… it’s amazing. But most visitors don’t really grasp what makes it so great, and they definitely aren’t in on the dos and don’ts of Italian coffee. AS we smelled and nibbled on some coffee beans then sipped on three different coffee blends, Coral enlightened us on some café traditions. For example, ordering a cappuccino after about 11 a.m. screams, “I’M A TOURIST!” as if that big city map you’ve been staring at didn’t already do that. As delicious as they are, lattes and cappuccinos are see as breakfast drinks, while coffee without milk (usually a simple espresso) is served after meals to help with digestions. Thanks to Coral, ordering an afternoon latte was one faux pas I would not be committing.
Our first savory dish of the day was served at the next stop in a truffle-filled heaven known as Procacci, and this stop on the tour actually turned out to be one of my favorites. Since 1885, Procacci has provided the people of Florence with anything and everything that has truffle. Truffle oil, truffle salt, truffle rice, truffle honey. You name it and they have it.
To get a taste of all this deliciousness, we tried one of their most popular menu items: a mini sandwich filled with a truffle paste. I savored every single bite of that sandwich before licking my fingers clean, and if it were socially acceptable, I would have licked the crumbs off the table. That’s how incredibly tasty that sandwich was. We all tried to guess what was inside the paste besides truffle, but the recipe is a secret. They don’t even sell that paste for you to take home. So if you want to try it, you have to visit Florence!
Next stop on our walking food tour was one of the oldest bakeries in Florence. The Sieni bakery has been open since 1909, and it was there that we popped in for two sweet treats: a chocolate rum ball rolled in toasted hazelnuts and panforte, which is made with fruit peel, sugar, nuts and about 30 different spices including cinnamon and nutmeg. With my huge sweet tooth, I gobbled them both up quick and ate the extras of my fellow tour buddies who weren’t big fans of sweets. What can I say? I have approximately ZERO shame when it comes to my love of sweets.
At this point after what was a decent amount of walking around the city, we were ready for some refreshments. Refreshments of the alcoholic grape variety to be exact. Luckily, Coral read our minds and brought us to La Divina Enoteca where Livio di Chiato, one of the best sommeliers in the world, treated us to a wine and food pairing. Livio handpicks all of the wines sold in his shop and so he, of course, chose the perfect combinations for the food and wine we sampled. First we had a sweet and fruity white wine with an incredible red bell pepper spread on bread as well as some cheese that was topped with red onion jam. The second wine was a red one from the Chianti region paired with sheep cheese, which is something I had never tried before but ended up loving, and also some fresh Florentine salami seasoned with fennel seeds. It was and still is the best salami I have ever had. Sampling these wines with the perfect foods that compliment them just made their flavors pop. I’m definitely a fan of wine, but with the guidance and perfect pairings of a world-class sommelier, I was able to appreciate them even more.
All of these stops were just appetizers leading up to the full meal that was awaiting us at our fifth stop, the Mercato di San Lorenzo, also known as the Mercato Centrale. Coral led us through the huge marketplace where vendors were selling everything from bread and ready-made meals to fresh fish and meat. Walking through the market was like a sensory overload. Everywhere we went new scents and sounds filled the air, and the colorful market kept our heads spinning left and right to take it all in.
Coral led us through the maze of the marketplace, and we made several stops along the way. At one of the many bakeries inside, we tried a low-risen flat bread called Schiacciata that is very typical in Tuscany. At another stop, we sampled Panzanella, a light summertime salad made with stale bread, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions and olive oil of course. Then we finished off our visit to the marketplace with a stop that included tasting several different local wines and olive oils. At that stop, we also tried two types of balsamic vinegar; one poured over strawberries and the other over pieces of Parmesan cheese. It was then that I realized my hometown supermarkets had ripped me off all these years with the sad and sorry excuse for balsamic vinegar they sold me so many times. The vinegar we sampled was incredible. Unlike the ones I was used to from home, these were thick and even slightly sweet. Right when I thought the sampling at our last stop was over, delicious prosciutto was brought out for us to try followed by a sweet finish with dessert wine and a biscotti-like cookie.
At that point, I was full and so were my tour buddies, but Coral had one more stop up her sleeve. Any Italian food tour would be incomplete without gelato, but that is especially true in Florence since it is considered the birthplace of this infamous Italian dessert. Luckily, my stomach has a special compartment reserved for dessert so I was able to enjoy my watermelon flavored gelato. On that hot summer day, that gelato was exactly what we all needed to wash down the delicious food we ate.
There are several food tours in Florence, but I’m glad I went with the Florence Food Walking Tour. Besides the fact that all the food and wine we tried were amazing, Coral was a fun, friendly and knowledgeable guide. She not only educated us about the history and traditions behind the food in Florence, but she also told us about the city itself, making this tour about a lot more than just the food. Florence is filled to the brim with art, architecture, history and culture. With Florence Food Walking Tours, the door to discovering all of those things PLUS food, of course, is always open!
Have you ever gone to Italy? What was your favorite food there?
Disclaimer: Florence Food Walking Tours sponsored me to participate in this tour in exchange for writing a post about my experience. The opinions expressed here, however, are all my own. Duh!