All Who Wander: Florence and Venice
Recently, I made my first trip back to Italy after six years. I had visited Rome and Florence briefly when I was living in the UK, and with my sister studying outside of Manchester, we decided to meet in Florence and Venice for a family vacation. My parents and sister had never been to Italy before, but were enthusiastic about the prospect of eating pasta and gelato for a week straight.
You know I'm not going to bother telling you about any of the things I saw, right? The churches were nice and I went to some museums and sure, the gondola ride was fun. But this trip wasn't about any of that. It was about eating and drinking until I felt like I was going to die, and then getting dessert.
Obviously, I didn't list every single thing I ate and drank here. But I did include my favorites, and spoiler alert! They are very carb-heavy.
Taste Florence food tour
If you're planning on splurging on one thing during your stay in Florence, treat yourself to this tour. It's a bit pricey (about $89 per adult), but more than worth it. Your tour guide will show you some of the best places to eat and drink in downtown Florence, and load you up with samples along the way. Sandwiches, pastries, meats, pastas, cheeses, olive oils, balsamics, wine, prosecco, chocolates; you'll basically eat and learn about Italian food for four hours. This was the highlight of my entire trip.
Semel Street Food
Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti, 44, 50122
I had read about Semel online, and once my food tour guide confirmed that it was one of the best places in the city to grab a sandwich, I knew I had to check it out. This tiny shop only has enough seats at the counter for four or five people, so try to get there early or get ready to eat on the street. Either way, it's worth it. The owner is extremely nice (and speaks perfect English), and these small €4 sandwiches are the perfect light lunch or afternoon snack. I went with pear, cheese and truffle, with a €1 glass of house wine, naturally.
FN Pasta Fresca
Mercato Centrale, 50123
I will eat giant plates of €5 pasta all day long. This stall on the ground floor of the Mercato Centrale is only open until 2 pm, so you'll have to go for breakfast or lunch pasta. The pasta is handmade and out of this world. I went for the ravioli al limone (ravioli stuffed with cheese and lemon, topped with oil and more cheese), but their gnocchi were also incredible.
Gelateria Perché No!
Via dei Tavolini, 19r, 50122
I ate a lot of gelato for, uh, research purposes, and they are definitely not all created equal. Here's a quick way to figure out if a gelateria is worth your time: check out the pistachio. If it's an unnatural shade of green, keep moving. Perché No! happened to have an amazing pistachio, along with a bunch of unique flavors like lavender and green tea (and, of course, your typical stuff).
Mercato Centrale, 50123
I went to Florence with one goal: I would get my hands on a lampredotto, a sandwich made from a cow's stomach that's a traditional Florentine street food. I was sent to Da Nerbone, where the sandwich maker knew only one English phrase: "beef or stomach?" I'm not squeamish, and I thought the stomach was delicious, tucked inside a crunchy little roll and topped with salsa verde and a spicy red sauce and dipped in an au jus. But I'll admit, it's got a funky texture, so if the thought of it turns your "stomach" (hehe), stick to the beef. Also, this little beauty will only set you back €4.
Enoteca Rio Marin
Fondamenta Rio Marin, 847/d, 30125 Santa Croce
Venice is an incredibly touristy city, which can make finding a legit place to eat a little difficult. Enoteca Rio Marin is in the Santa Croce neighborhood, and slightly off of the beaten path. The restaurant owner was incredibly nice and spoke no English whatsoever, but it's amazing what a lot of smiling and pointing can do. They have a ridiculously good and ridiculously cheap house white wine (€6 for a carafe!!!), and my seafood carbonara was packed with all types of little ocean critters. Plus, our waiter was pretty heavy-handed with the limoncello pours at the end of the meal.
Sestiere San Polo 436, 30125
Just be prepared to eat in an alley, because there's no way you're getting counter space in this tiny and incredibly popular cicchetti shop. But that's part of the fun! Cicchetti are like little open-face sandwiches, and the ones here were topped with all manner of seafood and meats. My favorites were the cod salad and the shrimp. This is a great place for lunch; we got 10 cicchetti and a glass of prosecco for less than €30.
Il Paradiso Perduto
Fondamenta Misericordia, 2540, 30100 Cannaregio
If you're going out for dinner in Venice, you're probably going to want to make a reservation; restaurants fill up fast. Il Paradiso Perduto was a fairly large restaurant, and it was packed the entire time we were there. And I do mean packed; don't expect to have a ton of room to yourself. But it's worth it for the giant platters of pasta and seafood they're serving up. Again, very few members of their staff spoke English, so prepare to translate the menu yourself. Or, to make it easy on yourself, just order anything with seafood in it. My squid ink pasta, my mother's seafood pasta and my sister's plate of fried seafood were all drool-inducing. Plus, they had decent prices on the food and house wine, a rarity for ultra-expensive Venice.