Like everywhere in the country, typical meals in Florence include three main courses: antipasti (appetizers), primi piatti (first courses, which include pasta and rice dishes or soups) and secondi piatti (second courses, which are meat-based entrees with sides of vegetables or potatoes). Side dishes (contorni) like potatoes, vegetables or legumes must sometimes be ordered separately. Dolci, or desserts, are also obviously available.
Of course, you shouldn’t feel obligated to always order an appetizer, first course and a second course just for yourself. For two people, for example, it’s perfectly fine to share an appetizer, a first course and a second course. Or to share an appetizer, then order a primo or a secondo each.
Antipasti: Typical Florence Appetizers
Typical Florence appetizers include a variety of cured meats (salame toscano, sbriciolona, prosciutto, etc.) and cheeses (most notably, several kinds of pecorino, which is best enjoyed with honey), crostini (toasted bread slices topped with a liver paté, or a mushroom or artichoke spread), the world-famous bruschetta, and coccoli (fried bread nuggets served with stracchino cheese and prosciutto).
Many restaurants and trattorie offer an assorted platter (called “antipasto misto” or “antipasto toscano”) which features a taste of all these goodies.
Primi: Typical Florence Pasta Dishes
First course, in Italy, is virtually synonymous with pasta. But Florence is a meat-loving town, so pasta dishes here are famous for a wide variety of scrumptious meat-based sauces. In addition to the good ol’ ragù (a Tuscan variation of Bolognese sauce), popular classics include wild boar, hare, duck, and rabbit sauce. Other common pasta condiments in the area are sughi made from tartufo (truffle) and porcini mushrooms. These sauces can be found in any combination with well-known dry pastas like penne and spaghetti, or stuffed pastas like tortellini and ravioli. There are also several varieties of pasta that are typical of the Florence area, like pici, pappardelle and the bizarre gnudi (which consist of a home-made ravioli stuffing without the actual pasta).
A very typical Florentine dish – elsewhere in Italy, many have never even heard of it – is ribollita, an ancient soup of peasant origins made with cabbage, beans and bread. Other “mushy” specialties in the area include panzanella (a sort of salad with bread, tomato, onion and basil) and pappa al pomodoro. One peculiarity of these three dishes is that nobody really knows whether they’re appetizers, first courses or entrees, but in the end… does it matter?
Secondi: Typical Florence Entrees
Tuscan cuisine features a wide variety of second courses, but the king of all Florence entrees is, without a doubt, bistecca alla fiorentina. This massive T-bone steak is tenderized according to an ancient process then served charred on the outside and extremely rare on the inside. If you’re a true steak fan, you’re bound to fall in love, but if you prefer your meat well done… just order something else. An average bistecca is about 1 kilo and costs around € 50. Order it with some roast potatoes or beans, and it will easily feed two people by itself!
Dolci – Typical Florence Desserts
Dessert options abound, from local specialties like torta della nonna and panna cotta, to universal classics like tiramisù and cheesecake (the Italian version uses ricotta as well as cream cheese, so it’s a bit lighter… and some say even more delicious). Another local treat that has risen to global fame is biscotti di Prato, which are known overseas simply as “biscotti”. These crunchy, almond-studded biscuits are traditionally served with a glass of local vin santo, a truly heavenly dessert wine, and purists will tell you that it is proper to dip the cookies in the wine!
The sweetest sweet in town, however, is gelato, which is now famous around the word but was invented in Florence back in the 16th century. While many restaurants feature this typically Italian ice cream in their dessert menus, we recommend visiting one of the city’s many gelaterie (ice cream shops), like the renowned Vivoli or lesser-known gems like Gelateria Carraia or Badiani.
Wine and Beer in Florence
Florence sits at the heart of one of the world’s most cherished wine-making regions, and while it would be impossible to give you a complete guide to Tuscan wines, here is a quick rundown of the best Tuscan wines: The go-to wine in Florence is the ruby-red Chianti, fruity in its youth and fuller as it ages, which pairs perfectly with most staples of local cuisine. The more prized variety of Chianti, produced within a limited area and complying with stricter standards, is known as Chianti Classico. These bottles can be recognized by their unmistakable “black rooster” (gallo nero) label.
There are, of course, many excellent Tuscan wines made outside the Chianti area, from the delightful Nobile di Montepulciano (Thomas Jefferson’s favorite wine!) to the iconic Sassicaia (a Bordeaux-style red from the coastal area of Bolgheri) and the wonderfully-complex Brunello di Montalcino, Italy’s most admired wine, which is always best enjoyed after several years of aging. And while Tuscany is admired around the world for its famous reds, there is no shortage of great white wines, like the dry and earthy Vernaccia di San Gimignano or the eclectic Bianco di Pitigliano.
While known mostly as a wine-making and wine-drinking country, in recent years Italy has developed a thriving craft beer industry. And Tuscany has been particularly active in concocting some world-class and highly original artisanal brews. You can sample local masterpieces at venues like Archea Brewery in the Santo Spirito area or Beer House Club in Santa Croce. If not, for the vastest selection in town of Italian and European microbrews, true beer enthusiasts can check out the Firenze Birra beer shop, in Via dei Sette Santi.
Choosing a Restaurant
The center of Florence has endless dining options, but if you’re not prepared, it’s easy to stumble into a “touristy” restaurant that will leave your palate unimpressed and your wallet depressed. That’s why we’ve prepared this list of our top Florence restaurants, so that you can experience the very best of Florentine and Tuscan cuisine.
Typical Florence Trattorias
Best Florence Pizza and Sandwiches
Romantic and Fine Dining in Florence
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