Saveur

TRIPE AND TRUFFLES AND 7 OTHER WAYS TO LOVE FLORENCE

1 Fall in love with lampredotto

OF ALL THE SENSORIAL DELIGHTS AVAILable in the overstimulating tourist trap that is Florence—making out in the moonlight on the Ponte Vecchio; communing with Botticellis and Donatellos; pairing fire-charred Chianina bisteccas with back vintages of Le Pergole Torte—could it be that a sloppy street snack of stewed tripe ranks among the very finest?

Behold, lampredotto, Florence’s preeminent cibo da strada, a Renaissance-era sandwich named for its putative resemblance to boiled lamprey flesh. There’s no way around it: The stuff is ugly. Wrinkly, flaccid, grayish beige, it emerges from its vat of indiscernible bouillon, wobbling on the end of the trippaio’s (tripe-seller’s) carving fork. That such a pile of innards is beloved in such a stylish, wealthy merchant center—and has been for over 500 years—is rendered even more incongruous by the city’s pastel-hued elegance. It’s like a joke from the Middle Ages whose punch line is still being hawked from street carts in San Marco.

Dante probably ate it while pining after Beatrice. There’s a good reason for its ongoing appeal: Lampredotto tastes as divine as it looks infernal.

The first time I tried it was at a street food stand called Sergio Pollini. The vendor’s setup wasn’t too different from a New York City hot dog cart, only with the everlasting façade of Sant’Ambrogio church on a prehistoric cobblestone piazza as a backdrop. I was with friends, classical painting students, who assured me that as nasty as lampredotto looks, my taste buds would grasp the reality immediately.

“I love lampredotto so much that I think about it as often as other guys think about sex: every six seconds,” confided one of the students, Alex. He recommended ordering it wet, or bagnato, the Florentine term for au jus, in which the bun is moistened with a little of the braising liquid. The deeply flavorful, perfectly textured salsa verde and hot chile–spiked result was superlative and, yes, semi-indecent.

Lampredotto is made with the fourth and final stomach compartment of a cow, the rennet-secreting maw known as the abomasum. This forgotten quadrant of ruminant viscera is rarely used in kitchens elsewhere. But in Florence, eating abomasum is a daily habit for all segments of society, as popular among street workers and leather-goods vendors as it is with pin-striped businessmen and coiffed nonnas in pantsuits.

A salsa verde and hot chile– spiked lampredotto sandwich at Florence’s Mercato Centrale.

That a cow’s stomach chamber can be morphed into a triumph of the culinary arts is a quintessentially Florentine phenomenon. Upon eating my third represents the way Florence has democratized deliciousness. In the same way that Dante argued for vernacular Italian to be accorded equal respect and literary legitimacy as Latin, Florence seems to have understood that expensive food isn’t necessarily better food. To succumb to ’s charms is to realize that beauty and ugliness can live in harmony with each other—that they can be unified into a handheld reminder that one cannot actually exist without the other.

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