By Vivian Farmer
FLORENCE, Italy– To eat like a Florentine, watch what the locals do. Observe the times they eat, which dishes they choose, and where they go. Their choices reveal the pace of their lives, layers of culture, and, perhaps most importantly, what is good eat.
7 a.m.-10 a.m. Colazione
Florence opens her eyes and takes her time waking up. Locals line the counter at their favorite bars, handing the barista their tickets. Outside, shopkeepers scrub the sidewalk in front of their stores with soapy water and brooms and unlock doors. Italians eat small breakfasts that don’t sit heavily in the stomach. A coffee drink and pastry starts the day. A bottle of gassata water, if you want bubbles, or naturale, in hand and light food in your tummy, and you’re ready to start exploring the museums, churches, and stores of Florence.
1 p.m.-4 p.m. Pranzo
Perhaps you’ve already walked a few miles exploring the city or climbed the cool stone stairs of an old tower or the Duomo. The sun is reaching its zenith, the day is probably hot, and throngs of tourists choke the narrow streets. It’s time to duck into some shade and eat. Lunch can be filling or light, depending on your needs. Bars sell sandwiches made of cold cuts such as salami and prosciutto, tomato, and thick slices of fresh cheese. Pizza slices are another quick choice.
For a longer break with more sustenance, sit down at a restaurant and order pasta, soup, salad, or any of the local antipastos. A glass of wine or beer is perfectly acceptable with lunch. Or, wash everything down with a little espresso, but not a cappuccino or caffè latte–those are for breakfast here. Next, replenish your water. All restaurants charge for water because they don’t use tap water. If you want to keep the bill down you can refill your own bottle in any sink. The tap water in Florence is safe to drink and in my personal experience, doesn’t cause any gastrointestinal distress.
7:30 p.m.-10:00 p.m. Cena
The day is winding down. You’ve watched the sun set over the river, contemplated some of the famous sites, and maybe gotten lost a time or two and nearly been run over more times than you care to think about. It’s time to settle in for the biggest meal in Italian culture. You might have noticed a sign or two with 10 p.m. on it and thought maybe that was a typo. It’s not.
But dinner options do open at 7 p.m., at the absolute earliest. Most restaurants aren’t full until around 8 p.m. If you’re peckish during the interlude, grab a gelato.
As far as menu choices for Florentine dinner: Florence is known for its dishes that make use of wild game such as boar, and its huge steaks– large T-bone cuts that are quickly seared so the outer-most layer is crisp and the inside soft and raw. You can order multiple courses, but make sure your appetite is ready. If you don’t finish everything on your plate the waiter will think you did not enjoy the meal. If you want to keep that from happening, you can skip the antipasto course and primo course and go strait for the secondo course and a “contorno” (side dish). To put the finishing touch on your night, order a “dolce” (dessert)- one Easter specialty of Florence is schiacciata alla fiorentina, a light sweet cake enhanced with orange zest that’s a perfect finish any season. Wash the meal down with a sweet wine or a pallet cleansing caffè and you’re ready to wander back to your abode full, happy, and having eaten like a Florentine.
Note: During your day of eating in Florence, you might wonder, “where’s the bill?” at times. Here’s the scene: couples and families chat around you, relaxed and happy. The food is moving out of the kitchen at a comfortable pace. The waiter is lounging in the doorway enjoying a brief cigarette break. You’ve been done with your food for 15 minutes; you have places to be, what gives? In Italy, you have to ask for the bill. Ask the waiter “il conto per favaore” and your bill will promptly appear on your table.