One of the things I love most about traveling, or the aspect that’s maybe most important to me, is being able to discover a culture through its food. Every region and every city has a unique dish or specialty all its own. Even in the U.S., certain states are known for certain staples: beignets in New Orleans, lobster and clam chowder in Massachusetts and Maine, Tex-Mex in Texas.
That’s why it’s always a must on my list to search out the best local restaurants when I’m visiting a new place. Trying a dish that’s enjoyed by the local population helps me feel like I’ve been able to connect to their culture, or at least understand it a little bit.
So I’m sure by now you’ve guessed I’ve eaten at a traditional restaurant at least once on this tour. In addition to the dinners that are included in our tour (which are, of course, chosen for their traditional dishes and local flair), I’ve searched out a few other restaurants that have given me an even greater insight into the culinary scene in Italy.
La Caffe Italiana, Florence
A friend of a friend (who studied in Florence) provided me with this recommendation, so when I had some free time on one day in Florence I managed to stop by for lunch. The place was just what I was looking for: small, but full of Italians—and the whole menu was in Italian! I ordered the pesto gnocchi, which was unreal. Maybe my favorite dish of the trip so far, and that’s saying a lot.
Villa Fiesole, Fiesole
This optional excursion dinner started with a visit to a lookout point at the top of Fiesole, where you could see all of Florence stretched out below. We sipped an aperitif on the restaurant patio, watching the sunset. Dinner itself was incredible; we had a three-course dinner centered around Mediterranean fish. We started with a moscardini bruschetta, a calamari and pasta soup (my goodness, that pasta was delicious) and enjoyed a Mediterranean sea bass for the entree, complete with fresh grilled vegetables and roasted potatoes. It was a really nice change of pace from all the bread and pasta we’ve been eating; a fresh, lighter meal that still felt authentically Italian.
La Osteria del via Rossio, Siena
Our Tour Director recommended this gem, not far from the Piazza del Campo. Since Siena is actually known for wild boar, I ordered a plate of it in a chocolate sauce with pine nuts and raisins. The sauce was similar to a Mexican mole sauce, and the boar was fall-off-the-bone tender. It was a good surprise, and something I would have never ordered if I wasn’t visiting Siena.
Melissa is tasting her way through Food & Wine: Flavors of Tuscany and Umbria. Follow along as she checks off all of her food-centric to-dos.