Most tourists make a bee-line to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see The David the minute they arrive in Florence, Italy.
Not me. I had my eye on another Tuscan treasure just a few blocks away.
I did rendezvous with Michelangelo’s masterpiece — and it was spectacular — it just wasn’t the first thing on my agenda.
A food market was my top priority.
The Mercato Centrale (Central Market), a masterpiece in its own right, is a massive, two-story warehouse off the Piazza San Lorenzo with a very unassuming entrance.
Once inside, it feels like bustling Disneyland for food lovers, with stall after stall of all things food.
Like any good market worth its salt, it has prepared food stalls, too, so you can fill up before wandering the aisles.
At one point, the top floor was reserved for fresh produce and dry goods, and the lower level was filled with butchers and fishmongers.
When I visited the market, the upstairs was roped off, and all vendors were located on the 1st floor, with an adjoining, tent-covered parking lot with even more fresh vegetables.
What kinds of stalls will you find cruising the aisles?
You’ll find cheesemongers who sell wine and olive oil.
And charcuterie purveyors who sell cheese.
There are butchers who specialize in poultry. Some with the heads…
And some without.
There are butchers who’ll cut to order that most famous Tuscan beef steak — Bistecca alla Fiorentina — from the white Chianina cattle breed (pronounced kee-a-nee-na).
And then there are offal purveyors — lots of offal purveyors. Tripe seems to be the most popular, and Florence is also known for lampredotto, stewed tripe sandwich, with the crusty bread dipped into the herb and garlic braising liquid just before serving.
I’ll be perfectly honest. Munching on cow stomach at 9 a.m. was not on my agenda. I just couldn’t stomach it. A caffé macchiato and a cornetto pastry were much more my style.
If oogling tripe and chicken heads proves too much to bear, wend your way to the colorful and tame dried fruits and nuts stalls.
Or erase the memories of blood and guts by soaking up views of gorgeous fresh fruits and vegetables.
One of the best ways to experience the market is with a knowledgeable guide who speaks Italian, so you can ask the vendors questions.
Divina Cucina, aka Judy Witts Francini, is an American-born chef and cooking instructor who moved to Florence in 1984, and fell in love with both the city and a local man whom she married.
Judy has intimate knowledge of the central market, and conducts a Monday-at-the Market tour each week.
Visit her site (link below) to learn more about her tours and cooking classes.
Or you can wander aimlessly, as I did, soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of one of Europe’s largest indoor food markets.
Piazza San Lorenzo
Cooking classes, market tours
Florence and Chianti