There is a lot of Florence food you need to try. While most people visit Florence in search of Renaissance art, food is definitely one of the perks of visiting the Tuscan capital.
While some dishes are now staples of Italian cuisine and easily found throughout the country, there are some that are strictly regional. Each region in Italy – in fact, each city and even each village – has its own special dishes. It thus goes without saying that there is some food in Florence that you won’t find elsewhere in Italy, and you should make it a point to try it during your trip.
In general, traditional Florence food is rich, rustic, humble and meat-orientated, and often prepared with ingredients that would probably be leftovers today (the rationale being that food should never go to waste). Much like in the rest of Italy, the best dishes are prepared using a handful of ingredients – so you can fully taste what you are having. Curious to discover the best “piatti tipici” (traditional dishes) of Florence cuisine? Then continue reading.
Make sure to also read my post The Best Things To Do In Florence.
Must Try Food In Florence
Bistecca alla Fiorentina
The bistecca alla fiorentina is a particularly high standing steak and probably the best known Florence food in Italy (and elsewhere). Artworks go back to 1624 depicting this juicy cut (Dispensa by Jacopo Chimenti known as l’Empoli, where you can find this displayed in the Uffizi).
There are strict rules that determine whether a steak is a fiorentina or not. The meat used for the bistecca alla fiorentina must come from Chianina cows – that is, cattle that is bred in the Val di Chiana region of Tuscany. The meat is dense, lean. The cut used for the steak is the loin of young beef or ‘scottona’ (a female which has never been mated); the weight is normally around 1 and 1.5 kg (between 2.2 and 3.3 pounds) per (rare) steak including the bone.
For this particular steak, beef is cut 3-4 fingers high in the T-bone loin and is cooked rare (though it is served on the grill it’s cooked on, so you can continue grilling it a bit if you prefer).
Virtually all traditional restaurants in Florence serve it, usually pricing it by weight. If the restaurant is any good, you should be allowed to pick the breed of the steak, and in fact the steak altogether: the waiter should come to your table with the actual raw steak for your approval, before cooking it. We had it in Osteria dall’Orsa, which has several locations in town, The best is the one close to the Duomo.
Pappardelle al Ragu di Cinghiale
Pappardelle is one of the best known egg pasta noodles in Italy. Shaped like a ribbon in length and size, it is native to the region of Tuscany. The most traditional way to serve it in Florence is with a hearty meat sauce made with wild boar (cinghiale, in Italian).
It is a surprisingly delicious meat, with a rich flavor and texture that makes it perfect for a good ragu. The cinghiale is dry-aged for a short time. In preparation for the sauce, the meat is marinated in wine overnight, which makes it softer and gives it a unique flavor.
This is meant to be a seasonal dish, because boar hunting season goes from September to February. So you may not find it on the menu throughout the year – but then again, food is normally quite seasonal in Italy.
You will find Pappardelle al Ragu di Cinghiale in most trattorie in town. A particularly good place is the Osteria Vecchio Cancello, a nice, family run traditional trattoria that incidentally also serves excellent bistecca alla fiorentina. It’s tucked away from the chaos of the most touristy areas, too.
This Florence food is honestly not for everyone – or at least, it is not for me. But my friend swears by it – she says she would not eat it every day, of course, but every now and then it’s a fun thing to have.
Lampredotto is a classic local panino (panino in Italian means sandwich and the word is used to refer to any generic sandwich), and one of the most popular street food in Florence. Legend has it that it is as old as Palazzo Vecchio, and as revered as Dante’s poetry.
The name lampredotto is an adaptation of the word lampreda, which in Italian is used to refer to lamprey or eels. The reason for that is that the meat – tripe, really – looks a bit like lamprey in shape and color.
The sandwich (panino, in Italian) is made by stuffing a fresh roll with tender slices of abomasum, one of the four sections of cows’ stomach, which have been boiled in onion, celery and tomato broth, and it is garnished with Salsa Verde, an aromatic green sauce.
Dotted around the markets of Florence, there are many places selling lampredotto – traditionally known as “lampredottai”. The panino costs only €3.50 so it’s a fairly budget friendly lunch to have. One of the best lampredottai in town is L’Antico Trippaio, which is located in Piazza Dei Cimatori. Another one is the Trippaio Pollini in Via de’ Macci. There’s also a famous place in the Mercato Centrale, on the ground floor. It won’t take you long to recognize it: just look for the long line!
After all the meat, finally some Florence food that is naturally vegan and thus perfect for vegetarians and even vegan travelers.
Ribollita is a soup that is best enjoyed during the colder months and typically found in all good trattorie and osterie across town. The name ribollita simply means reheated in Italian, and it refers to the fact that the soup is normally eaten a day or two after you prepare it. The dish is based on bread, cannellini beans and black cabbage (kale), and lots of other vegetables, all slowly cooked for hours.
Pappa al Pomodoro
Another vegan dish in Florence! The hot summer’s equivalent to ribollita, pappa al pomodoro was invented by Florentine peasants in order to use stale, leftover bread. It can be served refreshingly chilled during this season.
When the climate is warm and when the tomatoes are ripe and abundant, it is the perfect time for Pappa al Pomodoro. This soupy dish is made with broth, tomato and bread. It is seasoned with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and garlic. The garnish of basil leaves is a key component.
Typically, this medieval soup is eaten as a primo piatto (an expression we use in Italy to refer to pasta and soup dishes that are served before the secondo, which is instead a meat or fish dish). While you may think of it as a soup, its texture is actually thick with bready chunks, so much so that it can be eaten with a fork.
The full name of this dish – one of the earthiest and yet simpler dishes you may try in Florence – is Ravioli Gnudi Alla Fiorentina. Gnudi are a Tuscan kind of gnocchi made with spinach and containing semolina but using ricotta cheese instead of potato to make the dough. When you bite into it, you’ll probably think of the filling of ravioli – but without the pasta outer shell, hence their name – gnudi, which would be “nudi” in Italian, and which means naked in English.
Gnudi are served in a simple sauce (well, that’s sort of an overstatement ) of butter and sage. The zingy cheese flavor is enhanced with nutmeg, which gives this dish a nutty aroma.
Since gnudi are actually quite easy to replicate at home (the ingredients are easy to find) you may even enroll in a cooking class to learn how to make them. I will point you to a few good cooking classes in Florence at the end of this post.
Tagliatelle ai Funghi Porcini
Tagliatelle ai Funghi Porcini is a widespread pasta dish in the Tuscan capital. You’ll readily find it on every menu of the best trattorie and osterie in Florence, as long as porcini mushrooms (funghi porcini, in Italian) are in season – which is usually in the fall.
As the name suggests, the main ingredient here is porcini mushrooms. Some places may add a sprinkle of tartufo (truffle) for a fuller flavor. Personally, I am not a fan of it – tartufo is very strong, and I don’t think it goes well with porcini mushroom to begin with. But my truffle-loving friend will disagree!
The other ingredient in this dish would obviously be fresh handmade tagliatelle.
It would not be a trip to Italy without indulging in cured meats. Salumi is the word we actually use to generally refer to all cured meats in Italy, and we have tons of them. Cured meats are central to Italian cuisine, born out of necessity to preserve meat (typically pork) for a longer time.
The most famous salumi is prosciutto. It comes in two main varieties in Italy: crudo (what you may know as Parma ham, though there are about a million kinds of prosciutto crudo in Italy), and cotto (what you’d refer to as plain ham). We also have a million kinds of salame (and please, don’t just assume our salame is your pepperoni, because we don’t have such thing here). Other salty salumi include speck, bresaola, mortadella and pancetta to name a few.
Tuscany has its own salumi, and it goes without saying that one of the most popular food in Florence that you should try is a proper “tagliere” – a wooden cutting board filled to the brim with all sorts of cold cuts, as well as cheese, olives and bread that you would typically have for what we call an “apertivo rinforzato” (a “strengthened aperitif”) in an enoteca or osteria.
Cured meats you may want to try in Florence include Finnocchiona, a dry-cured salami spiced with garlic, salt and fennel as the star ingredient; Porchetta, a roast pig boned and stuffed with its offal and aromatic herbs which is best served with some crusty Italian bread and pecorino cheese.
There are many places where you can have a good tagliere in Florence. My friend and I sat at Enoteca Salumeria Lombardi in the Mercato Centrale and lunched on a tagliere (the one pictured above) a salad and a glass of wine – it was perfect.
Tuscan Bread and Schiacciata
There’s no such thing as salumi without bread. Since they are so salty to begin with, salumi are best served with traditional pane toscano (Tuscan bread) which – much like bread in the Tuscia region where my dad is from – is actually unsalted and (to many) tasteless. Stale Tuscan bread is used to prepare soups like ribollita and pappa al pomodoro.
If you want salt in your bread, ask your waiter to bring you some schiacciata, a kind of flat bread, actually more similar to focaccia, that has lots of salt and olive oil.
Here’s a little personal story: my mom tried zuccotto for the first time while honeymooning in Florence with my dad. She must have truly enjoyed it as a year later, when she was pregnant with me, she’d have cravings for zuccotto and send my dad out and about in Cagliari on a mission to find it. To date, it remains one of her favorite desserts and my dad continues spoiling her with it.
Zuccotto is a Florentine dessert (best defined as a semifreddo, semi-cold) that dates back to the 16th century. Its name refers to the cardinal’s skullcap, which translates to zucchetto in Italian. Much like gelato, this dessert was apparently invented by Bernardo Buontalenti, one of the Medici’s favorite artists. They loved organizing parties and offering avant-garde food to their guests, and for them Buontalenti created this unique recipe.
But what exactly is a zuccotto? This dome-shamed sponge cake is filled with ricotta, whipped cream, gelato and chocolate. The cake is then turned upside down – apparently to honor Brunelleschi and his masterpiece, the Dome of Florence Cathedral.
To be fair, you don’t often fund zuccotto on the dessert menu of restaurants in Florence. So you may have to go to a good pasticceria. Compiobbi, in Fiesole, is meant to be the best so you may want to try it during your day trip to this lovely smaller town. They make the traditional version, as well as more contemporary ones.
Cantuccini with Vin Santo
Cantuccini are what people in North America call “biscotti” – which (hear me out) in Italy is just a generic word for cookies. These crisp, almond cookies in oval shape are baked twice in the oven – that’s why they are so crunchy – and typically served as a dessert accompanied by a Tuscan sweet wine called Vin Santo, which is very thick and amber in color. You are actually meant to dip them in the wine to make them a bit softer.
Vin Santo owes its name to a legend or two. The name translates as saint’s wine in English. In 1348 it was thought to have healing powers and used to cure the plague. However, another story goes that its name is just a misunderstanding of the word “xanthos” spoken by a visiting Greek priest in 1439. Finally, it is holy, as it used to be used by the priest in the Catholic ritual of Holy Communion during mass.
The wine dates back to the Middle Ages and is made of Trebbiano and Malvasia white grapes. Once bottled, it ages for three to twelve years in small barrels. This wine is also great with Italian cheeses and salty recipes.
There are many shops selling cantuccini in Florence, but do opt for fresh ones from a bakery. One of the best cantuccini bakers in town is Pasticceria Giorgio. You’ll also find cantuccini served with Vin Santo in all trattorie and osterie in Florence.
This whole-Tuscan sweet will probably remind you of the Jewish Suganyiot eaten during Hanukkah. They are honestly delicious, and you’ll find it hard to stick to just one. A soft dough is fried until golden brown and still moist inside. It is then sprinkled with sugar. Common modern version include bomboloni stuffed with jam or nutella.
They are not too different from bomba, another common sweet found in Italian patisserie shops – in this case the name literally refers to the word “bomb” aka a grenade, since it looks a bit like that.
Bomboloni are best enjoyed for breakfast, instead of the all-time classic Italian cornetto, or as a sweet treat for your merenda (afternoon snack). You’ll find many pasticcerie that sell freshly made bomboloni. The best one is Pasticceria Cucciolo, in Via del Corso.
How To Make The Most Of Florence Food
Florence is a foodie haven and a celebrated wine region. From centuries-old trattorias to vibrant street food panini to high-end Michelin-starred restaurants, you can discover a range of delicious foods to try. Here are some additional tips that will help you make the most of Florence food.
Take a food tour
One of the best ways to learn about food in Florence is through a food tour. You come away with recommendations for the best restaurants in town, and since the guide will be a local, you will know that the places they are recommending are local too.
Food tours typically last two to three hours and will take you around town, with a stop at the market. You will learn about the best Florence food, and with that discover the city’s history and traditions too.
Here are some recommendations for the best food tours in Florence:
Dine Around Florence: An Authentic Evening Wine & Food Tour – this excellent food tour takes you to the lovely Oltrarno and Santo Spirito areas, where you’ll have several tastings of local specialties including soups, olive oil, Tuscan bread. You’ll end your tour with a fabulous gelato.
Street Food Tour With Local Expert Guide – one of the best street food tours on Florence, over the course of 2.5 hours you get to try all traditional local staples.
Florence Food Walking Tour – similar to the one above, but actually lasting a bit longer to you try even more dishes!
Join a cooking class
Other than taking a food tour, the best way to learn about Florence food is actually to take a cooking class! There are several in town – some even take you to the market to buy the produce you’ll then use to prepare your meal. This way, you will learn the secrets of Florentine dishes and be able to reproduce them at home once you go back.
Below are some excellent cooking classes in Florence:
Pasta and Dessert Cooking Class – what a fantastic class! You will learn to make three different kinds of pasta and three difference sauces, so you will leave with lots of ideas for your next dinner at home.
Food Market and Cooking Experience in Florence – the entire experience actually lasts 5.5 hours so you know you’ll be busy and learn a lot during this highly rated cooking class.
For oenophiles, perhaps a wine tour?
There are many wine tasting tours on Get Your Guide. From Florence, guided tours typically visit Chianti wineries, and on a typical tour you’ll get to try lots of local food too.
This wine tasting tour to the Chianti region from Florence lasts 4.5 hours and includes transportation to the wineries.
If you don’t want to escape Florence yet to explore the best Tuscan wines, consider this food tour that makes a specific stop at Antico Vinaio, one of the most popular wine shops in town.
Florence Food Vocabulary
Another thing you need to known in order to try food in Florence is what the various names stand for. Here we go:
Osteria – this typically a simple or inexpensive Italian restaurant, though in recent years most osterie have become a bit more refined.
Trattoria – a family-owned restaurant that serves rich, rustic cuisine with fresh local ingredients that are traditionally seasonal.
Ristorante – a full-service restaurant. It can be more or less fancy.
Enoteca – wine shop/bar that typically does not serve elaborate meals but focuses on quick taglieri. As of late, enoteche are often evolving to “piccola cucina” restaurants (ie restaurants that have a very limited menu).
Eat where locals eat
This is valid for anywhere in Italy, in fact for anywhere in the world. The best places to try local cuisine are those where locals eat too.
If you are looking for dishes made according to local tradition, you should look for trattorie as they are the places where the cooks are likely still following recipes passed on through generations. Your typical menu in a trattoria will have a selection of antipasti (appetizers), primi e secondi (main courses, either pastas and soups, or meat / fish dishes), contorni (side dishes, usually small salads and vegetables) and very traditional desserts. In the most rustic ones, there’s no actual menu but the waiter will come to the table and tell you what’s available for the day.
One thing to keep in mind is that lunch in Italy – including Tuscany – is served between 12:30 at the earliest and 2:30 pm. Dinner is served between 8:00 and 10:00. A place serving pasta or bistecca alla fiorentina at 5:00 pm is likely a tourist trap.
Go to the Mercato Centrale!
Florence’ Mercato Centrale is open daily from 9:00 am to 11:00 pm or 12:00 am, giving you plenty of time during your Florence explorations to pop inside, look around and find some food to try.
The ground floor is where you’ll find fresh produce and shops selling gourmet groceries. There also are a few places to sit down for a meal (an enoteca, for example) and a popular sandwich place. The upper level is home to a wide array of quick-food restaurants that actually serve excellent food from around Italy and even international cuisine.
Make sure to also read my post A Guide To Florence Mercato Centrale.
Here are a few other things to remember.
Cappuccino is traditionally a morning / breakfast drink. Have it at the table with a nice pastry (best if a bombolone) or standing at the counter. For some reason, cappuccino is often served just lukewarm in Italy (don’t ask me why) so if you are like me, remember to ask for it “bollente”.
Have gelato! But remember, good gelato will never be too colorful and won’t ever stick out of its containers. In fact, the best gelato in Florence is kept in closed containers.
Go for an aperitivo drink – there are many rooftop bars in Florence and while many of them are frequented by tourists, they all offer stunning city views and excellent drinks. My favorite is by far Sesto on Arno, but I shall warn you: it’s expensive.
These other posts may be useful when planning a trip to Florence:
- 13 Best Tips For Visiting Florence
- How To Make The Most Of Florence At Night
- How To Make The Most Of One Day In Florence
- The Perfect 3 Days In Florence Itinerary
- The Perfect 3 Days In Florence Itinerary