Gluten-free joys alongside pizza, pasta and gelato in Florence, Italy
“It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.” That’s what I thought when I was asked to spend a week in Florence for work. Going to an open air museum with one hell of a cuisine to boot? Sign me up!
Besides pizza, pasta and gelato (ice cream), Florence is famous for its Bistecca alla Fiorentina. Carnivores rejoice over plates of bloody steak all over town. Since I’m more of a vegetable lover, I passed on the beef and other meaty dishes and tried some non-Italian dishes as well. Blasphemous perhaps, but variation is the spice of life!
I’ve been told there’s a trend going on in Italy to eat meals without gluten. Gluten is a binding agent that is mostly found in wheat and its derivatives, of which most pizza dough and pastas are made. One could easily enjoy gluten-filled dishes at every meal in the land of pizza and pasta, but in recent years the awareness of eating without gluten has grown due to the increase in people suffering from coeliac disease. Luckily, I have no condition that prevents me from eating anything, but I did like to go for healthier dinner options after a few days of indulging in gluten-laden meals. While searching for ‘healthy food Florence’ online, I found the gluten-free restaurant Quinoa. A lovely restaurant tucked-away between construction sites in a cultural center, there was plenty of choice for a health food lover like me. Avocado-obsessed as I am, I chose the salad with guacamole as a starter and the gluten-free ravioli burro e salvia (ravioli with sage butter) as a main course. It was good!
Conveyer belt sushi
Still full from a massive pizza one day, I decided to have a few pieces of sushi for dinner in Kome, a kaiten (conveyer belt) sushi restaurant. In a place like this I find it hard to contain my urge to keep taking plates off the conveyer belt; I managed to stop after about six plates. Very modest, if you ask me. The Florentians are very proud of their cuisine, and rightly so, so there’s only a small amount of foreign specialty restaurants to be found in town: a few sushi restaurants, some Chinese, a few Thai and some Mexican restaurants.
I was staying in an apartment at Piazza Santa Croce, conveniently located in the heart of the city with restaurants and sights at walking distance. However, for work I had to go to Fortezza de Basso where the conference I was attending was being held. This was about a half an hour’s walk and I took this opportunity to see a lot of the city and to make some detours to several food markets in town. The central market (il mercato central) is an indoor food market close to the train station and San Lorenzo basilica. In the street next to it, there’s an outdoor market selling mostly leather bags (specialty of the area, but pay close attention to make sure that they are really Italian) and clothing. It’s probably the most touristic market, but lovely nonetheless. Sant’Ambrogio market appeared to be more in vogue with the locals and there I was greated with ‘buongiorno’ by merchants, which made me feel like I belonged there. Every tourist wants to fit in, right?
My recommendation for Florence is: don’t pig out on food before going, but plan a week of moderation beforehand, so you can indulge without feeling guilty once you are in Florence. It would be a shame not to!