I’m absolutely sure I could not culminate this wonderful Italian vacation in any other way than an art-filled and historic tour of Florence in the Tuscany region. The wife and I were looking forward to trying some new cuisine of Italy, more specifically the cuisines of Tuscany. This desire made for some interesting self-tours and more wonderful guided tours of this central Italian city. Florence was to be one of our most exciting adventures into yet another culinary world that, at this conclusion of this premium vacation, was one of our most enjoyed aspects of this trip, including learning pizza making from a real Italian chef.
Having been in Italy now for about 14 days, we have had our fill of Italian food. We had decided on trying some other ethnic foods in a different part of the world. We tried Japanese cuisine while in Sorrento; we even tried McDonald’s at one point to see if the Big Mac tasted the same or was any different, better or worse . . . it was pretty much the same. To highlight our Big Mac adventure, we almost got caught up in a guided tour to the restroom of the McDonald’s we visited . . . and yes they charge to use the restrooms here too. All of the public-type restrooms here in Italy have a caretaker and charge to visit. That’s ok because, for the most part, we know the bathrooms are kept clean and in decent repair.
Also, for much of our planning and throughout our trip thus far, we had heard stories about a lot of homeless persons that reside in Italy. Perhaps now having a better understanding of the homeless population (not otherwise noticeable), the homeless persons (we were told by a local) are generally those persons from Africa (often times Zimbabwe). They are the same persons actively attempting a persuasive conversation with you to part with some of your money on a trinket from Africa, an electronic device or selfie-stick (we bought both) and are otherwise elusive and seemingly harmless. We never saw any signs of homelessness similar to some of the encampments we are used to seeing and tolerating in the United States; or those individuals holding homeless signs on street corners like where we are from.
So, we had eaten at a Chinese food restaurant once in Florence. The food was very similar to that of the United States, but we had to point at pictures in the restaurant and also continuously verify our order with the sever. We were not seeing all of the items normally associated with Chinese food in the US, like where was the rice? Didn’t we order, cream-cheese wontons? Where is the stir-fry? I think we choked it all up to a communication gap (i.e. we were speaking English and our server was speaking ? . . . Chinese . . . ?) Anyways, we had been approached while dining on our good (almost the same as U.S., but better) Chinese food asking for handouts. We agreed to give him our leftovers since we were again in a hotel room without a microwave. We figured, what better if we could make someone else’s’ day. That person was very grateful and it made us feel good. That was our Chinese-food-in-Florence adventure.
The hotel we stayed was a recent addition to the Florence landscape. It was recently opened as The Student Hotel and was converted from an older factory building or something like that. The Student Hotel was very modern and updated with a fresh twist on traveling abroad. Highly recommended for those traveling throughout Europe as there are now several located in various countries.While visiting the (arguably the best view in Florence) pool deck of our hotel we met the owner of the hotel’s (4-star) restaurant. He recommended we visit his other restaurant located just a few blocks walk from our hotel. This was actually our first “fine dining” experience during our whole Italy visit other than in the Bari region for our farm-to-table cuisine at Tenuta Lama Gorga, but Gorga was mostly family style dining. Anyway, the hotel even had their own semi-professional quality kitchens for travelers or students to use. This hotel even made their own breads and pastries and at a customizably affordable price.
It’s now beginning to become funny, thinking of Italian food that we haven’t seen or tried. I’m sure there are several, but to understand the significance of the Italian cuisine amongst the remainder of other world cuisines is quite hard to fathom. There is just so much influence in my wife’s and my heritage and our family cooking; and understanding the history, the ingredients and the procedures used to prepare our daily cuisine. We would eat one thing and forget about the things from before, that we haven’t yet had. We would search and find that, then remember about another. Sounds confusing and it is . . . especially with the Argentinian influence from my wife’s side; now you may be able to better understand the significance of our stay in Little Argentina while in Rome. We ate a lot of food in Italy.
By this time in our travels, we had figured out a lot of stuff peculiar to Italy and rather quickly, peculiar to each region. I had begun to read when I could, what I could, about each region again as I had once learned during school. I would find information about the region and the cuisine and It would trigger recollections about what I had learned in school. The reality is that I had forgotten a lot more than I had learned. I was ok with that because as I began to recall things, I would generally be attracted to that specific aspect of our vacation and again find that particular attraction within the area that we were currently visiting. So it all kinda worked out.
Like the Steak Fiorentina; hailed throughout the land as something we have to try. Steak Fiorentina is a veal steak that is carefully rubbed, cared for and bottle fed to become the most tender steak in all of Italy. I don’t know if it was bottle fed, but it is hailed . . . as something to try. I really didn’t find it to be anything other than a very large Porterhouse Steak, grilled to perfection with just a hint of salt. But to be very honest, I could prepare just about the same product with the same results, if not better, at home, with much better potatoes, since that seemed to be what it is traditionally served with; but the potatoes this evening seemed to be just a filler with nothing noteworthy of any creativity. Perhaps the potatoes are better at other eateries. And, if you ask most anyone on the street (yes we did) about “where to get Steak Fiorentina, their response was always, “anywhere, they’re all good”. Yes, it was just a good steak; and Tony The Tiger was no where nearby.
As we had shopped, we began a fascination with the various stores and shops, their various products and services identified by their name (Patisserie, Porchetteria, Salsicceria, Pizza or Gelateria). We found this one Italian store that had several different culinary aspects contained within one store. We thought the Eataly name was interesting and went inside to find a plethora of Italian specialty foods, services, dining opportunities and culinary classes being offered. Once back in the United states, I found that there are several locations across the globe. I hope to visit a location in the United states to see the similarities to their Italian or European ancestry.
One of our things to do while in Italy was to attend a pizza making class. We had identified the difference between the Italian pie and it’s quite distant American ancestor (if it can be even be called family). We found that the pizza in Italy didn’t bring on the misery of morning-after pounds gained. It seemed that we could eat almost anything in Italy without somewhat of a significant weight gain. Perhaps the amount of walking had restricted the amount of calories remaining in the body at the end of each day. Perhaps it was just healthier foods with less American influenced preservatives infused into each ingredient or plate presented.
We again used the local tourist offices along the streets to schedule for a pizza making class. I had thought our Chef-instructor Thomas was great. Chef Thomas will hopefully be visiting next year as he has been invited to stay during his U.S. tour. Chef Thomas had explained the process of pizza making in very simple (Barney-style) terms that reminded me of attending culinary skills class. That’s where everything was explained in very basic terms so the youngest or most modest cooking student would be able to participate. It allowed me to find segments of the instruction where I had began to recal things from my culinary schooling days. It was great refresher and I had since found that it was very helpful at making my pies something to be reckoned with.
One of the first regionally identifiable foods that I ran into in Florence was the Biscotti. Again, I had almost forgot about them, but just after I had realized they had been one of the missing Italian foods, there they were . . . and with the espresso, made an even more precious experience. I thought it interesting once I had a chance to sit and recall our vacation’s events, that each time I had stood drinking my espresso shot at the counter, I had also never thought about the Biscotti being missing from the pastry cases of danishes, macrons and whatnots. Then, once in Florence realized at the last moment that the Biscottis, and many types of them, were there for my consumption. The Biscotti, was the dessert of Florence for me . . . and another several moments of a truly wonderful vacation.
Of course, no trip to Florence would be complete without a trip to see David. Do this with a tour and you will be filled with the wonderful stories of its sculpter and the story of Goliath.
One more night passing through Rome on our way back to the United States and we were fortunate enough to have the winning bids for Business Class seats for the eleven hour flight home.