by Ananda Pellerin
When visitors walk through the sliding doors into Florence’s Mercato Centrale they are immediately hit by the earthy smell of truffles. The intoxicating scent is emanating from the Savini Tartufi counter, where they have (among other things) a giant white truffle at the “special price” of €3,000. Wandering a little deeper, the sights, sounds and delicious aromas of the newly constructed food court—located above the city’s famous 141-year-old central produce market in the heart of the San Lorenzo district, a stone’s throw from the Duomo—are entirely exciting. Giant wheels of cheese hang like heraldic crests, a wine shop offers what seems like countless chiantis and there’s a new cooking school named after Lorenzo de’Medici (aka “The Magnificent”).
Finally making use of the historic market’s upstairs area that had been dormant for years, Mercato Centrale is a welcome update that has the foodies flocking. This upstairs dining hall has seating for 500, and an amenable atmosphere that encourages lingering, slow sipping and sampling from the various vendors. Independent sellers offer a mix of traditional and revamped versions of the region’s greatest hits: hamburgers from La Grande Bianca are made with Tuscany’s famous Chianina beef, Il Fritto e le Polpette serve warming ribollita (a hearty traditional Tuscan soup), La Pizzeria makes super fresh pizzas. There’s a roving buffalo mozzarella cart and even some vegan eats, plus a large central bar, grocery store, gift shop and book stall full of slow food tomes.
Il Lampredotto specializes in Florence’s hand-held delicacy, from which it also gets its name. A crusty bun filled with slow-stewed tripe (unbleached, from the lower intestines), the sandwich is dipped in drippings and is then doused in salsa verde. “A perfect sandwich,” says the man assembling these Tuscan treats. He isn’t kidding; the delicately-textured lampredotto here is remarkable.
Several young producers and service staff ply their trade at Mercato Centrale—a meaningful fact in a country that has upwards of 40% youth unemployment. The space is lit by what looks like thousands of ensorcelling blue and red cubes. In winter it’s kept warm by heaters and plastic tenting, which brings a space-picnic vibe to the proceedings. At long tables throughout, tourists mingle with locals; groups of well-dressed people watch the Florence vs. Venice football match, while young couples canoodle over shared plates. Whether stopping for a snack, shopping for ingredients or just wandering through, it’s a place alive and bustling with people who all share one common passion: food.
Located at Piazza del Mercato Centrale, Via dell’Ariento, Mercato Centrale is open daily from 10AM to midnight.
Lampredotto image by Ananda Pellerin, all other images courtesy of Mercato Centrale