Florence, Food, Fresh made pasta, Italy 2014

The Florence Journals: My morning at the Mercato Centrale (Central Market Square)

This cool, crisp autumn morning is fresh and clean following yesterday’s rain. Colors seem more vivid in the sunlight and I am in the mood for a walk. It’s supposed to rain again this afternoon. I head to the central market past the Duomo. There are stands selling leather goods and souvenirs outside. I walk through them to calls of “bella biondi” (beautiful blonde) from the salesmen trying to hawk their wares. I am too easily enthralled by the beautiful scarves, the smell of the leather handbags, the Firenze Universita’ sweatshirts, the woven bracelets, the masks. Tourist shopping will have to wait for another day. Today I want to shop at the fresh food market.

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I am told that here the food is organic. That those who run the stands are selling produce from their personal farms or from collaboratives. I am told that they have made the pasta and baked the bread themselves. I love the notion of purchasing fresh food from those who grow and cultivate it. I walk the entire ground floor first taking in the sights. The room is a huge, open warehouse. Some merchants have very well appointed and designed stands. Others have rough hewn tables laid out with food in a seemingly haphazard fashion. There are stands which sell bottled fresh olive oils and balsamic vinegars who entice me with invitations to taste. There is a fresh pasta stand where in a glassed in area behind the display counter, workers in aprons, hair nets, and gloves, make pasta from scratch.

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There are fresh fruit and vegetables vendors, some run by well dressed women and men, others by those who look like they came straight from the fields. There are prepackaged items. There are butchers who both display their prized cuts of meat or cut something for the client’s desired specifications. Each merchant has her or his own approach to displaying their goods; each stand has its own personality.  The way customers are greeted varies as well. Some merchants are effusive and friendly, inviting me in. Others talk with friends and family and during a break in conversation, take care of customers. Still others are hard to reach, hard to purchase from. I feel as if I am interrupting them by trying to buy their products. This market also seems to be a social venue for the merchants. I am delighted to shop here. It reminds me of shopping at the markets in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia.

After walking the full market, I walk again, deciding what I want to purchase and from whom. I purchase tagliatelli from the fresh pasta stand. The woman behind the counter taking off her gloves to fill a small bag with pasta for me using her bare hand. I purchase cherry tomatoes from a friendly grocer and lemons from an old man with smiling eyes.

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I purchase bread from a young woman who responds with confidence when I ask her what bread she thinks is the most delicious.

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As I am preparing to leave, I am stopped in my tracks by the sweet smell of ripe peaches. My mouth waters and I turn back. A smiling man gestures toward me with a plate filled with juicy peach slices I can’t resist. The peach is warm, soft, juicy, delicious. I buy two. My rule here is to buy only what I can eat in a day or so (also only what I can carry as I walk everywhere and have to be able to schlep it up the hill to my apartment). I am satisfied with my purchases for today. The market is open until 2 pm daily. I will be back.

I head back toward the Duomo in search of a coffee shop where I can enjoy a cappuccino and a crescent. It has started to rain again. Perhaps I will find an indoor café for now.

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