Florence is a city full of culture and history. Any Guide Book will list all the art galleries, churches, piazzas, frescos and museums; it will tell you where the works of Michelangelo, Giotto and Brunelleschi are located, where you can trace the history of the Medici or see the damage and relics of the 1966 floods. But food is very important in Florence; Florence is full of restaurants, large and small but mainly for tourists. It is the markets that are important to families, the place to buy good quality food.
I love a good Market and the guide books for Florence recommend a visit to the Mercato Centrale (or Central Market); it is the largest covered food hall in Europe. It opened in 1874. It was revamped in 1980 with the addition of an upper floor and then again in 2014. Inside there is everything to do with food under one roof: fruit, vegetables, pasta, herbs and spices, meat and fish, sausage and salami, tripe (ugh!!), cheese and bread of all kinds, croissants and pastries. There are stalls, full of tomatoes of all shapes and sizes, beef tomatoes, plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, vine tomatoes, yellow tomatoes; they look so appetising. It’s the same with mushrooms; mushrooms of every shape and size. No button mushrooms here, much more specialised, much more delicate. Heaped piles of porchini mushrooms with their delicious flavour, just waiting to be cooked up into a fabulous dish. I could have walked around all day, watching discerning buyers carefully select what they needed for tonight’s meal.
Upstairs are more eateries than you can imagine: everything from open and closed sandwiches, Japanese sushi, Chinese dumplings, full meals and snacks, tea, coffee and wine and beer. It was wonderful to wander around trying to make a decision, with lots of tables and chairs to sit down and take your time eating. This isn’t ‘food on the go’; this is quality food. Sitting down is the opportunity to carry out serious people watching.
Each day the streets around the Mercato Centrale are thronged with stalls selling jewellery, Italian leather goods of all sorts, fridge magnets, football shirts, china and pottery, scarves, dresses, shoes and every sort of tourist ‘tat’ you could want. This is a place, recommended by the Guide Books, to practice haggling. Sadly, there weren’t any tea towels to haggle over. But in a small stall at the corner of the Mercato Centrale is where some merchandise relating to the market is sold. When I was there it was hard to find anyone to take my money but eventually I did. This tea towel is very different from any other Italian tea towel that I own; it is much smaller, white, with a small logo in the corner. There is the red lily in the background, which symbolises Florence, with a logo of the Mercato Centrale in the foreground; in Italian terms, it is very understated. It is cute, however, and a great reminder of the several hours I spent wandering around the market, buying a few herbs and having a great lunch.