Getting to know the real Florence can be a tough nut to crack. First of all, you must lose the tourist crowd.
Coral Lelah, a longtime expat who leads food and wine tours for visitors in Florence, directs me to St. Ambrogio Market in the Santa Croce neighborhood, a mile from Ponte Vecchio, where visitors rarely go. The covered market spills out into the street. Under awnings of corrugated tin, encircled by a ring of dilapidated trucks: stalls for cheap cotton dresses; riotous flowers; porchetta, cut straight from the half-pickled head of a pig.
Two gregarious chefs Sergio and Pier Paolo – share command of a lampredotto truck – elbowing their way into effectiveness in a space built only for one. Sergio deals in traditional lampredotto; his colleague with a version thick with pomodoro. They bark out orders, ladle broth and green spice onto fresh bread, deal out wine in plastic cups for 50 centimes apiece. The line snakes onto the church steps.
Inside the marketplace, a gargantuan butcher beckons me with bellows to his unmarked stall, promising me “the best parmesan in the world!” He cuts two thick slices, then is distracted by the sight of a beautiful woman pushing a stroller. He calls out to her. “This is the most beautiful child in the world!” he pronounces. He winks at the mother. “Born to the very worst mamma in the world.” She laughs as he thrusts a plateful of salami toward her. Then he remembers me. “You must try the best cheese in the world,” he says again, offering me a Tuscan goat pecorino.
I gently remind him that, moments earlier, he said that of the parmesan. He considers for a moment. He furrows his brows; he frowns. At last he smiles. “This is one of the best cheeses in the world,” he says. Thus satisfied, he shoves more salami into my palms.
Our local expert in Florence can go on and on about her favorite city – and about her favorite hotel. Check it out here!