During his year studying in Florence, Italy, Josiah Kahiu discovered that the best lunches were the ones that looked the least appetising and came with a plastic glass of red wine.
When I first arrived in Florence to start my wine education, I came to the conclusion that if I were to make the most of my year there, the best way to kick it off was with an intense cultural immersion.
What better way to start this shock therapy than food, I thought to myself, as on my first day in town I ventured out on a mission to discover what the locals considered a traditional lunch fare. It soon became obvious there were two essential rules that I had to follow. Rule one: avoid the tourist trap restaurants with the guys hustling you to go in and buy a meal. Rule two: venture out of your comfort zone. These two rules led me to a street cart located in an outdoor food market called Sant’ Ambrogio. Embossed on the cart were the words Lampredotto and panini. Little did I know, I had found the Florentine king of sandwiches.
For those of you who are wondering what lampredotto is, this is not a dish for the faint-hearted. Lampredotto is tripe, specifically the fourth and final part of a cow’s stomach. My first impression of Lampredotto was underwhelming to put it mildly. It looked ugly. How can this slimy, wobbly blob that kind of looks like brain emerging from a pot of fatty liquid be palatable, was the question running through my mind.
I stood and observed the proceedings. As the trippaio (tripe vendor) serves up a crusty bun sliced in two, you are offered two choices. These are bagnato (half dipped in broth) or with salsa verde (a green sauce made with parsley, egg, anchovies and capers). After frustrating the trippaio with all my questions, I eventually dived in and ordered one with extra green sauce. As I prepared to bite into the bun for the first time, the trippaio gave me a knowing look and I was momentarily afraid he was playing some kind of middle-aged joke on me.
Still uncertain, my first thought was how can someone eat this surrounded by such divine beauty. The answer, it turned out, was simple: biting into a lampredotto sandwich is in itself a divine experience.
Costing somewhere in the region of €3 (a steal for overpriced Florence), I quickly came to acquire a fondness for this sandwich. Wrapped in plastic to keep all the juices in, my daily struggle to keep a clean face while devouring my panino was mitigated by the knowledge that everyone else around me was combatting with the exact same problem. Add to the meal a €2 plastic cup filled to the brim with the local Sangiovese wine, and I soon came to realise why this sandwich is king in Florence. Simple and delicious, everything in it is produced locally including the side of wine. It is also the affordable, filling, lunch option, especially for a wine student like me, who spent most of his monthly budget on the object of his studies.
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