Smack in the middle of San Lorenzo square, 10 minutes or so from the center of Florence, you’ll find yourself confronted with a soaring structure of iron and glass, the Mercato Centrale. Opened in 1874, Florence’s central market might not be a renaissance masterpiece, but it contains just as much of the Florentine spirt as any work by Michelangelo, Titian or Donatello that you’ll encounter in this thriving Italian city.
When you enter the market on the ground floor, you’re surrounded by pretty much anything a typical Italian cook would require, from fresh fruits and veggies, to gourmet oils, vinegar, regional cheeses and proteins, including every part of an animal that you could imagine. As a foreigner, the abundance of artisan ingredients all in one place is a feast for the senses. This is how they eat in Tuscany, simple food made with fantastic quality products.
Despite being a colorful place to visit as a tourist, this market caters to the locals. At any given time you’ll find people chatting with their usual vendors and going about their daily business. For the uninitiated, shopping here seems anything but ordinary; when’s the last time you saw a butcher throw a piece of meat over the counter to a lucky neighborhood dog?
While daily interactions at the Mercato Centrale are usually between Florentines, the vendors are just as friendly with visitors as they are with the people who’ve been buying from them for years. Stop by one of the knowledgeable cheesemongers and drool over their amazing selection of products, better yet, buy some, they are likely to offer samples to aid you in choosing something.
Once you’ve had your fill of the humble Italian grocery experience, ascend to the mezzanine level of the market and explore the newly opened gastro-exhibition space that’s attracting everyone from long-time gourmands to new-age foodies. A carefully curated selection of 12 artisan brands nestle into workshops where contemporary architecture contrasts with ornate ironwork. Take your time and browse around to bring food home or eat on the spot, with offerings like freshly made pasta by Raimondo Mendolia and fried snacks like meatballs, zucchini flowers and artichokes from Il Fritto e Le Polpette, who could resist? If you’re thirsty, you can choose between wine from the comprehensive selection at the enoteca by Chianti Classico, a refreshing Birra Moretti at the birreria, an espresso at the cafe and more. As if all of that weren’t enough, there’s also a space for cooking classes, a wine school and a bookshop.
From buying your produce from a 4th generation shopkeeper to sipping on a glass of Prosecco at the sleek bar upstairs, there is something for everyone at the Mercato Centrale. In a 140 year old structure, history meets modernity to combine with grace and impact. It’s easy for a food lover to loose themselves here and, thanks to the market’s international shipping services, you can even bring a bit of the Mercato Centrale home with you.