My initial impression of Florence on the day of arrival was that it was a very beige city… same color, different shades wherever one turned in the historical centre. You can read about my impressions in my Florence Travel Guide – how to survive the beige.
I hoped that the neighbourhoods on the other side of the Arno, where the Oltrarno Florence food tour took place, would inspire more confidence with vibrant dishes that gave Tuscany it’s reputation for the best produce and food in the country.
The Florence food tour, like the one in Rome, was booked via the Eating Italy website. I received the booking confirmation and directions for the tour within 24 hours of booking.
Unlike the previous food tours however, I noticed that the questionnaire for the Florence food tour did not include any questions about food and drink exclusions. I emailed the company separately to request halaal options for food and drink.
The tour started off from Piazza Nazario Sauro, a meeting place on a corner opposite the very busy Carraia bridge over the river Arno. I had taken a slow walk from my hotel close to the central station, and reached the meeting place within 30 minutes, stopping to admire the view and take in the scenery along the way.
Our Tour group leader Omar Aziz soon had us traversing the quirky residential neighbourhoods, eating and learning as we went.
The tour is offered daily, except Sunday, at 10:00am and usually lasts about 4 hours.
I must confess that I loved this food tour, more than any of the others I took in Italy. From the Budino di Riso to the melt in the mouth cecina and cantuccini to the potato filled pasta, every mouth full was a revelation in flavour and taste.
Bar Le Nuvole – Borgo San Frediano, 31
Our first stop was at a small bar where we enjoyed a Machiatone and a traditional rice pudding tart known as Budino di Riso. I had tasted one the previous day and had not been very impressed by the stiff tasteless offering. However, the tart at Le Nuvole was still warm and infused with the flavour of lemon. It was a bright start to the food filled day.
We utilised the small, albeit clean washrooms before moving on to the next stop.
Macelleria Mignani – Borgo San Frediano, 127
We entered the butcher shop or macelleria of Alessandro and Donatella with hearty greetings (recommended by the tour leader Omar) and learned more about the business that has been in the family for two generations. It has moved locations in the forty years or so that it has been in operation but still retains the heart and soul of the small butcher shop operated by Alessandro’s father. Samples of Finocchiona salami (flavoured with fennel) were offered to other participants and I was happy to have a slice of Cecina, a Tuscan chickpea flour pancake.
Omar came ready with his flip file and showed us pictures of cattle taller than a man… the origin of the Bisteca ala Fiorentina. The butcher shop had various cuts of beef as well as offal and other meats and really would be a delight for any home cook to shop at.
L’Angolo Saporito – Via Sant’Onofrio, 7-r
Our next stop was a bakery selling fresh hand made breads and other artisanly produced baked goods including tray bake pizzas, cecina and Cocoli, the crispy dough balls filled with cheese that we tasted.
The owners Alessia and Beppe, use their backgrounds to create a delightful fusion of Neapolitan and Tuscan staples.
I’ Trippaio di San Frediano – Piazza dei Nerli
Lampredotto sounds like an interesting name doesn’t it? It is the fourth stomach of the cow cooked with parsley, tomato and onion and is used in a classic Tuscan sandwich called Panino con Lampredotto.
We stopped by Simone’s food truck to see him work his magic on the cooked tripe, skilfully chopping and adding salsa verde, parsley, capers, extra virgin olive oil and chili oil before piling it onto a crispy bread roll. It was not halaal so I did not partake of this delicacy, but quite enjoyed watching it being made and enjoyed by the others.
Pasticceria Buonamici – Via dell’Orto, 12
I have always loved the crispy Italian cookies sold and marketed as ‘Biscotti’ and was excited to see a Master baker at work making the cookies that are actually known as Cantucci.
The baking masterclass is held in the kitchens of the Pasticerria Buonamici, a family owned business operating since 1949. It is now under the stewardship of the third generation of the same family. Before we entered the kitchen we were handed disposable hair covers and overalls to wear in order to maintain the hygiene standards in the kitchen.
It was almost hypnotic watching Roberto, the recently retired owner, make the almond cantucci from scratch using freshest ingredients. Nothing beats the taste of slightly warm cantuccini laden with fruits and nuts baked earlier that morning.
Alimentari Sandro and Ivana – Via Dei Serragli, 39
This cheese and cured meats shop had the most inviting aroma. However, it is very small and not really suitable for large crowds. The group sampled some cured meats which I could not eat, as well as some wedges of Pecorino and Parmigiana Reggiano.
Fiaschetteria Fantappié – Via Dei Serragli, 47
A few shops down from Sandro and Ivana’s grocery store is the wine shop specialising in Chianti from Tuscany. This wine has DOP status (Protected Designation of Origin) and is available on tap for refill of your own bottle.
The owner Luca explained the origin of the Black Rooster (Gallo Nero) on Tuscan wine bottles and offered the group glasses of his excellent wines. I enjoyed a refreshing fruit juice with the beautifully crafted Bruschetta pomedoro.
Trattoria I’Raddi – Via D’Ardiglione, 47
Lunch was served at a neighbourhood trattoria in the Santo Spirito neighbourhood. Unless you know it’s there, you are unlikely to find it down an unassuming lane.
This was a popular lunch venue and it was bustling when we arrived. We were seated with a view of the kitchen, while learning about the sport of Florentine football. Apparently Calcio Storico (historical football) as it is called is an early form of football without any rules except that players may not attack the one the one with the ball. Four teams from the different quarters of the city still meet annually to compete in Piazza Santa Croce.
The first dish was a hearty Tuscan bread and tomato soup called Pappa col Pomedoro. It was surprisingly light and tasty. The other members of the group had a peppery beef stew called Peposa alla Fornacina. I had potato stuffed tortelli that defies description. It was presented simply with a sage butter dressing but the flavour and texture blew me away and it was my favourite dish of the tour.
Gelateria della Passera – Via Toscanella, 15/red
The food tour came to it’s conclusion at the best gelato joint in town. Although I had tasted a great deal of delicious food, there was still place for gelato, always place for gelato! My choices of a scoop each of raspberry and lemon were perfect to end the meal. Other flavours include Peach, Pink grapefruit, Banana, Pistachio and Almond.
They do gluten free waffle cones as well so that no one is left out.
This food tour was an introduction to an authentic Italian residential neighbourhood where locals meet for lunch and dinner or a quick sandwich at a food truck.
Be prepared to never look at a sandwich in the same way again.
There is a lot of walking so wear comfortable shoes and always carry an umbrella and your bottle of water.
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