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Regional Food and Traditional Dishes

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This Every Day Life Guide will help you understand terms, traditions, proverbs and curiosities while in Florence:
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Regional Food and Traditional Dishes

Name: Cucina Contadina

The country, rural cuisine. Country, rural dishes were developed especially after the rising of the 'bourgeoisie', because a new interest rose towards the countryside. These dishes were prepared according to seasons, and were the fruit of hard work in the countryside. The produce came from the vegetable gardens and orchards and from the woods. Consequently, they were very fresh and varied. The common produce, and then ingredients, were: olive oil, wine (both of which accompanied all food), vegetables, legumes, fruits and cheese. Turnips, artichokes, cauliflowers, 'zucchini' (Italian squashes) and 'fiori di zucca' (cabbage flowers) were among the most common vegetables (it is worth it to eat the exquisite 'fiori fritti', lit. 'fried flowers' or these flowers mixed in sauces for pastas); certainly 'fagioli' (beans) were the most common vegetables, mushrooms, especially 'porcini' are very appreciated, and the 'pecorino toscano, dolce o stagionato' (cacio) and 'ricotta' the most common cheeses; also chestnuts were common and still are one of the protagonists in winter in the streets, and they are called 'caldarroste' (lit. 'warmroasted') in Florence. But there was also game, like beef, which is one of the best in the world (beef of 'carne chianina', meat from the Val di Chiana), let's just think of the 'bistecca alla fiorentina', or like the wild boar, or the rabbit or even the hare, and the pheasant (the 'rag? di lepre', hare, or 'di cinghiale', wild boar, are tasty meat sauces offered especially during winter); and, of course, chicken and pork.

Florentine and Tuscan charcuterie is indeed very very good and since the Middle Ages it had been a precious produce, worked by individual families for their personal use:
  • prosciutto toscano' - in the mountains its flavour is sapid; the common 'prosciutto' is strong and very tasty and has a clear red colour
  • salame toscano'
  • finocchiona - a smooth big type of 'salame' enriched with pfennel seeds
  • lardo di Colonnata' (lard from Colonnata) - it has an eight month curing and is cut very thin; it now is precious and was once eaten by workers on the marble quarries of Colonnata
  • 'cinta senese' (lit. 'waist from Siena', from the porks of this area, which have a white waist) - it has a smoother and sweeter taste than the 'prosciutto toscano'
  • 'soprassata' (lit. 'pressed') - it is made of the pieces of the pork's head, tongue, cartilages, etc.

Name: Cucina Povera

The poor people's cuisine. Florence and Tuscany have a lot of 'poor' cuisine in their traditions, principally because of the history of these territories. However, this cuisine is so strong, though simple and essential, that it survived much through times and today we can still appreciate it. It is made of 'poor' ingredients, those ingredients that poor people could afford and find in their country. Oil in the Middle Ages wasn't much used as a condiment because it was very expensive; lard, instead, was a fundamental ingredient; so much important it was that peasants designated a period in the calendar dedicated to the making of lard ('tempus de laride'). Let's clear out that Tuscany has always been priviledged with olive oil, and even in those times, more people, thanks to the positive reigning of the Granddukes and before them, could afford olive oil for their cuisines.

But in general, simple soups were preferred against pastas. Salt was expensive too, so there isn't much salt in 'poor' cuisine (for example, in Tuscan bread).

The flavour, instead, was produced by the mix of the ingredients, the way of cooking them and some important savours, such as 'aglio' (garlic), 'cipolla' (onion), 'rosmarino' (rosemary), 'salvia' (sage), 'basilico' (basil), 'alloro' (laurel), 'prezzemolo' (parsley) and pepper; in particular dishes, according to the historical period they belong to or to the area of Tuscany, one can also find more exotic flavours, such as nutmeg, cloves, coriander, etc..

In this form of eating also animal 'frattaglie' (giblets and entrails, for example, beef 'trippa', 'lampredotto', chicken wattles, livers, hearts, etc.) and 'arnione' (kidney) were common because they were less expensive, besides eggs , to give substance and density, (let's see for example such dishes as the 'carabaccia' and the 'cibreo') and some meat too, which was then very well cooked and re-cooked (for example, the 'stracotto', which literally means 'extra-cooked', or the 'bolliti', literally 'boiled' meats): one dish was, for example, the 'lesso rifatto' (lit. 're-made boiled meat'), which consisted of meat re-cooked inside an onion in olive oil, it became very smooth and almost sweet.

'Umidi', literally 'humid' mixes of fish or meat and vegetables, were very slowly cooked (for example, the 'inzimino', that means 'cooked with green, leafed vegetables', principally 'bietola', beet).

Frying was also a very good way to give food a great taste so that even not very good ingredients could be eaten and not thrown away: almost everything, indeed, from chicken or rabbit to vegetables or breads, can actually be fried, besides, of course, the simple and delicious 'ciambelle' or 'bomboloni', 'cenci' and 'frittelle di riso'...

...and other sweets being the 'quaresimali' (lit. 'lenten', because they were prepared and eaten at Quaresima (Lent), also called 'biscotti poveri' (lit. 'poor cookies'), and the 'biscottini, cantuccini di Prato', very simple, hard, with almonds and very good if soaked in Vin Santo after a meal...

According to each different area of Tuscany, there are different dishes which characterise that particular area, though the ingredients, as we have seen, are the same in all Tuscany and even central Italy. The similarity and differences can be clearly seen for example in:

Name: Cucina Casalinga

Home-made cuisine, where there is space for additional creativity and personal and territorial interpretation: see, for example, the 'tortelli alla mugellana' (lit. '...the Mugello way')...,

In other types of homes, those of the aristocracy, or that became aristocratic, during the Renaissance and before, they were creating other such popular dishes as 'anatra all’arancia' or 'arista'... And home-made also reminds us of such (very simple) cakes as the 'schiacciata alla fiorentina' or the 'torta di riso' (rice cake)...

Certainly bread was the most common and important ingredient, and it was developed into different shapes and flavours throughout times, besides being used to make different tasty and fresh dishes.

Name: History of Bread

Bread was a pleasing discovery in very ancient times and was immediately adopetd by different countries and cultures, among which the Romans. In the times right before Christ the art of bread making was born; this corporation was called 'Pistores' (bread makers) and under the Romans the first mechanical device for making bread was invented.

Due to the easiness in preparing it, the flavour and the nutritional values, bread became an important element in everyday life and also acquired simbolic values, which varied from culture to culture. In Italy, under Christianism it simbolized the connection with God, being the representation of the flesh and sacrifice (also the everyday sacrifice of working...) in connection with wine, another precious fruit of everyday labour, which represented the blood.

For the Etruscans, very able country workers and lovers, bread was also very important.

For centuries, bread has become a symbol of survival and life, being for many people a main dish to satisfy hunger, and consequently all of it was used.

Indeed, during the XVII century, for example, only the rich could afford bread with white flour, while the rest of the people used all types of natural ingredients they could find: from wheat to barley, to rye and even oat...

At the beginning of the XX century, the use of wholewheat bread became very common. And again, all of the bread was used, even stale bread.

Great Tuscan and Florentine dishes were made with stale bread, for example:
  • pappa al pomodoro' (bread soup with tomato)
  • 'ribollita' (lit. 're-boiled' soup), made of a vegetables soup with bread, which was re-cooked the next day adding more bread and olive oil and thus becoming more savoury and dense
  • 'panzanella', which is like a salad mixed with wet bread
  • 'zuppa di cavolo' (cabbage soup)
  • 'zuppa di pane' (bread soup, made with stale bread in pieces within hot broth and with lots of grated parmesan). In the country in winter, they used to add some red wine and butter to it
  • 'pancotto' (lit. 'cooked bread'), which is another soup with bread and broth, black pepper and parsley
Other traditional breads:
  • 'pandiramerino' (rosemary bread)
  • 'schiacciata con l'uva' (lit. 'flat bread' with grapes)
Moreover, dry bread was used for making 'pan grattato' (grated bread):
  • for breading meats
  • for enriching or thickening sauces or fillings, e.g. meat-balls
  • for enriching soups, such as the 'stracciatella' (lit. 'torn up' soup, that is the aspect it acquires by mixing the grated bread with grated parmesan cheese and an egg into hot broth)
  • as a dressing for pasta, e.g. 'spaghetti col pan grattato', with grated bread previously fried in lots of olive oil.
But the use of bread went further, seen that it was also a very good cure or remedy for certain physical conditions and beauty thanks to its nutritional value, either for animals (e.g. cows after giving birth) or for humans (e.g. muscular inflammations; as a facial beauty mask or inflammations during cold winters).

Name: Tuscan bread

Besides the particular ingredients and preparation techniques used for this specific bread, one of the aspects that is immediately recognized is that it has no salt:
  1. some say it is because the commerce of salt was through Pisa since the XII century, when there was a historic rivalry between Pisa and Florence; Pisa, then, blocked its commerce of salt to Florence, and consequently bread had to be made without it
  2. others say that, simply, the cost of salt was high
In any case, 'sciocco' bread (unsalted bread) has become the perfect bread for perfect culinary results...

...even in the simplest things, usually eaten as starters or aperitifs, such as:
  • 'fettunta' (lit. 'oiled slice' of bread, either toasted or not, either with garlic rubbed to it, or without it) - the origin of 'fettunta' is said to be related to olive oil tasting during olive oil making: olive oil that comes out from the press is taken with a piece of bread to be tasted; the bread being unsalted, exalts the taste of the olive oil
  • 'crostino' (from the latin 'crustulum', a small tart) - it is typically a round slice of toasted bread topped with a variety of savouries, but the typical Tuscan 'crostino' is of 'fegatini' (livers, together with 'milza', spleen). Other common 'crostini' are of:
  • 'funghi porcini' ('porcini mushrooms')
  • 'salsiccia e stracchino' (sausage with 'stracchino', a creamy lightly sour cheese), roasted in the oven
  • 'carciofi' (artichokes)
  • 'bruschetta', which lit. means 'toasted/roasted slice of bread' (from the Roman dialect word 'bruscare', which means 'to toast/roast') and is topped with extra virgin olive oil with garlic, fresh tomato in small pieces and basil; but, even if it is very common in Florence and Tuscany, it is originally from Rome
  • ...'pane, vino e zucchero' (bread, wine and sugar), commonly eaten to end dinner in the country several decades ago
  • simple bread, white and sometimes wholewheat, in slices or pieces, before aperitifs, between courses or to accompany them

Name: Some regional breads

Even though the most important and used bread is the typical Tuscan bread, there are other types of breads throughout Tuscany, such as:
  • 'Bozza' - from the countryside of Prato
  • 'Ficattola' - perhaps its name comes from the vulgar definition of the female sexual organ, because of its shape; it is a small fried bread dough from the Mugello area, and it can be eaten either alone or open with charcuterie and cheeses, as a sandwich, or even sweet; in Mugello there even is the 'Fiera della Ficattola' (fair of the 'ficattola')
  • 'Semelle' - it is a round 'glossy' bread from Florence; its name is said to come from the german 'semmel', which means 'small smooth bread'
  • 'Schiaccia' from Maremma - 'schiaccia' is how 'schiacciata' (flat bread) is called in this area of Tuscany; there are different types of 'schiaccie', either salted or sweet particularly in this region
  • 'Pane di farro' - it is original from the Garfagnana countryside, where, because of the poor conditions the countrymen lived in, corn flour had to be mixed with spelt and millet.
  • 'Pane di neccio' - original from the Garfagnana area, it is made of chestnut flour, which is commonly called 'farina di neccio' in this area. The origins of the use of chestnut flour date back to the ancient Romans.
  • 'Pane di patate' - this bread too is original from Garfagnana and is made of potato flour
  • 'Marocca' - from Casola in Lunigiana; it is made of chestnut flour, because of the scarsity of corn flour in this area for a long time; its name derives from the dialect word 'marocat', which means 'something hard'
  • 'Panina gialla' - 'yellow bread' from Arezzo, it is made of wheat flour, yeast, saffron, water, raisins, olive oil and salt, and is particularly used in Easter time.
  • 'Testarolo' - again from the Lunigiana area, its name derives from the 'testo', an old tool used by countrymen to cook bread.

Name: Trippa

Is only one part of the entrails, the reticulum and rumen, and is certainly well known and always present in typical trattorie, while the 'centopelle' (lit. 'a hundred skins', from its shape), that is the omasum, is not preferred in Florence.

But the protagonist is surely the 'lampredotto' (lit. 'small lamprey', from its shape), the abomasum of the stomach. It is smoother than the tripe, a prelibacy.

Name: Panino di Lampredotto

The 'panino di lampredotto' is a genuine Florentine way of eating, and is always a unique experience frozen in time either for Florentines than for tourists.

One eats standing on the street, talking to the neighbour in the line, while smelling the characteristic fumes of this typical food. Every type of people, from the common person to the aristocratic one, asks, compares and enjoys.

The 'panino di lampredotto' can be eaten 'bagnato' (lit. 'wet') in its broth, 'asciutto' (lit. 'dry'), with 'salsa verde' ('green sauce', with olive oil and herbs), with pepper, or 'salsa piccante' ('hot sauce'); the 'lampredotto' can also be eaten alone 'in inzimino' ('with chard'), with potatoes, or onion, or 'all'uccelletto'...etc.... and has nothing to envy to refined cuisine...; it can also be taken home and maybe prepared with white rice and black cabbage...

Name: Fagioli all'uccelletto

White kidney beans are the Florentine beans, which deserve attention all by themselves in national cuisine, because they are present in different ways in Tuscan dishes. In this special dish, the beans are cooked with olive oil, onion, (sausage, not an original ingredient, but common and tasty), tomato and sage leaves.

Name: Honey in Medieval and Renaissance Cuisine

Honey was very common in the dishes of those times, because it had a double function: preserving food and giving it edibility. That's why honey could be found particularly in red meats, pork and game dishes.

Name: Chocolate in Medieval and Renaissance Cuisine

Sauces such as the dolceforte (lit. 'sweetstrong'), made of fruits, even chocolate, were very common in the Renaissance; chocolate was primarily prepared for hare, beef and wild boar dishes, because it gave a very contrasting and at the same time complementary flavour

Name: Etrurians Cuisine

Etrurians loved to eat and drink well and certainly knew how to utilise all that the earth and the waters produced.

Fruits, vegetables, legumes and cereals were the most common produce. Spelt was absolutely the most used legume (others were lentils, chick-peas and fava beans), and has become one of the most famous produce to relate to the Etrurians and Tuscany.

The rich people also ate white and red meats from pastures and game (especially deer and wild boar). Milk was abundant; fish was less common.

Name: Olive Oil

Olive oil is a treasure in Italian gastronomy:
  • olives were sweetened by the Etrurians by 'pickling' them with water perfumed with pfennel and other seeds and dry fruits
  • on the verge of the Roman empire, olive oil was fundamental on the tables and in the culture of those times; it was then considered the 'green gold' and constituted a real source of important business
  • that's why many important writers of those times engaged themselves in counseling about the best techniques related to olives picking, oil making, etc., and different types of olive oil were created, according to the phases of ripening of the olives: the best oil was from the light green olives, the worst being the the one from maggoty olives; in the middle there was the oil deriving from darker, then ripe olives and finally from olives taken from the ground.
Through the centuries, olive oil has gone through periods of glory and periods of scarsity and lack of importance; for example during the two World Wars, Italian cuisine was considered poor and vulgar..., but certainly Tuscany has always been priviledged and notwithstanding the ups and downs in gastronomy and history in general, olive oil has always been an important element in its culture, gastronomy and economy (in the XVIII century it was very much utilised in the textile industry and for making soaps and other products for the bath).

The comeback of an international interest in genuine and natural products has certainly reaffirmed its preciousness...

Name: Wine

Another magical element in Tuscan culture and gastronomy is wine:
  • to drink:
    • the Etrurians and first Romans had varieties of vines and wines. Particularly common were sweet wines, due to the process of letting grapes dry in different ways, in order to concentrate their sugars and allow them to resist to long trips. Different techniques of drying have developped trhroughout the centuries, and these types of wines are still important in Tuscany, for example the Malvasia
    • Tuscan wines start their glory during the Middle Ages, which is when wine makers developped into a proper minor art, the 'Arte dei Vinattieri' (art of wine makers) and vines were everywhere; this led to the opening of many 'osterie' and spots to sell wine. In this period wine was drunk by the rich and the poor, and there were three qualities of wine: dense wine was the best, less dense wine, and then the so-called 'acquarello' ('watery' wine), made by adding water to the already light wine
    • In the Middle Ages, the flavour of the wine was enriched by adding spices, herbs and honey, and in other types of wine also almonds and salt were added, together with pepper and and rose petals to embetter its colour
    • Muscat, Malvasia are 'passiti' (lit. 'dried' grape wines), a sweet wine produced with dried grapes. Vin Santo (lit. 'saint wine') is another type of 'passito'
    • 'Vernaccia' wines are white wines
    • Until the XVIII century, red wine was denser and was a 'vermiglio' (red); new techniques of making a more modern wine were developped and the Chianti, which had firstly appeared in the Renaissance period and was already at that time considered a higher quality wine, became what it is now
    • The best Tuscan wines are: Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano; but there are others which are very popular, like the Sangiovese, the Cabernet and Merlot (Sassicaia) and the Morellino di Scansano.
  • To eat:
    • Since the Etrurians and Romans, wine has been used to keep meat and other types of food and nowadays to give them special perfumes and flavours; it is used for meats, soups, vegetables and others...

Name: China, Alquermes and Rosolio

'China', 'alquermes' and 'rosolio' are very renouned and old liquors. Especially the 'alquermes', which, since the Renaissance, was considered and called 'elisir di lunga vita' (lit. 'elixir for a long life') and drunk by Lorenzo il Magnifico during his artistic and cultural meetings. This liquor was prepared by the Dominican frairs of Santa Maria Novella, and was also appreciated by the Popes and promoted by Catherine of Medici in France, where it was called the liquor of the Medici...

Name: Tuscan Cheeses

The most characteristic cheeses in Tuscany are the:
  • 'pecorino toscano', made entirely of ewe's milk (cooked in different ways to obtain either a soft or a semi-hard consistency, in order to be eaten either alone or grated) like the:
    • 'Pecorino di Pienza' - which can be 'dolce' or 'fresco' (lit. 'sweet' or 'fresh') and 'stagionato' (seasoned); its taste is sweet and sour. Its taste has been valued since the times of the Etruscans through the Roman Empire and the Medieval Ages; in the Renaissance it was particularly appreciated, up until our times
    • 'Marzolino del Chianti' - it takes its name from the period of its production, which starts after the milkings of March; this cheese was particularly appreciated in the XV and XVI centuries, it was exported by Catherine of Medici to France and was considered the cheese of the Grandducal period.
  • 'caciotta' - it is prepared with cow's milk with a little part of ovine milk
  • 'Raveggiolo' or 'giuncata' - this cheese is totally tender, made with ovine or bovine milk. Its name derives from the region where it is produced, Raggiolo, and is also called 'giuncata', from 'giunco' (rush), because the paste was traditionally put in rush containers to coagulate.

Name: Acquacotta

Acquacotta (lit. 'cooked water') is eaten throughout Tuscany but certainly is most famous in the Maremma area: it started as a 'water soup' for poor workers, and is now a savoury soup...

Name: Other Regional Dishes

In Florence other regional dishes such as for example the cacciucco and the baccal (salted codfish) alla livornese', both from Livorno, or the 'stoccafisso' (from the German 'stock fisch', which means 'stick fish' and is dried codfish) from Pisa, are very well known and commonly eaten.

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