Written by Jonathan Turpin
Wandering half-lost through picturesque cobbled streets, the smells as well as the sights of traditional Florence take the breath away. Just as in medieval times the imposing and narrow architecture of the city leads to intense aromas of marketplaces and cooking. The celebrated result of much of this is the must-try (although vegetarians need not apply!) tripe sandwich or “panino lampredotto”. Named after the lamprey eel it resembles, lampredotto is stewed offal served with spicy sauce on flour semelle bread roll. Lampredotto can be found at many street kiosks (trippai) for a cheap but filling authentic local meal. Recently it has even been served in Florence’s Michelin star restaurants, such as Borgo San Jacopo and Ora d’Aria. However, this is a far cry from lampredotto’s unfussy working-class historical origins, reflecting how Florence was transformed from mercantile to magnificent during The Medici Dynasty.
Surrounded by the beautiful buildings and flamboyant fashion of Florence today, it is easy to assume that the city has always had a gourmet cuisine to match. Yet long before the Medici family bankrolled Renaissance transformed Florence into the art capital of Europe, it had been a small city of humble skilled trades and no-frills food. Since Julius Caesar’s army veterans founded the flowering province it had been an unpretentious city of commerce. By the 1200’s the richer merchants had organised themselves into prosperous guilds with private banquets and towers. The working-class majority of the population lived far poorer lives as they were excluded from forming guilds. This early example of class division led to the invention of the lampredotto sandwich, Florence’s most widely consumed local delicacy.
The butchers, farmers, and leather makers of this popolo minuto could neither afford nor prepare the elaborate feasts of guilds. Therefore they instead chose to popularise the more utilitarian lampredotto dish which was cheap and quick for everybody to eat. Workers boiled the fourth stomach of the cow (abomasum) with local herbs and vegetables before serving in a bread roll. The meat was typically tripe leftover after the cow had already been skinned and butchered for more expensive parts. Born out of necessity it soon became the favourite dish of hungry sailors and merchants by the river Arno. Cheap yet filling “takeaway”, lampredotto became the working-class alternative to the lavish and formal banquets patronised by guilds and Renaissance artists. Over the centuries communal meals such as lampredotto, ribollita, and trippa fuelled the army of builders and traders who provided a labour backbone for the likes of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Brunelleschi and Michelangelo to create their rich legacy.
Our top suggestions
Ditta Eredi Nigro Borgo San Frediano, 72
Sergio Pollini Lampredotto, Via de’Macci, angolo con Borgo la Croce
“Da Simone” la buticche del Lampredotto, Piazza dei Nerli
Trippaio del Porcellino, Piazza Del Mercato Nuovo, angolo Via Capaccio
Lupen e Margo, Via dell’Ariento