Italians generally don’t shop in mega shopping complexes*. Rather, shopping is done by visiting farmers markets and small stores run specialists in their trade.
If you want bread, visit the baker. For meat, see the butcher. In the interest of ensuring top quality, it makes perfect sense.
And loaf by loaf, slice by slice, storeowners come to know your preferences, and you personally, eventually becoming like friends – relationships accumulated over months and years of brief exchanges and a common passion for quality goods.
To shop like a local, there are several fresh food markets around Florence, the largest being the San Lorenzo and Sant’ Ambrogio markets. Here there are stalls selling a great and colourful range of fresh fruits and vegetable, tasty cheeses, as well as seafood, and cured and fresh meat.
We have our favourite stall-holders who we chat to as the goods are carefully selected, weighed and wrapped in paper, adding that extra special something to the shopping in Florence experience.
On Via de’ Neri, just off Piazza della Signora on the way to Piazza Santa Croce, there is one of the oldest butchers in town which has been passed down through the generations. Buying meat, the butcher will ask what dish you are going to prepare, and cut or trim it accordingly. They will often even include a handful of the spices needed to cook it just right, as well as advice on cooking time and method. It is not unusual to find other customers in the store adding in their opinions on recipes, ingredients, and side dishes, with the Italian recipe exchanges often beginning with, ‘My grandmother always…’, ‘My father taught me…’ and the like.
Another great reason to visit this store is that further along Via de’ Neri is Gelateria de’ Neri where the owners have been making some of Florence’s best gelato for years. Their dark chocolate gelato is as wicked as the owners’ sense of humour, so you always leave smiling because you have a delicious gelato in hand, and laughing too!
When in need of cheese, we visit a store specialising in dairy and other deli goods, such as the ‘Grana Market’ for instance where we chat with the owners, the Aicardi family, about the cheese and also about the latest antics their 4 young children have been up to.
As to the bread, our local bakery (affectionately known in the Artviva office as ‘our’ bakery) is the Forno on Via della Spada (right off Florence’s best high-end shopping street, Via Tornabuoni). We’ve worked our way several times over through ever sweet and savoury delight in their extensive baked repertoire! Try the Pan di Ramerino (a sweet Tuscan rosemary bread), or well, pretty much anything! They also have seasonal sweets especially made for local festivities such as Saints’ Days, Carnivale, Easter and Christmas.
Since no great Italian meal is complete without a glass of delicious wine to go with, we also love visiting our favourite Enotecca, a traditional wine store where you take in empty bottles (or buy them for 50 cents from the store) to be filled with great quality wines at wonderful prices. On Via dei Macci there is Bacco Nudo where the two lovely owners offer a great menu of wines to choose from. Here, you select the wine you wish, they then go into the cellar to fill up your bottle and, using an antique manual corker, place the cork in. The name of the wine is then hand-written on a paper label that is tied to the neck of the bottle with brown string. Some of Tuscany’s top wines can set you back around 2 to 4 euro a bottle this way!
To shop like a local in Italy, please email firstname.lastname@example.org so we can let you know about some great shopping options, or see www.artviva.com for a wonderful range of tours and hands-on cooking classes in Florence, tours around Tuscany, Rome, Venice, Cinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.
*Outlets such as The Mall are an exception. To get to The Mall from Florence, catch the bus direct from the SITA bus station just by Florence’s central ‘Firenze Santa Maria’ Train Station.