Eating Your Way Through Florence
As a member of a loud and proud Italian family, I jumped at the opportunity to go to Italy for the first time. Of course, besides the culture, I was most looking forward to comparing the food I grew up with to the original dishes that inspired my mother’s cooking. After spending a week eating my way through Florence and Siena, I have compiled a list of must-have Italian dishes for every diet.
For the Vegetarian: The safest dish for vegetarians in Florence is a simple spaghetti pasta with tomato sauce. Tuscan tomatoes are fresh and sour. Unlike in the U.S., the Florentine tomato sauce is free of sugar, leaving the natural flavor of a fresh tomato intact. Additionally, Tuscan Spaghetti is thicker than regular spaghetti - it carries more of the delicious sauce with every bite.
For the Meat-Eater: Florentine Steak is a delicacy that carnivores and omnivores cannot pass up. The steak itself can be prepared from nearly any cut; making it easy to match nearly any travel budget. Steak fillets, cutlets, and flanks are prepared with an array of Tuscan seasoning and left relatively rare (which is what makes it unique to Florence). The meat is salty and delicious - perfect for anyone who can get past its gruesome appearance.
For Non-Gluten and Vegan Eaters: To many with strict dietary limitations, Italy seems like a nightmare. Between all of the cheese, pasta, and fresh meat, it often feels like mealtime is a delicate balance of avoiding offense while still being able to eat something other than lettuce. However, most Italians pride themselves on being able to share their culture via food. They will usually accommodate dietary needs/preferences and adjust classic dishes so that anyone can enjoy the food Italians pride themselves on. Ask the servers about gluten free pasta, and have it prepared with any preferred sauce. Vegans can enjoy a lovely pasta dish with tomato sauce, or a salad. However, it would still be advisable to ask about vegan options before settling on a dish that may not fill you up or fit the appropriate meal time slot.
Hard Pass: If you are only in Italy for a short time, or just do not want to risk wasting a meal on mediocrity, there is one dish you can always skip: pasta with cream sauce. Just like in American sauce, Italian creme sauces are pretty uniform from restaurant to restaurant. Likewise, the flavor was very similar to American sauces, leaving little reason to try the foreign cream sauces despite the international appeal.
All in all, my trip was just as eventful for my mind as it was for my stomach. Italy has so much to offer gastronomically and culturally; I can only hope to travel there again to experience cuisine outside of Tuscany. Opening one’s heart to a culture through food is a wonderful first step to the maturation of cultural understanding.