“Nobody leaves the table until they’ve eaten so much that they hate themselves.” Even after years of eating some of the best food Italy has to offer, this is the one quote (said by a good friend after a painfully long and indulgent meal) that has stuck with me the most. Trying to describe what it’s like to eat the regional food in Florence would take years, and to be honest I wouldn’t even know where to begin. How do you explain the feeling of biting into a ripe tomato so juicy that it explodes in your mouth the second it hits your tongue? What words can one use to describe the dazzling array of colors in the vegetables spread out so lovingly across the stalls of Sant’Ambrogio? I’ll tell you what you do–you stop thinking and start eating. A lot.
The thing is, not that many Italians are fat. In fact, pretty much none of them are. They’re all just regular people who happen to have kick-ass metabolisms groomed after centuries of poverty and disaster. After spending years picking up the pieces that Mussolini and WW2 left behind, it’s no surprise that they would want to celebrate. And what better way to celebrate than with food?
Tuscans are particularly good at this skill of turning pretty much nothing into something amazing. Take a handful of stale bread, some leftover beans, the wilting bits of cavolo nero from the pitiful garden harvest and BAM! You’ve got yourself a stew called Ribollita, baby. No need for fancy spices or hours on end. You make use of everything you’ve got, because you never know when that stock will run out. And when you make food, you make A LOT of it. You know, cause you’ve got to feed the neighbors and stuff, too.
Every region in Italy has its own particular “brand” of food–from the steaming mussel soups of the Ligurian coastline to the thick doughy pizzas of Campagna. The Tuscan brand is farming, from the groves of olive trees swollen with green fruit to the creamy white cows grazing along the hillsides that end up as prime cuts of bistecca in Florence’s most upscale restaurants. Wine, vegetables, meat–if you can grow it out in the countryside, it’s probably coming from Tuscany. If not, it probably tastes like shit.
The problem is that now my whole perception of food has been ruined. I used to love munching away on a piece of string cheese (ask my mom, she used to buy like 5 packets a week) or a microwaved Hot-Pocket, but now I can actually tell the difference between processed foods and fresh ones so it kind of sucks for me because I’m way pickier when it comes to eating. That being said, I also eat a lot more weird stuff, like cow’s stomach and fat spread onto a piece of bread and wild boar, because if you live in Florence for any length of time you’ll inevitably come across a Florentine who will shove it down your throat because “YOU HAVE TO TRY THIS AT LEAST ONCE, TRUST ME. I’M FROM FLORENCE.”
So if you’re planning on coming to Tuscany at any point in your life, you’ve been warned–pack your stretchy pants and say goodbye to your waistline. From the salty schiacciata flatbread to that first crisp sip of Chianti Classico, you’ll understand one day when I say that every bite is an adventure.
This post is part of a series on different food regions in Italy from your friendly neighborhood bloggers C.O.S.I. For more stories like this, click here.