Non-Italian Food in Florence

Ben and Martha are American expats living in Italy.

Now, normally that wouldn’t send me into fits of camaraderie, but there’s a twist: Martha’s from my hometown, a small enough place for it to be quite a coincidence. But wait, it gets better! Not only does her family own my favorite cheesesteak shop in the whole world; I BABYSAT HER COUSIN’S KID when I was in high school.

How did I discover this unlikely bond between my fellow expats, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. I was researching Italy stats for a client when I came across Ben’s blog – an exhaustive collection of information about Italy. After I had found what I needed, I noticed they had arrived on this side of the pond via the Queen Mary II. So glamorous and old school! I read their story, which features a picture of a Voltaco’s hoagie on the fricking Queen Mary, and fell off my chair. Emails were exchanged. A friendship was born!

Ben asked me to write a guest post about Italy for his blog, because he was having trouble getting a 21st-century Internet connection at their home. I haven’t written it yet, and here’s why: Every time I think of a great topic to write about, I check his blog to see that he’s already written about it! The man is a walking encyclopedia of life in Italy.

Now, Martha has alerted me to yet another gastronomic treat in Florence – Asian fusion. Although the restaurant’s website is hilariously unhelpful, Martha gave us the skinny:

Found this one, Buddakan at Largo Bargellini 7/8 near Santa Croce. The interior is very nicely done and food presentation was outstanding. The dishes were not authentic preparations, but the menu never says they are. All of them were very tasty and we will go back.

We started with spring rolls and calamari toast which was two spring roll wrappers with thin slices of calamari sandwiched in between and the fried. [Ed.: OMG YES PLEASE.] Ben had a seafood risotto which wasn’t really a risotto but was full of seafood. I had a duck curry and Ben had a shrimp curry.

It was all good. We never made it into the church.

I love when a meal is so outstanding it changes your itinerary. Thanks, Martha!

Where to Eat in Florence – Another Reader Weighs In

OK, OK, OK – I get it. Florence is awesome.

This is the overwhelming response to my recent post, in which I had to recruit an honorary member of the Gay Mafia to school my readers on the joys of Florence – in particular, the cuisine – to stave off the legions of readers asking for information about this (apparently) charming city.

Who knew this would garner even more chastising emails? Jeez, people; I get it: FLORENCE IS AWESOME.

I’d like to add to the previously given Florentine advice with one of the few printable responses to that post – and you gotta take this one seriously, as it was submitted by a family friend with the following surname: Maccaroni. I mean, come on. You know she’s got the good information. Anyway, here it is:

We highly recommend a place called Il Latini on the Via del Palchetti. Being our first time in Florence, we were novices when it came to finding good places to eat. It was recommended to us by the bartender in our hotel. It was rather crowded and it took a while to get a table, but they served wine and cheese while we waited outside [Ed.: Yes please! Also, check out that site – they’ve posted recipes!] – food was fab, the wait staff were very funny and extremely capable – we chose the fixed menu (they frown on using the menus) – they kept bringing food, food and more food – one of the most delicious meals we ever had. Maybe you can pass this along to your readers – or check it out yourself!

I’ll be in Rome again in April – oh, how your Miss Expatria suffers to bring her readers the best! – and this time, I believe a mini trip to Florence is in order to sample these choice gastronomic tidbits. I’ll be sure to issue a full report upon waking from what will no doubt be a heavenly food coma.

If anyone else has excellent Florence advice – WITHOUT THE YELLING AT ME FOR HATING FLORENCE PLEASE – feel free to send them in. I’ll post them, lest we further disrespect this lovely town on the Arno.

Florence, Italy: A Kindred Soul Tells All

In which an honorary member of the Gay Mafia (West Coast, represent) reveals what I am unable to about Florence, a city he adores and I really just can’t seem to get into. However, after reading this I might have to give it another try!

When I was doing my research for places to stay in Florence, I came across two websites run by the same people: Sleeping in Florence and Florence Apartment Rentals. We rented the Medici Apartment on via della Pergola. Their prices were really good, my questions were answered promptly and the friendly service was fantastic. The property manager’s name is Gabriella and she never let us down, including helping us find a dentist when one of our group needed one. Later, I discovered that the Frommer’s Guide also mentions her specifically.

In Florence, there is a huge flea market that is not to be missed. Seriously, it’s worth building a trip around it. The Mercato delle Pulci on Piazza dei Ciompi, has all sorts of great stuff. Books, jewelry, cameras, art, antiques, furniture, wood and metal artifacts, everything you could imagine all sprawled out over several streets.

A nice half-day trip is to take the bus to Fiesole, in the hills north of the city. You can take bus #7 and it’s only 1 Euro each way. The views over the valley are stunning, the town is quiet and cool, and there’s a great museum with an ancient Roman amphitheater. We bought some meat and cheese at the Coop grocery store in town and had a nice picnic in the piazza.

For gelato, we loved Corona’s Café, between the Piazza della Signoria and Piazza della Republica (via dei Calzaiuoli). [Ed.: Google maps spells the name of this street without the u, which is incorrect.] It’s easy to get to, and while we ate a lot of gelato in a lot of different cafes, this is the one we kept coming back to. They also have great espresso and cappuccino. I tried gelato at Vivoli, which you read about in all the guidebooks; it was good, but I thought it was really overpriced.

When you’re out shopping at the San Lorenzo Market (I keep dreaming about that place!), go into the Mercato Centrale food market and try Pork’s Café. The food was inexpensive, simple, fresh and really good. You eat at long tables seated with other diners and the family running it is really friendly. We had some great house wine there, too, and we bought a bottle to bring home. And the last time we went, we got a wink from mamma!

I also highly recommend checking out the grocery stores. They’ve got lots of cool stuff, usually for pretty good prices. You can pick up things for a snack or picnic, buy water cheaper than almost anywhere else, and you can find some pretty cool presents for people at home (jams, sauces, packages of pasta, dried soups, etc.). It’s also a little adventure to try and figure out what everything is. Be sure either to bring your own bag for your purchases, or you’ll need to buy a bag from the checker.

We had dinner a couple of times at Le Giubbe Rosse on the south side of Piazza della Repubblica. The food was reasonably priced and tasted pretty good. Huge pizzas and great wine. We bought some to bring home. We also had great cappuccino at a little cafe called “Paolo e Francesca” on one of the little streets near Piazza della Signoria, but I neglected to write down the address. Our last night in town we ate a pizza place called Yellow Bar on via del Proconsolo and while it looked a little American, the pizzas were enormous and wonderful.

One of the most interesting places we found by accident. We came around a corner and there was a big crowd of Italians ordering sandwiches from the tiny doorway of a building. We learned early on if there was a line of Italians waiting for something, it was worth it, and your best bet is to get in line and find out what everyone is waiting for. The entire shop was about the size of a closet, seriously; you shouted your order to one guy and picked up your food from the other. Most people had a glass of wine as well, and there was a little rack on the wall of the building where you put your glasses while you were eating. I had an awesome pork sandwich and some red wine. The place is called i Fratellini and it’s located on via dei Cimatori, very near the Piazza del Duomo.

In the evenings, there was always a gypsy band playing in Piazza della Republica, and some of our best memories are of those nights. Lots of people out walking with a gelato, some dancing in the piazza. Just a lovely place for live music.

Florence is a walking city, so you rarely need to use public transportation. We only rented a taxi once, and that was because we weren’t sure how to find the apartment. The buses are on time and really cheap, and we probably could have used them more but it was more fun to walk all over the place. Bring some good shoes.

Our favorite museum was the Bargello; we practically had the place to ourselves. There were hundreds of marble and bronze sculptures and it turned out to be a highlight of the trip. So many things to see – and no crowds!

I’m sure I’m leaving a bunch of stuff out, but we saw lots and lots of beautiful things. It surpassed my expectations.

Where to Eat in Italy – Miss Expatria Reveals (Almost) All

Roughly twice a year, my mother asks me to forward an email I wrote containing highly guarded information to someone we know who is going to Rome or Venice and wants to know where to eat.

Tomorrow is Rome. The next day will be Venice. Florence I don’t love, and I’ve only been to a horrible dinner there and a really good chi-chi ridiculously expensive dinner I didn’t pay for, so I really can’t recommend anything in that city.

Today, however, we will talk about some general tips for the eater:

In general in Italy, there is a kind of eating schedule, which you should follow if you want to eat well. For breakfast, grab a pastry and a coffee standing up at a bar in the morning; lunch is between 1PM and 3PM; and DO NOT GO TO DINNER BEFORE 8PM. Seriously. You will have better food and better service if you go later, I beg you. And take your time eating, because the staff will sure as hell take their time waiting on you. You do not have to leave until you want to, and you MUST ask for the check because they will not give it to you. Also, do not get frustrated if the first three things you order are not available – Italians believe in serving what’s fresh and it is a good sign if the place has run out of a lot of stuff.

Your body might be a little whacked from jet lag, but you really shouldn’t deviate from this schedule if you can help it. If you’re hungry at odd times, have a gelato or something.

You should try spaghetti carbonara once while you are in Rome, preferably at Taverna Romana (see tomorrow’s post). Do not have it anywhere else in the world, or even in Italy, because they make it wrong.

If you are going to the Vatican and the Vatican museums in Rome, DO NOT PLAN ANYTHING ELSE FOR THE REST OF THE DAY but eating, drinking and sleeping. It’s overwhelming. Go to a bakery in late morning, get white pizza and carb up. Get there around noon (when all the lame tour groups leave and go to lunch), spend all afternoon in there, go get more pizza by the slice and take a nap, then eat a huge dinner. (Not that I have done that or anything.)

A note about water fountains: there are running spigots all over Rome, on corners, at curbs, and in piazzas. You can drink out of any of them. If you want to drink out of it and not fill up a water bottle, here is the trick to looking cool and not getting soaking wet: stick your finger in the spigot hole. it will force the water to come shooting up through another, tinier hole halfway up the pipe, and it acts exactly as a water fountain.

A note about being a germ freak about the water fountains: don’t be. Dogs drink from them, old ladies fill up pots from them, and people stick their heads under them on particularly hot days. It’s still fresh spring water. If you’re a germaphobe, just don’t use them – but don’t be that tourist who tsks when someone lets Fido get his drink on.

OK, enough for today. Check back in tomorrow, when we discuss ROMA!