Last week I was invited by Eating Italy Food Tours to take part in their new guided tour, The Other Side of Florence. The tour covers two quarters of the Oltrarno area, San Frediano and Santo Spirito on the southern side of the river, and area not usually visited by tourists despite their proximity to the city centre. Most people cross the river only to visit the Pitti Palace, or Brancacci Chapel before returning to the bright lights of the northern side of the river. But in the Oltrarno area you find the real Florence: an area which has surprisingly managed to avoid gentrification to retain its character.
The tour takes in nine different venues ranging from coffee shops to restaurants, by way of a butcher’s, a wine shop, a cheese shop, and a bakers. All of them are within easy walking distance and accompanied by Gaia, your 100% authentic local guide, it feels like you are out doing your morning shopping, just like an Italian.
But Gaia also gives you a flavour of the neighbourhood and its social history, as she tells you anecdotes about the shops and the people you meet in them’s lives. In this way, you feel you’ve lived a little of the area and unlocked some of its secrets.
All of the locations were very well-chosen and authentic and for me, represent very well the scope of Tuscan cuisine. All of the major dishes and products from my favourite finocchiona salami to peposo stew, both of which have featured on my blog, were present. And I have to say that some things, for example the crostino toscano, prepared to Luca, the owner of Fiaschetteria Fantappié‘s nonna’s recipe, were amongst the best I’ve ever tasted.
One thing I hadn’t tasted before was Florence’s famous street food, lampredotto. Rather like tripe, lampredotto is made from the stomach of the cow, but the fourth and smallest one. As was explained by chef Simone, this in turn divides into two parts, gala which is lean and spanocchia which is more fatty. The two are boiled in broth, chopped into small pieces and then served in a bun topped with salsa verde and chilli sauce.
Many people, non-Florentine Italians included, aren’t enamoured with the thought of lampredotto and I must admit that up to now, nor have I been but I have a policy of trying everything which has often led to wonderful discoveries. I have to say I really liked lampredotto and am curious to try it again next time I’m in Florence.
Two further highlights of the tour were firstly, seeing pasticcero Roberto Buonamici making cantucci (the famous Tuscan biscotti) from scratch, and secondly meeting the owner of the restaurant I’Raddi who is a famous player of Calcio Storico, Florentine Medieval football. Recent articles on this brutal tradition in the British Guardian and Daily Mail newspaper websites, feature Fabrizio Valleri seemingly getting punched in the face but luckily he seemed no worse for wear.
I really enjoyed this tour (which took about four hours) mostly because it shares a philosophy with this blog: to present real Italian food, which means regional food avoiding what I recently saw referred to by an Italian food writer as ‘unification of Italy cuisine’. The quality of food and ingredients was superb. I would heartily recommend it to anyone interested in Italian food and even knowledgable people (like me) will learn something.
If you are interested in taking the Eating Italy tour of Florence, Rome, or indeed their similar tours of London, Amsterdam, and Prague, visit their website.
I’d just like to say a big thank you to Wibke for inviting me and Gaia for an excellent tour.