The Culinary Word on the Street
by Tania Zampini
“Street Food” is a buzzword that has taken over North American urban settings in the past five years. Every city claims trendsetter status, but few remember that behind every food truck –" and its chef –" is the legacy of a cross-cultural inheritance.
In Italy, the only thing older than “street food” is a homemade meal. And in Italy, despite every stereotype surrounding the rhythm of daily life –" don’t Italians take really long lunch breaks? It must be so nice to picnic in a piazza on your lunch hour –" getting food on-the-go is always a popular option, and not just for tourists.
The type of street food you find in Italy will depend on the city hosting you, and it will almost never come out of a food truck. When in Rome (and doing as the Romans do), picking up a Roman pizza or pizza ripiena from a local bakery –" or forno –" is the way to go. In the streets and on the beaches of Emilia-Romagna and the Marches region, piadine –" somewhere between quesadillas and wraps stuffed with your selection of cheese, vegetables, and cold cuts –" are the people’s choice. Sicilians prefer arancini –" or stuffed rice balls –" and, at one euro fifty each, so do the tourists who flock there on vacation.
In Florence, street food has come to mean a variety of things not limited to regional specialties (geographically) or the pausa pranzo (temporally). Every time of day, every occasion, every social gathering calls for a different category of street food from the most universal to the most typical of Florence and its surrounding areas.
Tuscans are known the world over for their salumi (cured meats) and cheeses. Popular at both lunch and dinner time is the typical Tuscan panino: usually a combination of a cold cut –" Tuscan salame, prosciutto cotto or crudo; a type of cheese –" pecorino, fontina, stracchino; a vegetable –" arugula, eggplant, pepper; and, occasionally, a sauce –" truffle oil, pesto. Grab-and-go kiosks and decades-old storefront establishments are set up throughout the city centre to cater to students and the business crowd alike.
Lampredotto, trippa, porchetta
The easiest way to make contact with Florentine locals is to find the nearest lampredottaio and make an afternoon of it there. Lampredotto and trippa, or cow’s intestines boiled in water flavoured with tomatoes, onions, and parsley, are both peasant’s dishes that have remained current over the years. Served on crusty bread dipped in their respective broths, they constitute the lunchtime dish most favoured by strict adherents to the Tuscan tradition, and are most frequently served up at specific stands both street-side and in the market place. Generally found alongside them is another crowd favourite: porchetta. Not exclusive to Tuscany but typical of central Italy, porchetta is a cut of fatty pork roast packed into a bun and dressed to clients’ desires.
In Florence, they’re known as sudici " “dirty stands” –" or worse, but always affectionately. Set up as semi-permanent stands near stadiums, hippodromes, or national parks, they serve panini, foccacce, and schiacce almost any time of day, and are among the few places open well into the late hours of the night. Accordingly, they’ve acquired a reputation as after-hours places for younger crowds: spots to find substantial food at a low price after a (long and eventful) night out on the town.
In the past ten years especially, kebabs –" as a stand-out dish of Lebanese and Turkish cuisine –" have become something of a staple of the Italian diet. Kebab shops have been opening and growing with rapid-fire success throughout all of Italy, where old and young alike gather for a taste away from their everyday cuisine. Florence has so many kebab shops that publications like Te la do io Firenze have even compiled lists of their favourite kebab places. Popular late at night or on the weekends, kebabs are slowly coming to replace pizza as the universal quick bite to eat on a busy social schedule.
Available both at their own stands and at established sudici throughout the city are Italy’s all-time favourite street food, from north to south: sausage panini. Grilled or boiled sausages are served up on a typical panino with roasted red peppers, sautéed onions, and spicy mustard. This specific variant on Italian street food has found fortune overseas, too: look for typical sausage stands in any North American city with a sizable Italian population –" Montreal and Toronto have a few, too!