At lunchtime outside of Florence’s tourist-filled Mercato Centrale, locals line up to bite into a native delicacy, but it’s not what you think. Forget about plates of sizzling oven-fresh pizza, and wipe images of home-cooked pasta from your mind. In this Tuscan town, tripe is king of street food.
Beatrice Trambusti has been selling hot trippa and lampredotto—the first and fourth stomach of the cow, respectively—from her kiosk, Lupen e Margo, for 30 years. But the Florentine appetite for tripe dates back much earlier than even Trambusti can attest to. Its history begins in the 15th century, when the poorest Florentines could only afford leftover cuts of meat.
Today tripe is no longer peasants’ fare; lampredotto stands (known as trippai) dot the city’s cobblestone streets. The Four Seasons Hotel Firenze even features a lampredotto station at its Sunday brunch buffet. Though every chef may add his own flair to the lampredotto sandwich, its preparation typically reflects that of centuries ago: the stomach meat is boiled in broth until tender, thinly sliced, placed in between two pieces of broth-dipped bread, and topped with salt, pepper and salsa verde (made with parsley) or salsa piccante (made with chili oil).
Trambusti’s family is the third generation of owners to run the tripe stand, which has occupied the same corner between Via dell’Ariento and Via Sant’Antonino since 1872. Trambusti remembers that until the turn of the century, almost all of her customers were native Florentines. But since 2000, she has seen a substantial increase in the number of tourists visiting her window. Wearing a shirt that advertises her business in both English and Chinese, Trambusti says that many of her clients today come from China, Japan and Korea.
While many customers are first-timers seeking out a taste of quintessential Florentine street food, others greet Trambusti by name in informal Italian. One regular convinces a meandering retired couple visiting from south of Oxford to sample Trambusti’s lampredotto for lunch.
“We’re up for trying anything,” says one of the two new customers, neither of whom have heard of lampredotto before. “We were born after [World War II], so we were brought up to eat whatever was put in front of us. Something was put in front of you, and you ate it. It seems ridiculous now, when you are bombarded with choices.”
And in Italy, choices are anything but lacking. But like them, many visitors stumble upon the lampredotto oblivious to the centuries-long tradition their sandwich holds.
Trambusti has not lost sight of the lampredotto’s origins—she proudly sticks to the classical preparation of the dish, despite other vendors’ constant customizations and updates.
And true to the region’s custom of hospitality, Trambusti spends as much time outside of the stand interacting with customers as she does inside completing orders. She offers conversation and bottles of water from a hidden stash to familiar faces. At one point, a Senegalese man who works on the same street pops his head in the back door. He is promptly handed a hot lampredotto sandwich. “She is like a mother to me,” he says in Italian.
Lampredotto Lesso (Boiled Lampredotto)
by Beatrice Trambusti, owner of Lupen e Margo
Lampredotto (1 kg/2.2 lbs)
1 stick of celery
2 ripe tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Add salt to boiling water and then drop in the tripe with tomatoes, onion, carrot, celery, basil, parsley and pepper. Cook for about 1 hour.
Immediately cut the tripe into thin slices and put in a special bread roll called semelle, which has been dipped first in the warm broth.
Top with salsa verde (see below) or pickles. Add a generous pinch of salt and pepper.
Salsa Verde (Green Sauce)
by Beatrice Trambusti, owner of Lupen e MargoServes 6 Fresh parsleyCapers (100 grams/3.5 oz)A pinch of thyme1-2 Tablespoons of red wine vinegar4 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oilSalt and pepperRemove the stems from the parsley, wash and chop the leaves finely together with the other ingredients. (Remember to squeeze the water out of the capers.)Put the mixture in a bowl and add 4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and a pinch of thyme (do not put too much thyme because its strong flavor may overpower the sauce). Stir the sauce with a spoon until it thickens. Adjust the sauce with more vinegar if necessary.
Victoria Sgarro is a former National Geographic intern who is currently eating her way through Italy. Follow her on Twitter.