When I received my acceptance email for The Wandering Scholar and saw the words “Cuisine and Culture of Italy,” a giant smile spread across my face. Coming from a family that rarely eats anything but Pakistani food, I was thrilled to be part of a trip that emphasized my exposure to traditional Italian cuisine. As excited as I was, I am going to admit that I was a bit worried too. Aside from the delectable pasta and pizza, Italy has a lot of food that includes meat. I can’t expect halal meat to be available everywhere I go, so I will be adopting a pescatarian diet for the trip. Not only do I love my roasted chicken, but not being able to eat the meat of farm animals significantly reduces my meal options…or so I thought.
Breakfast options in Italy tend to be great for the vegetarian diet. Italians, like much of the world’s population, prefer lighter breakfasts. Coffee, some cookies, and fruit are common breakfast foods throughout Italy. Another terrific breakfast option is a cornetto, or croissant. Though it is not unique to Italy, bread with a buttery taste is popular throughout the peninsula.
For lunch and dinner, dishes that include meat, like the Bistecca Alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak), are very popular. However, there are also a variety of delicious vegetarian options. A dish that I am particularly interested in tasting is “Tagliatelle Funghi Porcini e Tartufo”, which is pasta tossed in mushroom sauce and pieces of vegetable. Another traditional dish, Ribollita, is a soup comprised of stale bread, tomatoes, beans, and other in-season vegetables.
Speaking of bread, restaurants in Florence usually serve bread that may taste bland, with a hard, dense crust. This taste occurs because the bread lacks salt. Back in the days of the Medici family, a feud broke out between the parts of Florence that the Medici family ruled, and Pisa, a port in Tuscany. Pisa cut the salt supply to Florence, and as a result, bakers had to start making bread without salt. Even today, the bread in Florence is baked without salt. Italians do love their traditions!
Now if you truly want to get an authentic taste of the traditional foods of Florence, you must try some street food. Two popular options are lampredotto and trippa. Both are sandwiches made from the edible parts of the stomachs of farm animals. Lampredotto is made from the final stomach of a cow. Don’t get too squeamish-judging by how popular it is among native Florentines, I’m sure both dishes taste great.
Last, but in no way least, is the gelato in Florence. Gelato is a lot like ice-cream, but gelato contains more milk and less cream than ice-cream. Know the numbness in your mouth that you get when you’re eating ice-cream? You won’t have to worry about that as gelato is served at a higher temperature than ice-cream. Here are some quick tips for buying gelato in Italy: avoid buying gelato from street vendors, because their gelato is often made with artificial ingredients. If you want to try the pistachio gelato, which I certainly will do, make sure the color is no brighter than a dull green; a brighter green is usually indicative of a lower quality gelato.
Is your stomach growling? Mine sure is. It’s a comfort to know that there will be more than enough vegetarian options for me to choose from and that my sugar cravings will be met. Just imagine: walking over the Ponte Vecchio at sunset, with some soft Stracciatella gelato melting in your mouth. What could be more perfect?