Qui Se Mangia Bene: Mercato Centrale, Firenze

One of the nice things about the rather “loose” schedule at the Chianti Classico anteprima event in Florence last week is that it was a cinch to throw down pencil and tasting book and leave.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Mercato Centrale (or Central Market, a rather obvious translation) in Florence’s borgo San Lorenzo is a must stop on any visit to that city. And if you’re like me and hold food and wine in a similar regard as say sculpture and painting, then the Mercato Centrale is something like visiting the Uffizi. I wasn’t going to miss it, not for any old wine tasting.

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(Above: Florence’s Mercato Centrale. The vendors who pack the tight streets beside the market sell mostly leather goods, as well as some designer knock-offs.)

This massive dual-level building was designed by architect Giuseppe Mengoni, who was responsible for similarly grand 19th century buildings throughout Italy. Construction on the Mercato began around 1870 was finished in 1874 as part of a larger program of urban renewal that came with the city of Florence’s brief stint as the Italian capital during the late 1860s. There’s an informative historical write up here.

Today the market is a hub of commerce and humanity. The surrounding neighborhood and the market itself are always packed, and many Florentine’s do their daily shopping here. Me too, when I lived here; if not the most convenient place to shop, it was certainly the most fun.

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Il cuore della città. Fruit and vegetable vendors are located upstairs; butchers and stalls selling cured meats, olive oils, cheeses and other staples like pasta and wine make up the ground floor.

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The market possesses a vibrancy and life (and sense of humor) that makes it essential to daily Florentine existence.

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Also worth visiting, and my primary motivation for breaking away from the tasting to hit the market in the first place, is the Nerbone tavola calda (literally a hot table, or lunch counter). This place is neither a secret nor off the tourist path, but the locals and workers from the market could care less. They flock here because the place rocks it out with specialties like the Tuscan bread stew ribollita and, of course, tripe. Specifically they serve up a delicious panino filled with lampredotto bollito, a type of tripe that comes from the abomasum, the fourth stomach in ruminants (also the source of rennet).

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The counter at Nerbone is all bustle during the market’s lunch hour. This is honest, working class Italian food at its best and so completely delicious that you should go way out of your way to eat there. Twice.

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(Above: my panino con lampredotto bollito. I went a little crazy and had it topped with both salsa verde and salsa piccante; it was killer with a glass of juicy primitivo di Manduria.)

*The Washington Post has an enjoyable article on the Florentine love affair with tripe here.

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3 thoughts on “Qui Se Mangia Bene: Mercato Centrale, Firenze

  1. Ah, yes, I remember the Mercato Centrale. Good times…
    You should go to Bologna if you have a chance, it’s just an hour’s train ride, and the food is just as good, if not better.

  2. Thanks for the memories. I still have a pair of leather bell bottoms that I bought there, back in the late 1960′s, when the exchange rate was 600 Lire to the dollar. I think they were about ₤6000.

    I always loved walking around that place, even in the cold and rain.

    Alfonso ~ On The Wine Trail in Italy

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