Dining on traditional local dishes is a reason to visit Italy in itself. But for foodies in Italy, it is the selecting of food items from the local vendors, just as the locals do, which truly presents one of the best things to do in Italy – besides, of course, the actual eating!
Wandering down narrow cobbled laneways through Florence, Italy, you visit first of all ‘il fruttivendolo’ – the friendly grocer offering a great range of fresh in-season fruits and vegetables. ‘Che si fa per cena sta sera?’, they ask. ‘What’s for dinner tonight?’ From the brightly coloured items before you, you’re tempted to say, ‘tutto’ – everything! But based on the grocer’s advice, you manage to narrow the selection down. The grocer carefully hand-selects each item you choose, suggesting a few other items, and throws in a handful of fresh herbs along the way.
The items are weighed on an old-fashioned scale and placed in a paper bag, the grocer standing on the stone steps of the little store to bid you friendly farewell as you wander off to the next destination.
Just a short distance away, you arrive to the bakery, ‘il forno’. This is a dangerous place to visit when you’re hungry as the great range of fragrant just-baked bread and other delicious treats are near impossible to resist! Your eyes dart from biscotti to colourful fruit flans, and a whole range of sweet baked treats. You select some traditional bread, Pane Toscano, and a few little cookies to nibble on for ‘merenda’ – Italian afternoon tea.
Meat is from the ‘macellaio’, where the cuts are prepared exactly as per the recipe you are planning on making and the number of people you are cooking for. Again, advice on how to prepare it is free with every selection, as is a handful of fresh herbs thrown into the parcel.
You’ve kept for last one of your favourite food stores in Florence – the Grana Market, selling a wide gamma of cheese, cured meats, big fat olives, and a range of other delicious typical food items. The store owner, a smiley local who talks often about his three small children as he carefully packages your purchases, offers tastings of just-arrived products as you make your selection.
This means of gathering delicious fresh foods in Italy is a cultural experience in itself, as much of a tradition as the recipes that are passed down through the generations.
It is a wonderful Italian food tradition to pass an afternoon collecting each item from the local specialty stores nestled throughout the cobbled streets of their local town. Wandering from store to store is also a social experience where locals stop to chat with the friends they pass on the street, out purchasing the ingredients for that day’s delicious family meal. The store owners become friends themselves as quick conversations accumulate over the years into friendship.
Arriving home with your carefully wrapped parcels, you spread them out on the kitchen bench and unwrap each item one by one. The scent of just-picked herbs wafts out from one bag, the sweet smell of ripe tomatoes from another, and that irresistible perfume of fresh-baked bread sees you glance at the clock to count down just how long you have to wait until you will be dining on this fabulous fare. Then you remember – joy of joys – the few biscotti you had (thankfully!) been unable to resist from the bakery, a sweet treat to tide you over as you turn these fresh local ingredients into a wonderful Italian meal!
To learn to make delicious, typical Italian recipes before indulging in a delicious meal made by you, we have hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.