Food markets are the heart of any city. You tend to miss out a lot when you miss visiting the food market in any city. A food market is the centre of the city and it tells you a lot about the food culture and produce of that city or region. The San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale in Florence is no exception.
Although the food market in Florence is a tourist attraction in its own right and attracts a large amount of tourists, the quality of the produce on offer also gives you a direct insight into Florentine and in particular Tuscan cuisine. If you are not into food, it is still worth visiting for its architecture.
This old market is an architecturally interesting building that was built by Giuseppe Mengoni, the same architect who created the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. The market inaugurated in 1874 was inspired by the Les Halles de Paris. Its glass and iron combination ensures that light comes in naturally and allows the amazing colours of the splendid produce from fruits and vegetables, to pecorino toscano, salamis and hams from the region as well as a great selection of Tuscan wines to shine.
What I found interesting on a recent visit to this market was the number of stalls that were selling trippa (tripe) and offal which you rarely find in butcher shops nowadays. Tuscan cuisine, adored around the world is as the locals tell you a simple and rustic cuisine or ‘cucina povera’ and the stalls selling offal and tripe are a reflection of this philosophy of cooking.
In an age where people are becoming more aware of food waste, it is great to see such use of all produce even if you get the feeling that many home cooks these days have lost the ability to cook or are afraid to use these cuts.
The market has a stall selling fresh pasta which is made on the spot, lots of vegetable stalls with amazing colours of the freshest ingredients like the splendid funghi porcini which are currently in season. A part of the market sells fish while you can also get a sandwich with tripe from one of the stalls on the ground floor.
On the first floor you find a number of restaurants and places where you can eat. These include butcher shops selling their cooked produce, a pizzeria, a fish restaurant, lots of meat shops (we are in the land of Bistecca Fiorentina and porchetta after all) and a place specialising in truffles among others. There is also a vendor selling the freshest mozzarella di bufala campana going around. On the first floor you can also find Eataly selling excellent Italian produce from around Italy as well as a book store specialising in food related books. You can pick up your favourite dishes and sit in the centre of the market where there are many tables with stools or benches. On this floor, there is also a cooking school.
The first floor section, called mercato centrale, was opened in spring 2014 to mark the 140th anniversary of the iron and glass building erected in 1874. The aim of the project was to revive an area of the city that had been left deserted for many years. It was aimed at bringing people back to a highly important and vibrant piece of Florence’s old centre.
The market is open from 7am to 2pm between Monday and Friday and on 7am to 5pm on Saturday (not in the summer months). The dining area is open every day from 10am to midnight.
If you are in Florence, then this is a must visit.