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Florence Food and Drink


Hotels in Italy don't usually have restaurants, and when they do, they can rarely compete with the excellent eating establishments you'll find on every street. Eating is a serious business in Italy; people eat out more often, and for much less money, than in the UK. Italians are advanced food critics, as well as being cost-conscious, so the best recommendation for any restaurant is the presence of locals. In the centre of Florence, where tourist traps abound, it can be harder to find a good local trattoria. But it's not impossible: walk around a few streets at dinner time (after 8pm, if you can wait that long), comparing menus, atmosphere and clientele. Follow recommendations in guidebooks if you wish, but it can be much more fun to make your own discoveries.

In Florence, local specialities include steak (bistecca alla fiorentina) and tripe (trippa). Although not a Tuscan dish, the pizza has spread throughout Italy and there are pizzerie in Florence. If you eat pizza, though, make sure it is freshly cooked in a wood oven (forno a legno), not the heated-from-frozen kind you get in some smaller tourist eating places.

At least once in your stay, you might want to forget about unearthing hidden culinary treats or sticking to a budget, and treat yourself to meal in scenic surroundings. There are several bars and restaurants situated on picturesque Piazza della Signoria, where you can eat at outdoors tables facing the Palazzo Vecchio. We have also enjoyed a good meal at one of the small restaurants opposite the Pitti Palace.

Eating on a budget

If you want to save money in Florence, food is a good way to economise. Florence is more famous for its art than its food, after all, so if money is tight, save up for museum tickets and eat on a budget.

For a quick, good restaurant meal with no hidden extras in the price, we recommend the Pastarito Pizzarito chain. From their menu you can select your own combination of pasta and sauce, or pizza and dressing, at reasonable prices. Dishes of pasta are huge, and the standards are reliable. Service is fast and efficient, and you pay at a till on your way out (simply tell the cashier the number of your table), so there's no waiting around for the bill. In Florence there is a branch next to Santa Maria Novella Station, at Via Lamanni, 3/5, on your right as you leave the station.

There are fast food establishments around Santa Maria Novella Station, including the admirable Spizzico, and bars throughout the town serve heated rolls (panini) and sandwiches (tramezzini).

An alimentari will generally make up a roll for you from a selection of meats or cheeses for just a couple of euros (a great idea if you're planning a picnic). Bakeries and pizza take-aways will serve you with slices of pizza or foccacia, which are another good picnic option. Food shops in the historic centre tend to be very expensive, but there are a few chain supermarkets with normal Italian prices where you can stock up on food and wine - ask at your hotel reception for directions to the nearest. One in the centre is Conad at Via dei Servi 56R.

Carrying around a flask, water bottle or plastic beaker means you can refresh yourself from water taps on the street, instead of buying the mineral version.

Cafe society

Bars and cafes are everywhere in Florence, from the workaday gulp-a-coffee-at-the-bar kind, to tourist bars where you can sip a cocktail on the pavement while watching the world go by. They can be good places for refuelling with a quick snack, for admiring the smart Florentines passing, or simply for taking the weight off your feet as you write your postcards. As with food, the expensive tourist places will often fob you off with poor quality wine

Tuscan wines

Tuscany produces some of the finest Italian wines, mostly reds, the most famous of which is probably Chianti. Chianto Classico is produced in the area to the south of Florence - one of several production zones for Chianti. Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a white wine which was a favourite of Lorenzo de' Medici, is another good local wine to try. If you are serious about your wines, pay a visit to an enoteca, where you can taste, enjoy and buy a range of quality wines.

Good places to eat

Pitti Gola e Cantina opposite the Pitti Palace (Piazza Pitti 16) is a cosy wine bar where you can choose wines by the glass, buy bottles and also enjoy light meals perched on a stool at one of the little tables squeezed in by the wine shelves. I enjoyed some spinach and ricotta raviolil and a glass of white wine (Vernaccia) from San Gimignano. It's a convivial little place.

Boccadama, in Piazza Santa Croce, is more of a traditional restaurant but still with an appealing modern Italian air rather than the stuffiness of tourist restaurants. Its candle-lit, wine-lined interior is a good place to take refuge from sight-seeing and feast on Tuscan and Italian food. I ate a substantial pecorino, pear and walnut salad (excellent pecorino) followed by crespelle (a kind of pancake) with goat's cheese and asparagus - a rich and filling combination. There was a cover charge, compensated for by the free little bruschetta with tomato, and the fact that the bread was very good.

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