While Florence, Italy is one of Europe’s best cities, it also plays host to some of the best food in the culinary world. This rustic and renaissance town is not only charming and beautiful, it is a great place to fill your stomach until you can’t move. Florence is one of the best walking cities for a good reason. The streets were built in preparation for the hoards of people that would need to shed off a four hour dinner before having a food coma.
Don’t even try and debate with me that there is another city out there that has better food than Florence, I don’t like negativity. As Italy is home to some of the best food on the planet, Florence is definitely the capital. The chefs and locals do not only excel in traditional Italian cooking, they have their own Tuscan style. While you will always find pastas and pizzas through out the country, there are certain dishes that are unique to each destination. As everything I have eaten in Florence is outstanding, there are a few items that set them apart from the rest.
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Bistecca alla Fiorentina
The most famous dish of Florence is so big that it typically takes at least two people to eat it. What sets Bistecca alla Fiorentina apart from other meat dishes is that nearly every Tuscan cook in Florence has become an expert in the preparation. The long process that Bistecca all Fiorentina goes through until the meat hits your fork is truly a work of art for any food lover.
The adventure begins when the Chianina, a Tuscan breed of cattle, (happily?) sacrifices its life to provide a delicious cut of meat. The meat is then left to hang somewhere between 15 and 21 days. The next step is to cook the steak at an extremely high temperature. However, before the steak hits the heat, it is very important to note that it can never be refrigerated and must always be room temperature. The steak is then cooked for about 3 to 5 minutes on each side, only being flipped once. This process properly chars the outside of the steak and leaves the inside with a rare and delicious texture. The bistecca can only be finished once served with a dash of sea salt thrown onto the top. A meat lover’s masterpiece.
Best Bistecca all Fiorentina? Try Trattoria Za Za. They have mastered the process. https://www.trattoriazaza.it/english-menu/
Prosciutto and Burrata
You can find Prosciutto and Burrata cheese all over Italy, but I can promise you that the best combination is found in Florence. If you don’t know what Burrata is, then you should probably start learning. This cheese is made with a combination of Mozzarella and cream that is mixed together before being inserted into the center a thinner layer of Mozzarella. It is then tied up at the top to hold in all of the creamy perfection waiting for your fork and knife. It is essentially a truffle, but in the cheese sense. The second your fork and knife cut into the outer layer, the creamy mixture of Mozzarella comes oozing out. It is a sight of beauty and the drooling can begin.
On the other side of the spectrum, there is the Prosciutto. If you don’t know what Prosciutto is, then shame on you. This thinly sliced and salty meat is produced through out Italy and Europe, but Florence seems to excel in the overall process. You will find it on just about every menu whether it is on a charcuterie board, paired with a side of melon, in a sandwich, or the topping of a pizza. You cannot go wrong with prosciutto in Florence as it is not only incredibly delicious, its cheap.
Now, I am sure you know what a Caprese salad is, right? Juicy tomatoes, topped by creamy, sliced mozzarella cheese showered in robust olive oil and sprinkled with fresh basil. It is mouth watering just thinking about it. But wait. Go back to the Burrata and Prosciutto paragraphs, re-read them, then come back here. I’ll wait… waiting … still waiting… Okay, good. Now imagine a Caprese salad, but substitute the Mozzarella with Burrata and the tomatoes with Prosciutto. Creamy, salty, fresh, perfection.
Pappardelle al Cinghiale
This is one of, if not THE, best pasta dishes you will ever eat. Pappardelle al Cinghiale or, Pappardelle with Wild Boar Sauce in English, is a Tuscan and Florentine classic. For the dish to be done properly, the Pappardelle has to be made fresh as this will only add to the dining experience. This egg made noodle is long, flat, and a little bit thick. The dish also comes with a ribbon pasta at times, but it is much better with a Pappardelle. The real MVP of this dish is the wild boar. Yes, boar. Not pig, boar. And oh yeah, it has to be wild. None of those stinkin’ farm boars. When taking this into consideration, it makes perfect sense why this dish is best served during hunting season.
For the sauce to be made to perfection, the proper ingredients must be combined. Sauces in different restaurants can be different, but always include some combination of San Marzano tomatoes, red wine, olive oil, and diced onions. After the wild boar meat has been aged for a few days, it is then added to the slow cooking sauce. The sauce then cooks on low, similar to a stew, until the meat is flawlessly tender. Pappardelle is thrown into boiling water, and in about 5 minutes becomes al dente. The noodles are then covered with a heaping amount of the sauce and the rest is history. The tender meat melts in your mouth as the sweet and fresh sauce delights your taste buds. The dish is only better served with a delicious glass of Chianti from the nearby fields of Tuscany.
Pappardelle al Cinghiale is sure to please anywhere, but in my experience, Ristorante Pensavo Peggio has some of the best. This is one of my favorite restaurant in Florence as everything on the menu is to die for.
Another restaurant I HIGHLY recommend is Osteria del Cinghale Bianco. Cinghale is in the name, and they take this dish to the next level. They of course serve it the most famous way over pappardelle, but their best dish is Polenta with Cinghale. The creamy polenta is covered with the exceptional Cinghale sauce as the meat is extremely tender while it melts in your mouth after every bite. For a full review of Osteria del Cinghale Bianco, follow the link below.
Speaking about a glass of Chianti, let’s talk about the wine. I don’t want to get into it too much, and I try not to be too opinionated, but this is the best wine ever. Arguing with me on this is not an option, just agree. The nearby fields and rolling hills of Tuscany have produced some of the best wines for centuries and only continue to do so. While in the U.S we have to fight for a good bottle of Tuscan wine without throwing our wallets out the window, it is so simple in Florence. I will never forget the first time Tuscan wine hit my lips and I only paid $8 for the bottle. It felt like I was in heaven and I could never look back. Knowing that the wine is so easily accessible and cheap is a thing of beauty. Every restaurant has an extremely large wine list and can at times be overwhelming. Make it easy on yourself and just ask for a bottle of restaurant’s table wine, you can’t go wrong.
If you are like me and realize you just can’t go back home without some wine, L’Antica Cantina del Chianti next to Duomo is a great spot to grab a couple bottles. They specialize in Tuscan wines and have no problem shipping it right to your door step.
If you want to get out and adventure more, rent a car and make your way through Tuscany. The entire region is stunning, but Val d’Orcia and Montepulciano are my favorites. Follow the link below to check out my 5 favorite places around Montepulciano to have some amazing wine.
Funghi Porcini e Tarufo
Truffles are typically very expensive and hard to find, but they are abundant in the Tuscan region. If Italian food wasn’t already good enough, toss some truffles into a sauce and you have an extraordinary dish. Mix in some local porcini mushrooms to compliment the plate with texture and added flavor. It might all sound very expensive, but it isn’t. Dishes involving truffles and porcini mushrooms are simple for a Tuscan cook. Restaurant favorites include a combination of truffle sauce and porcini mushrooms with ravioli, tagliatelle, or mac and cheese.
A common appetizer, Crostini Toscano does not disappoint. These small pieces of extra crunchy Tuscan bread come with a variety of combinations. Fresh bruschetta, olives and cheese, prosciutto, vegetables, and more are easy to find on any menu. As Italians love their breads and antipasto, this is a simple appetizer to put together. The most popular crostini is accompanied by a chicken liver paté. Ignore the word liver and try it. I guarantee you order a second round.
Very similar to focaccia, schiacciata is a perfect afternoon snack. This bread is made with a Tuscan twist as it is prepared with some extra olive oil and sea salt to add to the flavor. The thin bread is great for sandwiches or partnered by some olives and cheese on top. More often than not, you will see plenty of people eating this as a snack through out the afternoon.
It stares at you, warmly nestled in a basket upon your table accompanied by a bottle of robust olive oil. You sit opposite, staring back, patiently waiting for you appetizer, pasta, and meat dishes. It is easy to think to yourself, “Just one piece. I don’t want to be full”. The Tuscan bread has just won. You keep eating. Piece after piece out of a never ending basket. Waiting becomes fun, it becomes pleasant. No more going to the bathroom in hopes that your entree will be ready for you upon return. Nay, give me more bread.
We all love bread, and its hard not to. Tuscan style bread takes the prize as being some of the most bland, but that does not mean it isn’t also one of the most delicious. A bland start can only allow it to take in more flavors. Olive oils, vinegars, sauces, soups and patés are all beautifully paired with piece of this hearty bread. The crust is crunchy while the inside acts as a sponge, soaking up any addition. An Italian dinner is an event and can take up to three hours. It is very important to have your bread, olive oil and wine on the table to keep you company.
Speaking of all of this delicious bread, why not put it together into a sandwich. Florence is the capital of sandwiches, specifically Panini’s. It is obvious when you walk through the streets as you will witness people eating them all day, especially during the lunch hours. There are many variations of Panini’s, but the most popular include some form of prosciutto and pecorino or mozzarella cheeses. If you’re looking for one place to get a panini, make you way out to Il Pan’ino. This small shop has won awards and is very popular, but it is tucked away from the most crowded areas. The bread is baked fresh and the meat is sliced right before your eyes. The shop itself smells like every bit of heaven from the second the doors are opened. Good luck leaving Florence with out eating multiple paninis from Il Pan’ino, (or dreaming about it).
Imagine a salad with bread as the main ingredient. That makes it extra healthy and slimming, right? Panzanella is a refreshing salad that uses left over bread, because hey, this bread cannot be wasted. The bread is soaked in water, then dried before being added to a bowl of diced vegetables such as onions, peppers and tomatoes. Bathe it in some delicious olive oil and you have a perfect summer lunch.
Are you starting to see a trend here? Another dish revolving around left over pané toscano, ribollita is essentially a soup form of panzanella. This famous appetizer is made with stale bread, cabbage, onions, kale, beans, tomatoes and more. As panzanella is for the summer, ribollita is best served up in the winter.
It’s Italy, so of course there is pizza. No, Florence is not particularly famous for pizza, nor is it the birth place. That accolade goes to Napoli, where pizza is the most famous cuisine. However, there is one small pizza shop within the city that excels in making Neapolitan style pizza, “Gusta Pizza”. Walk in, choose your pizza from the board of 8 options, pay, wait two minutes, eat your pizza, cry with happiness, leave wishing it wasn’t over. The pizza here is so good that, dare I say it… It may be better than Naples…
Alas, the most essential ingredient of them all in Italian cooking, olive oil. Other than the wine, olive oil is involved in the making of everything I mentioned above. Luckily for the Florentines, they are blessed with the exquisite and robust olives from the nearby hills of Tuscany. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is most commonly used as a bath for bread dipping, an additive for sauces, the pilot for dressings and the key to cooking, well, everything. I admit that over the last few years I have become an olive oil connoisseur, trying the delicious liquid gold everywhere I travel. I promise you, none is better than Tuscan.
Yet again, another thing that is just done better in Florence. I wish I had some kind of explanation, but I don’t. My guess is that the food scene in Florence is so demanding that gelato shops compete to be the best spot for dessert. Or maybe it is the scenery that revolves around the actual gelato. There is something about walking through tight streets drowning in beautiful art and culture while eating a creamy gelato on a hot summer’s day. Perhaps its because it combines so well after a delicious Bistecca all Fiorentina and a bottle of Tuscan wine. I can’t pin point the exact reason, but I can tell you that it is the best in Italy.
There is gelato through out the city, but make sure you don’t eat it from a street vendor. Spend the extra euros and go to an artisanal gelateria. You want your gelato to be made in small batches as anything that is “touristy” is not worth it.
As incredible Italian food is found through out the country and even into the United States, it is nearly impossible to find anything that truly compares to Florence. Not many places are home to chefs and locals whom put so much love and passion into their food. Not many places are blessed with the location within a region such as Tuscany. In short, not many places revolve their culture around food the way that Florence does. If you are a foodie, or just love food in general, Florence is heaven.
Have you ever been to Florence and explored its food scene? Tell me about it! What are you favorite dishes? Do you agree with mine? Make sure to comment below and tell me more! For more Italy guides, head to our Italy page. Follow @travelingle on Instagram for the best Italy photos!