Guest post ~ Florence is well known for its museums and historical attractions like Michelangelo’s David. But amid the vibrant streets near the Duomo stands a building which no visitor should miss. It hosts a real temple of food: the Mercato Centrale (Central Market). Eating at the Florence Central Market is something no visitor should pass up.
Central Market Building
The circa 1874 Central Market building, with its ornate cast iron and glass architecture, is an attraction itself, but many people don’t look beyond all the culinary delights to notice it. Amid all the hustle and bustle the entrances are hard to find, just look behind the peddlers.
The food market is at the ground floor. Here you’ll find the largest possible variety of food in Florence. One section is dedicated to fruit and vegetables, with some typical products you can find only here. During winter, the king of vegetables in Florence is the cavolo nero (black cabbage), master ingredient for the ribollita, the most famous Florentine recipe: it’s a soup based on stale bread, cannellini beans and, of course, black cabbage. (See link to ribollita recipe below.)
You’ll be amazed at the garlands made of garlic and onion: here it’s not just a matter of quality, the presentation of the food is very important. There is also a shop dedicated to exotic fruit and vegetables, especially from South America.
Another section is for fish shops and butchers, the latter each specialize in a particular kind of meat: chicken for example, or beef, with the Chianina (a type of cattle typical of Tuscany) which is the meat used for the famous bistecca alla fiorentina. If you’re wondering what all that white spongy meat on display is, it’s tripe (the stomach of the cow). It’s an acquired taste for foreigners but Italians love it.
Among the other specialty foods at the central market are sundried tomatoes, mushrooms and pasta in fantastical shapes. There is a fresh pasta shop and several bakeries, but the shops that attract more attention are the ones selling salumi (not to confuse with salami, which is just a kind of salumi) and cheese. Some of them also make panini.
Prices are very reasonable, in some cases you save on supermarket prices, unless you want to buy something very hard to find elsewhere. For a traveler in Florence who plans an excursion or a picnic, or just wants to prepare a quick lunch, this is the place to find something tasty.
The temple of food on the second floor
After a complete restoration in April 2014, the second floor, which once hosted the fruit and vegetables section, was reopened with a new function: a temple of dining. This part of the Central Market, which stays open from 10 am to midnight, including Sundays, is an amazing place where you can eat any kind of typical Italian food. It’s a huge hall, with cafés in the center serving drinks, tables all around and specialized restaurants on the sides.
How does it work? You just pick your preferred food (cheese, meat, pasta, pizza, fish and many more), go to the chosen restaurant, order, and they will prepare your food in front of you. Then join your friends at the table of your choice. It’s perfect for a group, where everybody wants to eat something different. Prices are very reasonable, while quality is excellent: in particular, I like pizza at the Central Market.
Pizza is not a typical Tuscan recipe, and I have to admit that, in general, you won’t eat the best pizza in Florence, but at the Central Market you will actually taste a great pizza, made with natural yeast, the best flours and high quality tomatoes and mozzarella.
Florence Central Market Visitor Information:
The ground floor of the market is open Monday-Friday from 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM and Saturday (not in the Summer months) from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM. The second floor is open everyday from 10:00 AM to 12:00 AM.
Check out the Florence Central Market website for the latest information on activities there.
Guest writer Andrea Pecchi is a freelance tourist guide in Florence and runs Your Florence Contact, a blog about art and history. When not guiding tourists, he enjoys writing about his own city and promoting Florence as a destination for travelers. You can follow Andrea on Facebook and Twitter.