Ask any Italian why food is so important to them and they’ll tell you that food is an expression of love; it is a way of life, reflective of tradition, landscape and culture. Food is an integral part of every Italian’s roots and every region, town and village is staunchly proud of its age old recipes and dishes that still appear on local family tables day after day.
Little wonder then that Italy has some of the most wonderful markets in the world when it comes to food. Bursting with colour, filled with smells and tastes that will have your head spinning, and buzzing with flamboyant exchanges between customer and stall holder, these markets are a literal feast for all the senses.
Florence markets take the concept to yet another level and here we want to introduce the Tuscan capital’s favourite: Mercato San Lorenzo. This market in Florence began as one but has evolved into two separate sections: a food section indoors and a clothes and souvenir section outdoors.
To visit Mercato Centrale with Walkabout Florence book a place:
Mercato San Lorenzo – Mercato Centrale
As far as Florence markets go, this is one of the most historic. Full to overflowing, the covered setting invites locals and tourists alike to revel in all it has to offer. Quality is key here and you’ll find all manner of produce from Tuscany and the neighbouring regions.
It’s the perfect place to shop for our cookery course, as it introduces you to the range of different ingredients, allows the opportunity to liaise with local producers and gives you an idea of how locals shop and cook. The energy borders on chaotic but that’s the thrill of this wonderful spot that has stood here for 150 years.
While the market itself is a spectacle, you cannot ignore the building that houses it. Built in 1870, by Giuseppe Mengoni (who also designed the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II), the magnificent glass and wrought iron ceiling that shelters the spacious interior is an eye-catching feature. Fusing tradition, class and modern design, the awesome structure is reflective of the typical European architecture of its time; think loggias, arches and a bright airy interior. Bordered by covered arcades that were built to protect shoppers from the elements, the stalls line up around four corners of the square building. Most of the stalls sell only one type of foodstuff, be it cheese, fish, bread, salami or vegetables. This is because the stallholders are usually small family run businesses specialising in the production and provision of the one thing they make on their farm, grow on their land or produce as part of their livelihood.
Unfortunately, in the late 20th century this Florence market began to decline in popularity and indeed many markets in other countries disappeared at this time. The advent of the superstores meant that shoppers opted for convenience more and more and began to see the benefits of buying everything under one roof. On top of this, the concept of Airbnb took off and this meant that there were fewer locals in town to use the market so the trade dwindled. Tourists staying in Florence were much less likely to cook for themselves and instead frequented the restaurants and cafes, as opposed to the markets; they were on holiday after all! Thankfully the place hung on long enough to give it a chance to be rescued. A new lease of life was injected into San Lorenzo Mercato in 2014, when Mercato Centrale was founded on the top floor.
The idea behind this was to introduce a gourmet food hall into the city’s market. It is privately run by a company that leases out food stalls and kitchens to makers of quality Italian food. The same company has also had huge success at Rome’s main market, which was its first venture. Hugely attractive to tourists and locals, the venue soon became a top attraction once more. It’s great news for our cookery tours too, as it means we can take our guests into Florence for the full on cultural eating and buying experience; an authentic encounter that has changed little in decades.
Mercato Centrale Today
A definite highlight on our cookery tour, a visit to this market is as exciting as it is delicious. Many stallholders tempt you with samples and you are more than welcome to ask to try before you buy. With the new top floor and its gastronomic extravaganza, you can also enjoy a post shopping lunch and everyone can choose something different from the many exciting vendors.
Top Tip: It gets busy so arrive early if you want the full cultural experience and a spot at one of the long tables.
The idea behind this, the most famous of all Florence markets, is that traders guarantee the quality of their produce. The organisers can then pass on this guarantee to the customers who support it. Every trader is here because they’re passionate about what they sell and their commitment is demonstrated in every sale they make. Attention to detail, customer service and tradition are paramount, and each and every stallholder knows their produce inside out, from its characteristics, origin and history to its traceability and production. Rest assured that you are in good hands if you’re in doubt about which pasta goes with that slow cooked ragu you love to make, which cheese will suit your favourite Chianti or what salami you should buy your dad who is a somewhat fussy eater!
Florence Market Top Spots
Perini: High-quality salami, prosciutto, and other cold-cuts. Pick up a sarnie to go here too.
Pany da Lory: Crusty, sweet and savoury baked specialties of the Alto Adige region – the smells are incredible.
Da Nerbone: Bollito (boiled meat) sandwiches, tripe stew, and wine by the glass.
Baroni: Parmigiano, goat cheese, buffalo mozzarella and more – plus wine of course!
Savini Tartufi (Truffles): Try the tagliolini topped with shaved black truffles – heaven!
La Pasta Fresca di Raimondo Mendolia: Pick your pasta then choose your sauce – rustic simplicity.
La Frittura di Valeria Rugi: Fried delights, including fried sage and fried polenta – delicious!
San Lorenzo Outdoor Market
The outer part of San Lorenzo market is also a haven for shoppers, although the goods sold here are not edible. If leather, souvenirs, clothing, pottery, bags, belts and gadgets are your thing, then it is definitely worth a look. Located on the outskirts of the indoor section, the stalls run along the streets surrounding Mercato Centrale. Goods here range from cheap to very expensive and the general rule is that you get what you pay for. If you’re savvy you can get some lovely things here and it’s a wonderful place for picking up holiday souvenirs for friends and families back home.
Top Tip: Feel free to bargain and try to grab a deal. Many items are priced up as vendors expect people to haggle a little.
It is wonderful news that the Historic Central Market Consortium are being so proactive with regards to the future of this cultural hub that is so ingrained in the fabric of local society. Recently they have changed the name of the bottom floor to SLoWrenzo Storico Mercato Centrale; the idea is to reinforce the identity of the place as somewhere for Florentines as well as visitors and to remind people of the philosophy of the market; quality artisan food produced and sold with love, passion and care. The new name is being advertised on taxis around the city and has received lots of press too.
The Consortium are keen to keep the market central to Florentine life and have recently launched an initiative that allows locals to collect a card giving them 10% off shopping from some stalls on the ground floor. The card lasts from January through until the end of June. Locals will also get discounted parking if they show a receipt to prove they are buying their groceries on site.
Other initiatives include a drive to go plastic free (they are now selling canvas bags that are hard wearing and can be used instead of plastic bags) and the organisation of events, such as the Palio della Trippa where home cooks compete with their tripe recipes in front of chefs and journalists.
For Florentines and people coming to visit this magnificent city, it is such positive news that this historic place is so well supported and remains such a focal point. When it comes to touching the heart of a city’s culture, there is nothing quite like brushing shoulders with the locals and chatting to stall holders in a market setting.
If this has got your taste buds tingling and you fancy yourself on a Tuscan cookery course that includes a trip to this iconic foodie haven, be sure to get in touch with us.
We Are Walkabout Florence
Here at Walkabout Florence, we want all of our clients to have the opportunity to touch the very heart of this magnificent part of Italy. Food is ingrained in every part of Italian culture and our guides and drivers are bursting with local knowledge that they are always very keen to share. The chef who teaches on the wonderful cookery course at a farmhouse in Tuscany takes great pride in passing on some traditional Italian dishes and cooking techniques, and will have you as excited as a child in a sweet shop when you go to visit our most favourite of Florence markets. This city is a wonderful one to be based in too, so book now and get the most out of your Tuscan adventure.