The San Lorenzo Market is in a massive, covered building in the heart of the San Lorenzo neighborhood. It’s big. It’s bustling. And yet, I wasn’t able to immediately find it the first time I went looking for it.
Actually, the San Lorenzo Market is comprised of two markets: an outdoor one selling goods and souvenirs, and an indoor market known as the Mercato Centrale dedicated entirely to food. That’s the one I was looking for. First, I had to find my way through the seemingly endless maze of leather goods, souvenir t-shirts, and other ware in the outdoor market. I’d wander in what seemed like the right direction, only to realize the street wasn’t straight and I’d curved into an entirely different branch of the market.
Finally, I found the unassuming doors leading into the just-as-bustling Central Market. The entire first floor was filled with stalls of Florentines selling fresh fruit and vegetables, locally cut meat, homemade pastas, and even more meat. They were patient with my stuttering Italian and oblivious to the strong mix of smells in the closed market.
The market was industrial, slightly grungy, completely practical but also lively and atmospheric. It was all Florence.
Still, the time had come for an update, and in 2014 the deserted upstairs section of the San Lorenzo Market was renovated turned into a massive food court.
It’s genius: reutilize a massive, previously unused space to create easy, fast food in a city visited by millions. Open seven days a week from 8 am to midnight, there are 12 different food stalls and 500 seats. So when I finally made my way back to Florence in 2018 I convinced the group to give the food court a try. Informal, fast and located in a veritable Florentine institution, I couldn’t wait to try out the local dishes.
Only…there weren’t any local dishes.
The place was so packed with visitors it was nearly impossible to move, but that’s the way things go in Florence in August, and we made the best of it. The real problem, was that none of the food was from Florence.
The only stall we could find that sold local specialities was Il Lampredotto, a tiny stall that sold lampredotto sandwiches. You could get Tuscan chianina meat, but sold as a hamburger, and for sure some of the cured meats were local but otherwise we found Sicilian stalls, sushi, and pasta fresca popular in Emilia Romagna.
Why open a food court in the heart of Florence, in a historical building, if you’re not going to celebrate local dishes?
The Mercato Centrale di Firenze is a beautiful, historical structure and well worth a visit. There are a ton of options to choose from and the renovations are beautiful, but for the chaos, the lack of local food options and the price comparable to a regular restaurant, next time I’ll avoid the self-service and choose a local trattoria or restaurant to enjoy my Florentine fare in peace!