I will be upfront with you, if you had enough of all the food talk during my “Andrea Due” post, you might want to just pass this post up….because it is about piu cibo.
I laid in bed reflecting on my Uffizi visit. I love the art that I am constantly surrounded with here in Italy. Art that you find in the most unexpected place; in the age showing on a building or a face, in the trees and gardens, in the markets, on the streets…literally EVERYWHERE.
To be fair to the homeland, I think I do a pretty good job of seeing art everyday in every little thing, but here it is just a little more….Italian. And although I love the study of “fine art”, this trip for me was about something different.
So, I wondered what I would do tomorrow? I reviewed my notes thinking there might be something I had tagged, but overlooked to this point. “Florence for Foodies” tour…yeah, I remember reading about that and thinking it sounded good. It gets RAVE reviews on several sites. Well, I thought, I doubt they would have anything at this late of a date. So at 11:00 pm or 23:00 as I’ve become used to, I emailed “Nat & Sam”. I told them that I had tomorrow and possibly Monday if they had any openings. This way at least I tried.
And whataya know, Nat emailed right back and said they indeed did have a spot for me for tomorrow’s tour, but that I needed to let them know by no later than 7:00am. I asked myself, will I be bummed if I do not give this a try? Is there something I would rather do? And I decided to go for it. I emailed Nat back and said to count me in.
We were told to meet at 10:10 on the steps of Basilica San Lorenzo.
As I was walking out of the B, I asked Roberto where the “Basilica San Lorenzo” was. After he stared at me for a moment, trying to decipher what I had asked he said, “Aaaaah BaseeelicadesanLorenzo” (I am typinng it all run together like that so you read it with your most rapido italian accent). Didn’t I just say that? I say, “Si si” and he pauses a second, like are you serious, and then shrugs his little shoulders and says, “eeet eeesa right-a out-a there-a”….waiting…..then actually gives me directions. I have to ask a few others along the way, all of whom had the same stare…wait time…tilt head….I repeat….wait time…then their ah ha moment….look at me like I am speaking a foreign language or something then give rapido directions with a couple of hand motions.
**Side Note- Two words I suggest you learn when visiting a foreign country…Right and Left… destra/sinistra**Side/Side Note- But even when they say it, it doesn’t sound like that**
And yes is was a simple sinistra, destra, destra…
But hey, I am not the only person that gets turned around…
I saw this father/daughter duo doing the same thing in the middle of a busier street yesterday. It looks as if they are engaged in an Amazing Race. I tried to snap their photo yesterday but they oriented themselves and were off.
Come to find out we met at Basilica di San Lorenzo for a couple of reasons, 1- it is really close to our first 2 stops and 2- more interestingly, San Lorenzo happens to be the patron saint of cooks. He met his death via grill.
Right off Nat is friendly and engaging. She lets us know that we are a super small group today, only 6 of us. 2 from England, 2 from Boston, 1 from New York and me.
Nat gives us a brief rundown of our day and then we are off.
First stop, Caffe Florian for a pastry and cafe.
A lemon cake made with rice flour and cafe marocchino. This drink was named after “a man from Morocco” that supplied the coffee.
Nat had some really interesting stories about coffee. She claims that coffee was the prozac for women in the 1500s. She said it changed their lives, for the better, forever. She goes on to say what we all already know, that Italians are SERIOUS about their coffee. In Italy, it is Water, Wine or Coffee. Period. Also there are rules about coffee, like no milk or cream after a certain time, they feel milk is for babies or if you have a sore throat. Massimo, the 4th generation owner of the caffe concurs.
Nat said that Starbucks attempted to open in Rome, and Romans took off work to take shifts throwing rocks through their windows….they never opened.
During this stop, Nat gives us all Italian names. Chris from Boston is Cristofo, his wife Heather….ends up with Greta. Thomas and Megan from England, Tomaso and Margarita, Betty from New York, Elisabetta and Paige….Nat just kinda looked at me. She thought and then I got Francesca….Mi piace! Francis…no thanks, but Francesca….I’ll take it! Also, all so much prettier when Nat said our names.
After a while at the caffe, it was time to head over to the San Lorenzo Market. Yes, I had already been introduced to the market with Chef Andrea, but you cannot take this place in with one visit.
We asked Nat how different vendors competed, for example, how can this market support 10 different butchers. She said they each have their own following (for generations) and basically a slogan.
This butcher says his meat explains why the Mona Lisa is smiling.
I think our first stop in the market was at the famous sandwich shop I mentioned the other day, Nerbone’s.
Nat had us stay away from the counter because Mateo can be a bit of a “meat nazi”. This sandwich is of boiled beef on a roll that is made especially for this sandwich…the bun has a bit of an air bubble in the top piece to hold the sauces (red and green) and the cannellini beans if added. The red sauce is called Dante’s Inferno. Blaine would LOVE it! With this we drank what Nat considers more of a breakfast wine, because it is so light…..breakfast wine?
Oh, also…another pet peeve of Italians, panino is sandwich…panini is plural….got it?
Next stop, Marco’s cheeses and cured meats.
See the little, stuffed sheep on the cheese? Nat gave that to Marco for Christmas. People would ask Marco what kind of cheese it was and he would say, “cheap”…and they would walk away….this way, his accent doesn’t negatively effect business.
With each taste, Nat gave us background. Here we tried Pecorino Tuscano and Prosciutto Tuscano which is very different from what I had in Cinque Terra. A lot of what has defined Tuscan food comes from their lack of using salt years ago. They came up with some…let’s say creative solutions at times, but tradition being a cornerstone, they stand behind their bland bread!
Probably one of the biggest things that was underscored (again) is that Italian food is REGIONAL. There is no such thing to them as “Italian Food”. There is Tuscan food, Florentine food, Umbrian Food, etc. Each region highlights their finest and establishes their dishes as different from another region’s.
Then it was over to Steffano’s stand. Steffano’s presentation blows everyone else’s out of the acqua.
Steffano Conti sells fruit, vegetables, olive oil, balsamic and a variety of condiments, similar to the lady we visited with Andrea.
Time to move on from the market and get serious about some wine.
But first, a story…
This plaque explains what happens to you when you make idle threats to the Medici family…ya get drug down into your own cellar, chained and tortured and then decapitated…Talking bad about “The Family” in Italia….never good.
Enter Mario Zanobini’s Wine Shop. As we are welcomed by Mario and all his bottles, Gretta (already a bit tipsy) says, “oh my…I think I am going to die!” Mario translates to his friend there “wearing out the pattern on the floor” and the friend replies, “Almeno non si muore sete!”
Our first “sampling” is of a cold, yummy Prosecco ! Nat has brought, to accompany the sweet bubbly, coccolo….a salty donut as Nat explains it. Coccolo quickly made my “Top Eats in Italy” list….so, so good.
Next it is on to Red. But first let’s visit the torture chamber.
The entire visit at Zanobini’s, Mario was a great host. But then we mentioned one of his favorite things and he really cut loose….Grappa.
Mario explains in his broken english, “I love-a my grappa. I really love -a my grappa. But-a I cant-a drink much-a anymore (points to liver….I guess), so-a I thought-a how can I still-a enjoy-a my grappa?” And he unveils his “invention”
Mario and Nat ask for a volunteer to experience his “Full Immersion” with the grappa mister. I volunteer, but Nat thinks it is wise to have Cristofo go first.
Mario askes, “What-a kind-a grappa do you wish? Army, Gentle Lady-a or Meditation-a?”
Cristofo refused “Gentle Lady” and chooses Army…
Cristofo is “explained” to stand, palms out, eyes closed-a, mouth-a open.
And then Mario begins…
I try “Meditation”. Mario explains me how to hold my fingers during the “misting”.
Mario says the upside, besides the delightful misting, is that the gypsies “do not-a like-a the smell-a of the grappa…..so-a, they-a stay-a away-a.”
Tomaso even bought a bottle to take home. Mario suggest misting your cigars, coffee, cereal, you name it….Mario mists it!
Ready for a little dessert? Perche no!? Right…
Perche No is a favorite gelateria in Firenze. Nat told us how to tell the difference between the good, the bad and the ugly.
Notice the word “Laboratoria” on the door, they make the gelato right back there!
Perche No is also a member of the Slow Food Movement in Italy.
We “sampled” 3 different marriages;
Nat said, “My Francesca…you-a really don’t-a want-a to-a leave any.” As I scraped the wax coating off my little paper cup. I told her it was just that I wanted to save the cup. So she gave me another clean one.
At this point Nat asks, ” You like-a?” She was referring to the entire morning. It is now 3:00! I do not think there were any complaints! We all gave the Italian Kiss, Kiss and said Ciao!Ciao! to Nat.
Needing a little caffeine to continue this high, a couple of us grabbed an espresso before parting ways.
My plan for the evening was to end up on the other side of the Arno at Piazzale Michelangelo for sunset…I still had LOTS of time to roam.
I made it back to the B to freshen up and what did I find…
I know you are thinking, “How can this girl even THINK about food or drink!?” Well, Nat suggested a place that makes a wonderful Aperol Spritz…and my days here are numbered.
So I am off to Gilli.
I go in, stand at the bar for a moment and admire this guy’s handiwork…when I take the photo, he mumbles something about Michelangelo and moves his station…ya think he’d be flattered!
Anyway, I get a great seat looking right out on Piazza della Repubblica. The artists are just beginning to set up for the evening.
I am served my drink and my aperitivo (oh my!! baby coccolos!!) and I am HAPPY!!
This was a just the perch to people watch.
I pay my 12 euros for my drink and snacks (worth every penny!) and begin chasing the sunset.
I make it over Ponte Vecchio, and begin heading to an area I have yet to explore. Mike and Joann mentioned, twice, that I might want to try to watch the sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo. I had noticed tiny people up on a hill, so I figured that was where I was headed.
I thank my family for being supportive and encouraging about this trip, but I thank Mike and Joann for tonight’s memory. The photographs that follow are only a few of the many I took. Each second I would observe the changes in the landscape and river and I would say, “Aaaawww, come on!” Like this can’t really be real….I can’t really be seeing this. What you are seeing doesn’t even do it justice.
Might I suggest you pour yourself a cold glass of Prosecco while enjoying these? Chin-Chin!