Chris tells us it's extremely worth it to step out of your comfort zone to try all aspects of Italian cuisine. In this post, he shares ways and things to keep an eye out for when exploring the Tuscan diet in Florence.
Food has been a serious threat to both my wallet and waistline this semester. I am not worried about either of those issues, as I’ll have the entire summer to work and exercise. If I’m getting out of shape and broke, I’d rather it be while in Europe anyways. Italy, Tuscany, and Florence itself are all places renowned for having some of the best cuisines in the world, and being on the Tuscan diet these past five weeks, I fully believe few other places on the planet can match the quality and taste of the food I’ve been having so far.
Eating out can get expensive, but it’s also extremely worthwhile if you go to the right places. It truly is tough to find a bad place to eat in Florence, but it is also worthwhile to take the 30 seconds you need to ensure you’re going to a good spot. Unless specifically recommended by someone or having exceptional reviews, I would avoid any places directly in line with a tourist location, like the Duomo. Other than using specific internet searches to find great spots, I’ve gotten really used to just opening Google or Apple Maps to search for food nearby. Google Maps is especially nice because you can specify the price range, cuisine, and ratings you’re looking for, and it’s directly connected to Google Reviews so you can see what people who have gone recently have said about the place.
Caption: Bisetcca alla Fiorentina: a steak dish that is a city speciality.
Once you’ve found a restaurant that looks solid, and not be a snob, but usually being four stars and up while having great (and recent) written reviews, it’s worth a quick visual vibe test to ensure there’s not too much English on the menu, not a lot of tourist service on the outside, and not too many empty tables. If everything looks good and there isn’t a waiter outside trying to pull people in who are walking by, step on in and ask for a table. Some of the higher-end or more coveted restaurants require reservations, but using Google beforehand will specify if you’ll need one or not, and if worse comes to worst and you can’t get a seat at a place you want to try, just write down the name and try going another time. There’s probably another amazing spot within a five-minute walk, so just take out your phone and check to see what’s around.
Caption: Osteria Vini E Vecchi Sapori passing the visual vibe test.
Once you’re inside and ordering, I find it best to abide by the rules of Italian culture. Eat whatever you order as it is, eat it all (no to-go boxes!), and take your time to fully enjoy the dining experience. Certain restaurants and cuisines may have specialties that I prefer to order since that’s usually the best thing they serve, and if you’re ever unsure what to go with, I always ask the server for recommendations. They would know best when it comes to pointing you towards a dish that’s going to inspire the best reviews and recommendations out of you.
A lot of what I just explained is mostly referring to sit-down dinners and lunches, but a lot of the same principles will apply to breakfast and quick lunches. Most mornings on the Tuscan diet usually just consist of a coffee and pastry, and although I find the quality is much more uniform across the city and region for items like these, it’s still worthwhile exploring all the different cafés and pasticceria to find different specialties and experiences in each shop. I like to stand at the bar counter for mine since I usually have a class immediately after, but it’s always especially refreshing to take a seat to enjoy an espresso and croissant for a few minutes to help ease yourself into the day.
Caption: A classic Florentine breakfast: pastry and coffee.
Quick lunches on-the-go for me are usually sandwiches, and like coffee shops, this type of food is abundant with amazing shops almost anywhere you go in the city. As long as the ingredients are fresh and locally sourced, any combination you fancy will be satisfying, although it’s also nice to leave it up to whoever’s behind the counter, that’s how I’ve learned about a lot of my personal favorite combos.
Eating out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is a beautiful yet expensive experience I could only allow for my first few days in Florence as well as for whenever I’m traveling. Another great aspect to being in Tuscany is that the region ensures fresh and locally sourced ingredients, whether you pick up groceries at the famous San’Ambrogio and Central markets or at chain supermarkets like Conad and Coop. There’s different levels of sourcing that I’ve learned about in my food in culture class, but a good key is to look for ingredients with “D.O.P.”, a designation that whatever product it is will be fresh and locally sourced. Purchasing vegetables, cold cuts, pasta, and whatever other ingredients you like allow for amazing home-cooked meals at a fraction of the cost of one from a restaurant. You also get the experience and satisfaction of becoming a bit of a better home cook every time you experiment with new items from the store.
Caption: Amazing pasta found in Florence.
Italy has a food that’s absolutely worth getting a temporary gut for, but the ironic aspect about their culture’s gastronomy is that they actually have one of the healthiest diets in the world. One of the best parts about living here has been experiencing all the different types of food and ingredients they have to offer, whether it’s at a restaurant or in your own kitchen, it’s extremely worthwhile to leave your culinary comfort zone and make an effort to try all the different aspects to this amazing cuisine.
Chris Reidy is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2022, sharing his story in frequent posts on CAPA World. An economics major from University of Miami, he is studying abroad in Florence this semester.
Chris' journey continues all semester so stay tuned.