Sure, Florence has world-class art museums, iconic scenery, and a legacy of Renaissance grandeur. But it's also got a thriving food scene with traditional dishes based on the agricultural riches of the Tuscany region, of which Florence is the capital. Many of Florence's specialties harken back to the tradition of cucina povera (poor people's cooking), when families had to make do with whatever scraps and leftovers they had on hand—hence the lasting popularity of dishes made with stale bread, offal, or beans.
Yet regardless of the ingredients, Florentine cuisine is packed with flavor and variety. So on your next trip to Florence, be sure to try as many of these piatti tipici (typical dishes) as you can make room for. Or consider one of the many food tours being offered (such as The Roman Guy), which allow you to get a little taste of a lot of different Florentine specialties.
Schiacciata is a Tuscan flatbread baked crispy in a wood oven and doused with olive oil and salt. It's a great mid-morning snack or a lunchtime sandwich filled with any combination of cold cuts, cheese, and vegetables. Another variation, schiacciata con l'uva, is sweetened with sugar and stuffed with red grapes, which also stud the surface. This traditional dessert is popular in autumn, around the time of the grape harvest. For sweet or savory versions of schiacciata, try Forno Pugi on Piazza San Marco.
Bistecca Alla Fiorentina
Thick, enormous, and served quite rare, the Italian equivalent of a T-bone steak is a rite of passage for meat-lovers visiting Florence. The steak is grilled over an open flame and served with olive oil and salt as the only condiments. If you don't like rare meat, it's better to just skip the Fiorentina—your waiter is likely to resist your request to cook the steak longer. That's how seriously they take a rare Fiorentina in this town. Near the Pitti Palace, cozy Osteria Toscanella is one of the best places to gnaw on a Fiorentina.
You might not want to tuck into a piping hot bowl of ribollita in the height of summertime, but almost any other time of year, this Florentine comfort food, a hearty soup made of beans, kale, cabbage, and stale bread hits the spot. While that combo might not sound too appetizing, don't be put off by first impressions. Ribollita, which literally means "reboiled," is as tasty and satisfying as your nonna's cooking. Try it at Trattoria Marione, about a three-minute walk from Piazza della Repubblica.
A tagliere is a cutting board, and a tagliere at a simple trattoria or wine bar may go down as one of your favorite meals in Florence—a wooden board piled high with salumi (mixed cold cuts), cheeses, olives, and other finger foods to be eaten with bread and washed down with a nice local wine or beer. Though you can find similar dishes just about anywhere in Italy, Florentines take particular pride in the quality of the items that make it onto their tagliere. Try one at Antica Enoteca, either on the first floor of Mercato Centrale or on nearby Via Borgo San Lorenzo.
Trust us, after all the meat, cheese, and bread you'll be consuming in Florence, you're going to need some fresh vegetables. Pinzimonio to the rescue! This simple preparation of raw, sliced vegetables is paired with an olive oil dressing—usually oil, salt, pepper, and maybe a little lemon juice or vinegar. Vegetables may range from celery, carrots, and fennel to artichoke hearts, tomatoes, and radishes (basically whatever is in season). In trattorias and restaurants all over the city, this very typical appetizer usually appears at your table as an "on the house" starter.
Back when only wealthy Florentines could afford good cuts of meat, those lower on the economic ladder got whatever was leftover, typically the offal, or organ meats and other spare parts of the animal. The classic Florentine street food, lampredotto is born from this cucina povera tradition. Lampredotto is made from abomasum, the fourth stomach of the cow, which is stewed with broth and typically served in a sandwich with a piquant green sauce. Taste it for yourself at Pollini Lampredotto food truck (Via dei Macci, 126), widely regarded as the best in the city.
Crostini al Fegato
Once again, Florence presents us with dishes that really don't sound all that appetizing but that are nonetheless delicious. Take crostini al fegato di pollo, which are toasted bread slices topped with chicken liver pate. You might see it show up on menus as crostini di fegatini Toscani, but however it's listed, you should give this classic Tuscan appetizer a try. If you order an antipasti misti, it will likely be one of the items on the plate. Try your crostini al fegato at Budellino, Via dei Neri 50, not far from the Palazzo Vecchio.
Truffles are an all-or-nothing matter of taste—you either love the fungus's earthy pungency or simply can't stand the smell. Black truffles grow in the Tuscan countryside, and make their way onto appetizers, pastas, and meat dishes across Florence. They're best in season, which runs May to September, shaved fresh table-side. Ristorante Buco Mario, near Santa Maria Novella train station, is an elegant place to sample them.
Of course you can find gelato just about anywhere in Italy, and in any season. But gelato was allegedly invented in Florence, so the city takes special pride in its offerings. To find the best gelaterias in Florence, steer clear of the busiest tourist and shopping areas, and by all means, avoid places with bright, colorful mounds of gelato pumped full of air. Two sure bets are Gelateria della Passera, in the Santo Spirito neighborhood, and Vivoli, near the Bargello Museum.
Called tozzetti in other parts of Italy, these crunchy, oblong almond cookies are tasty on their own, delicious with coffee, and best eaten as dessert paired with a glass of sweet vin santo wine for dipping. You'll see them piled up in shop windows all around Florence, but do opt for fresh ones from a bakery rather than the prepackaged versions. Forno Pintucci in the Santo Spirito neighborhood claims to have the best cantucci in Florence—you be the judge!