There’s no question that Italy is one of the best gastronomical countries in the world. Thus, it was a no-brainer that I had to do the Florence food tour on my recent trip. Here are the dishes I tried, and whether or not I think it’s a good tour to do.
The Secret Florence Food Tour
Many people don’t realize that the country of Italy was only unified in 1861. Before that, there were eight states with distinct cultures, dialects, and cuisines. As such, each Italian region has unique dishes to try. Everyone associates pasta and pizza with Italy, but what region specifically, More importantly, what are the highlights of each region? That’s exactly what I went to find out on the Florence food tour.
Starting with an Italian Breakfast – Coffee and a Croissant
I’ll never forget my first time traveling around the Mediterranean in 2015 and my struggle to find a good, hearty breakfast. Most establishments don’t even open before noon. At the few that do, you’re not likely to find more than pastries, and certainly nothing substantial like a good Scottish breakfast.
To be fair, Italian portions in general are quite small. The first time I ordered a coffee in Italy, I thought they were pranking me when they handed me a cup that could have fit in a doll’s tea set. But after countless espressos and cappuccinos (the latter only before noon), I became used to the serving size. Thus, I was quite satisfied with our first course.
We met our tour guide at Finisterrae near the Basilica of Santa Croce. Vanesa and I each received our macchiato (espresso with a touch of foamed milk). There were several flavored croissants to choose from as well. I went with pistachio and Venesa had the traditional cream filling. The croissants were a quarter of the size of their French equivalent, but just as delicious
Some Italians might have an espresso and a croissant twice throughout the morning, but perhaps just as many Italians don’t have breakfast at all. Either way, you’ll find very few Italians overloading on calories before lunch (or any time of the day for that matter).
Making My Way Through the Fourth Stomach – Lampredotto
I’m usually quite adventurous with the food I’ll try, although there are a few items that I probably wouldn’t order again. For instance, I’m not the biggest fan of tripe, the second stomach of the cow. Therefore, I wasn’t sure I was going to like lampredotto, the fourth stomach.
Lampredotto is a dish exclusive to Florence, Italy. It’s often served at food trucks around the city, but some of the fancier restaurants and osterias also have it on the menu. We received our lampredotto sandwich from a street food truck called Pollini, which apparently is quite famous for serving the best quality sandwich. It was certainly popular with the locals as we stood there waiting for ours.
Florence is certainly known for its sandwiches. In 2015 on my first visit, I discovered Al Antico, one of the best sandwich shops in the world. While Al Antico has over a dozen meats available, Pollini just has tripe and lampredotto.
I have to admit, it wasn’t great. The flavor wasn’t bad, but the texture was not my favorite. I’ve never particularly enjoyed chewy meat, and the fourth stomach isn’t just chewy, it’s also a bit…slippery. The spicy green sauce they put in the sandwich was really nice though and helped to even out the dish. But it was also a large portion, so I only ate about half of the sandwich, leaving room for the rest of the food tour.
Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio
In 2015 on my first visit to Florence, I found the Florence Central Market and thought it was the best thing ever. I loved how all the ingredients were for sale on the first floor, and then the restaurants were on the second floor using those ingredients to serve amazing dishes. It took my food tour to make me realize that was the tourist market, and there was an even better one not far away.
Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio is where the locals have been getting their fresh fruits, vegetables, noodles, baked goods, and other ingredients since 1873. This market is about half a mile east of Palazzo Vecchio, so just a bit away from the main tourist zone. As such, as you might expect, the quality was absolutely exceptional. So of course we had to do our tasting platter there.
Samples of Meat, Cheese, and Wine
To start, there were three different types of salami. The highlight was finocchiona, which is from the Florence region of Tuscany and characterized by the amount of fennel inside. Unfortunately, I missed the names of the other two salamis, but all three were incredible.
We also had two types of pecorino cheese, the main cheese produced in Florence. One was fresh and the other more aged. These are hard, crumbly cheeses with an almost nutty taste. I will always be amazed at how much flavor Italian cheese has.
Finishing up the selection were local olives, an olive pate and a ricotta spread, and the unique Tuscan bread that doesn’t contain any salt. Much of the ham and cheese in the region already has a lot of salt, but the history of the saltless bread actually goes back centuries to trade difficulties in getting salt.
Of course, no Florence food tour would be complete without local Florentine wine. As I often say, I don’t drink a lot, but I’m always happy to try the local alcoholic drink. In Italy, that means a lot of wine. And boy is it good wine! As Vanesa and I had the drink upgrade package, we got to sample wine from two wineries. As I’m not a connoisseur, I’m not the best to talk about the distinctions between the two wines, but I could certainly tell they were of fantastic quality.
My Favorite Dish – Real Italian Pasta
For our penultimate stop, we were brought to Antico Noè, the perfect osteria. Tucked away down a little alley not far from the Duomo, it’s the kind of place frequented by locals rather than tourists. And that will always be the best reason for doing a food tour – finding where the locals go.
We were given two dishes. The first was a simple linguini pasta made with cheese, and the other was a penne pasta cooked with sauteed onions. I was surprised by how firm the pasta was, but then I remembered that Italians prefer their pasta al dente. I’ll never be able to decide which I loved more.
To accompany our meal, we had two more samples of wine (this is Italy after all). The linguini came with a white, and the penne paired perfectly with a red. To top things off, Vanesa and I each received a sample of limoncello. I certainly wasn’t expecting five portions of alcohol, but every one of them was surprisingly good.
Finishing with the Best Gelato
The last stop surprised me in the best way possible. How else can you finish a Florence food tour than with gelato? And not just any gelato. Rivareno Gelato – the exact same gelateria I found in 2015, which I’ve been raving about ever since as the best gelato I’ve ever had, but I couldn’t recall exactly where it was in Florence. I might have gotten just a little too excited when I recognized it and even pulled up my photos from my previous visit to show the proprietor.
First of all, I should probably give a brief rundown on how to find real gelato in Italy. If you ever see ice cream piled high with artificial colors and out-of-season flavors, that’s tourist gelato, aka ice cream. It’s made with artificial flavors, artificial colors, vegetable oils, and emulsifiers. It’s then churned faster to add more air. In other words, just your average ice cream off the shelf at the supermarket, and nothing like real Italian gelato.
Real gelato needs to be kept in a metal dish. It would never be above the rim of the dish, and the best gelato nearly always has a lid on it, as it will lose its flavor and melt if exposed to the air. The ingredients will always be seasonal and natural, there won’t be any artificial colors, and it will be dense. Oh, and you’ll have to eat it fast before it melts due to the lack of artificial stabilizers, emulsifiers, and other ingredients.
Of course, there’s a big problem with real Italian gelato, and that’s choosing a flavor. At the time of our arrival, Rivareno had 23 flavors – 10 classic cream flavors, 5 fruity flavors, 6 specialties of Rivareno, and 2 new flavors. I went for the cremino Rivareno (the house flavor), and zabaione. Zabaione is basically the base of tiramisu, without the coffee, cocoa and cookies, and is Vanesa’s favorite flavor in Argentina. For some reason, I didn’t particularly like it in Argentina, but how it was made in Florence was perfect. So was the other flavor, and the two that Vanesa got.
Booking the Secret Florence Food Tour
I’ve been on quite a few food tours around the world, not to mention I’m currently a food tour guide in Edinburgh, Scotland. I have my own standard for a food tour, and the Florence food tour certainly didn’t disappoint. By the end of the tour, I was well fed, received a very good understanding of Tuscan and Florentine food, and learned about the good dining establishments in town – the hallmarks of a good tour.
The Secret Food Tour of Florence operates nearly every day of the year. The tour starts at Piazza di Santa Croce beside the Basilica of Santa Croce. Don’t confuse that with Piazza della Signoria outsize Plazza Vecchio, as I did. The tour lasts about three and a half hours, and you’ll probably be well full by the end, especially if you manage to finish all the samples. I know some guests like to pace themselves, but the guide does that for you.
At the time of this writing, the Florence food tour is 79€, but make sure to check the Secret Food Tour website for current pricing, hours, availability, and contact information.
To summarize, while I didn’t do tours with other companies, I’m willing to bet this is the best food tour in Florence, and I would highly recommend it to every traveler visiting the city.
Here are some more reviews of food tours I’ve done around the world:
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