This post is brought to you by CalChews, calcium goodness you can chew which gives you your daily recommended dose of Calcium, Vitamin D, and K, for optimum bone health, minus the risk of heart disease; and by the Lifestyle Network, the premiere cable channel for women in the Philippines. This 5-day getaway was my prize as the official winner for the Tuscan Blogger Adventure by CalChews.
It’s been a while since I continued with my Tuscan Blogger Adventure posts. “Life took over,” as they say! But it’s always a pleasure to go to these posts and relive Tuscany all over again. So, on to Day 3, which was all about food, food, FOOD.
After being on the road for most of day 2, Day 3 of the Tuscany trip would be in Florence for some homegrown delights. We started off early at 8 AM, to meet our food guide, Paul, a chef who’d been living and working in Florence for a while now. Half Sicilian, half Australian, Paul grew up in Perth, the “cowboy country” downunder, where he learned the art of good food. He loved food enough to go all the way to Europe to pursue chef-dom, and eventually teach other chefs, which is what he does now in addition to his job as a chef at one of Florence’s best restos.
Since he’s an Aussie, he said he tried to surf. Tried, he emphasized. He says he’s better with food.
I believe him.
Paul is the kind of person who can make you fall in love with food.
He warned us: “This city will make you fall in love with it!” He’d only planned on staying in Florence for a year, and has been there for five. Well. Who wouldn’t fall in love with Florence? Right, mom? (It’s my mom’s favorite city.)
Our day began when we made for the city’s main food hub, the Mercato di San Lorenzo. It was a Saturday morning, so the market was bustling with busy shoppers who were preparing for Sunday lunch, which is like the motherlode of meals here in Italy. Paul said that most Italians start the market day with a cappucino or macchiato and a brioche, and so that’s exactly what we did. (He also said that if one ordered any kind of coffee with milk any time after breakfast, you were considered odd!)
A morning at the market means experiencing Florentine living at its best. The Mercato di San Lorenzo marries the sounds, smells and sights of the Florence food scene. You get to talk to the jovial and helpful local vendors, who will even recommend how to cook your produce or meat or seafood, because that’s how their moms taught them, or their grandmothers. The vibe, energy and passion for life and food is what makes the market a real feast of an experience.
I’ll let the photos tell the story.
Fresh seasonal berries. This is “normal fare.” Love it!
Every kind of bell pepper you want is in this market.
All the makings of a great pomodoro.
Catch of the day: Octopus! Italians just love it grilled, drizzled with olive oil and lemon. Nomnomnom.
Paul made one thing clear: In Tuscany, eat as the Tuscans do. Tuscans love, love, love food and wine. And in Florence, we had no shortage of good food. Wherever you go, there’s always a place to get something good if you have the munchies. Pop into a deli for some salami on bread, or the pasticceria for something sweet, even the gelateria for something sweet, creamy and cold. In every corner and around every bend, Florence has good food. Eating and good times are so synonymous here, even my some of my companions said McDonald’s in Florence was top of the line. (I’ll take your word for it, guys.)
Back to the good stuff.
Paul took us to his favorite stalls. Just as in any market culture, Italians patronize certain shops and food providers, so Paul took us to all his favorites in the market. Some of us in the group taught him to say “suki” (Filipino for “store regular”) when he introduced us to his butcher-friend, Bruno. So, suki ni Bruno si Paul.
This is Bruno, and an old friend:
Every stall in the mercato is run by a family. I must say, as much as the food and fresh produce were a feast for the eyes, so were a lot of the merchants. I’m married, of course, but I can appreciate God’s creation, know what I mean? (See below. Photo grabbed from Em Millan.)
Suffice it to say, this was no ordinary market for us Pinoys!
OK, so back to the food.
All kinds of dried goods!
Paul, telling us about regional foods and eating seasonally.
You can get everything you need for a meal, right here in the Mercato di San Lorenzo. We had a mini lunch in a deli and wine shop that Paul frequents, where we had more Chianti wine and a spread of breads, cheeses and deli meats. We were all on our feet, as most people are when they eat at the market, but no one minded. The food. Was. Just. Incredible.
Parmegiano reggiano drizzled with aged balsamico. Heaven.
Salami on Tuscan bread. Tuscans never put salt in their bread, did you know that?
Duck pate. (Oh.My.God.So.Good)
Truffle infused cheese. If you want a girl to say “yes” to you, give her this. (SO.GOOD.BABY.)
After our mini lunch at the market, Paul took us along the streets of Florence towards “the best gelato in Florence,” he said. I later on learned that we were going to Perche No!, a world-famous gelateria that makes its gelato from scratch daily. Perche No! (which means “why not?” in Italian) is an accredited “slow food” provedore, using seasonal ingredients in its gelato. That means that everything is sourced locally, from Tuscan farms and suppliers who use traditional, environmentally-conscious methods to grow food.
Sign on the door of Perche No! It’s an accredited “slow food” purveyor.
They have wonderful “standard” flavors (chocolate, stracciatella, caffe, etc.), but they carry a selection of fruit-based gelatos that are made from whatever is currently the produce of the moment. Since it was the early fall, figs were abundant and in season. (Aside from the fig gelato, Perche No! also has several vegan, dairy-free flavors to choose from.) Paul recommended we have the fico (fig) sherbet with a nice helping of crema (vanilla). The result was a flavor combo that was out of this world.
I won’t even attempt a foodie-like explanation, because it’s so-not-me. But observe and drool.
I had two cups of this combo that day: We went back to Perche No! in the evening for dessert. Honestly, it spoiled these “artisinal” ice creams I see all over the place here in Manila, but not in a snooty way. Sure, there’s novelty in a bacon-maple-cheese ice cream or what have you, but I never really took to those. There’s something endearing and humble about using what’s in season, what’s plentiful, what’s inexpensive. Italians are all about that: If something’s not in season, not accessible or affordable, then it’s not plentiful or fresh, so they won’t use it. This philosophy made me even more appreciative of our country’s seasonal veggies and fruits. (Our mangoes and bananas here are much better than those in Europe, for the record.)
At the end of the food walk tour, Paul recommended some of the other food haunts in the city. We were advised to never eat in the touristy spots, or in any restaurant that had pictures on their menu. “Talk to the people around,” he advised. The more quaint and hidden, the more out-of-the way, the better.
In return, we taught him an all important Filipino word that expressed our gratitude: “BONGGA.” (Credit to Em Milan. Winner ka, sister. **smile**)
I should have taken a video of him saying it, but he might lose his job. (He’s actually right now teaching around 15 culinary students from the Philippines, in his culinary school in Florence.)
My take home thought from this food walk tour was simply this: Good food is simple, seasonal, and prepared with passion. Our foodie guide was the best person to take us around because he was involved; he had a relationship with food, and this passion (for food, for his craft as a chef) was inspiring. He was excited about food and educating people about it. (It’s kind of like how I’m excited about writing, about my community of work at home moms in Manila, about the work at home life.)
Read the other entries in this Tuscan Blogger Adventure Series: