Florence markets #2: Mercato Sant’ Ambrogio and neighbourhood
Mercato San Ambrogio is another market in Florence that was designed by Giuseppe Mengoni in 1873, the same architect as Mercato Central and the famous Galleria in Milan.
The market is located on the opposite side of town from Mercato Central in a residential Piazza Ghiberti. It is not far from Piazza Santa Croce where Michelangelo and other luminaries are buried inside the magnificent cathedral. Because of the less central location the market serves more locals than tourists. It has a feel of a truly authentic neighbourhood market with an outdoor section. The feel of this market is a little chaotic but it’s fun and the quality of produce is good. .
I heard from many locals, including Linda of Italy Customized, that they prefer to shop in this market over Mercato Central. Some of it may be nostalgia, longing for the way things used to be, and I also think reverse snobbism may play a role here. You know, like wearing really torn jeans. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely market and very authentic, but Mercato Central is simply gorgeous. The complains I hear is that Mercado Central is flooded with tourists (we are tourists as well and I doubt I spoil the experience for anyone). We travelled in the winter so there were not many tourists around. Perhaps if I lived in Florence I would feel the same.
Mercato Sant’ Ambrogio
The market is not as large as its counterpart and has both outdoor and indoor space. Inside there are permanent stations offering anything you can think of, from meat, fish, baked good, cheeses, olive oils and more, but not in huge quantities. Most of the fresh produce is outdoors along the west side of the building and it’s main entrance. It looks like these are farmers who pulled up in the morning with their freshly picked produce that they sell before the day is over.
Inside the market there is a unique restaurant that is worth a special excursion: Trattoria da Rocco. It is a unique establishment, very real, simple and authentic, located right in the centre of the market. Finding the trattoria is one thing, but how do you get in? There is no main door to enter the restaurant. After standing around wondering for a minute, we realized that each banquet style table has a door beside it that opens to the side and you enter sliding into your seat at the table. And, you will share the table with other diners. How fun is that?
The food at da Rocco is simple and delicious Tuscan style fare. The ribollita is chunky and heartwarming, pasta e fagioli delish, panzanella tangy and juicy and roasted potatoes just like home. For dessert I had a gigantic pear poached in red wine, cooked to perfection. It came standing upright on the plate, swimming in the delicious orange scented sauce. Wine (Chianti) comes in large straw wrapped bottle and you can drink as much as you want. An entire meal cost 6 Euros, including the wine. It’s a must experience trattoria if you are in Florence and looking for something different. We walked there from our apartment but it’s a bit of a hike.
If you go get naturally leavened (wild yeast) bread from Salvadori Giuliana or Catoni Lucia e Paola. Also don’t miss the cheeses at Sant’ Ambrogio Cheese around the corner. There are a number of meat and fish vendors but I stick to vegetarian. There are a couple of other restaurants there but we only went to da Rocco.
If you are in the neighbourhood you should try Cibreo Cafe, a Michelin Guide restaurant just around the corner from the market (Via Andrea del Verrocchio, 5r). It’s owned by a famous chef and cookbook author Fabio Picchi, a long white haired bearded eccentric looking guy. It’s a crowded cafe (tratoria I would say) and Picci is right there greeting you and his cookbook available for sale at the restaurant. Michelin Guide comment from their 2016 guide says “this restaurant has an informal, fashionable atmosphere, with young, confident staff and fine, inventive cuisine inspired by traditional dishes”. The food is Tuscan style (we are in Tuscany after all) with intense flavours and sophisticated presentation. The place was just packed at lunchtime and you sit elbow to elbow with the people at the table next to you, but it’s fun. If you go for dinner better make reservations, I think they take them. I understand that they have a second restaurant, Cibero Teatro del Sale on Via dei Macci 111/r but we didn’t make it there.