Tuscan cooking is made at home but it starts in grocery shops, local vegetable gardens and among market stalls. For every generation, the market is the beating heart of the town, humming with chitchat, friendly shouting and bargaining, and the aroma of roast chicken, croquettes and porchetta.
Travelling through Tuscany you can recognize three different kind of markets.
There are indoor markets, such as San Lorenzo and Sant’Ambrogio in Florence and Mercato Centrale in Livorno: traditional, historical, and big, they are the beating heart of a town or a city. They usually run every day and are often architecturally interesting.
In almost every town, even in the smallest and most remote village, there are weekly outdoor markets. Once a week the town, or a city’s neighborhood, fills up with stalls full of everything, from clothes to shoes, from pots and pans to flowers. The food part is always the most exciting selling cheese, fish, fruit and vegetables.
Some are extremely old, like the market in Castelnuovo in Garfagnana, where a market has been running every Thursday morning since 1430. Then there are the organic markets of local producers. This is the newest form of market and they are usually held on the weekend or on a week day. Here you can shop for organic fruit and vegetables, local cheese and cold cuts, flour, bread, honey and meat.
In Florence, the Fierucola in piazza Santissima Annunziata and the market in Santo Spirito are two very enjoyable shopping spots and they occur one Sunday a month. In Siena, the farmers’ market is held every Friday morning, close to the city centre.
Just a few minutes from the Duomo, the San Lorenzo Central market in Florence is architecturally fascinating, having been designed by Giuseppe Mengoni, the architect responsible for the Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade in Milan, who took inspiration from the Halles market in Paris.
Today, San Lorenzo market is more popular with tourists than Florentines, given its central location so close to the Duomo.
It’s worth a visit, not only for its architecture but for its historical importance, picturesque stalls and traditional Florentine dishes such as tripe and lampredotto.
Where: Between Via dell’Ariento, Via Sant’Antonino, Via Panicale and Piazza del Mercato Centrale.
When: The ground floor is open from Monday to Friday, 7am to 2pm and Saturday from 7am to 5pm, excluding summer months. The street food section on the top floor is open every day from 10am to midnight.
Just outside Florence’s city center, the Duomo and Palazzo della Signoria, and near the Synagogue, La Nazione newspaper offices, Piazza d’Azeglio and the large boulevards, Sant’Ambrogio market offers everything an Italian—or rather, Tuscan—market should.
Compared to the recently restructured, more centrally located San Lorenzo market, popular primarily with tourists, Sant’Ambrogio is a lively marketplace frequented by Florentines.
Where: Piazza Ghiberti and Piazza Sant’Ambrogio, Florence.
When: Monday to Saturday, 7am to 2pm.
Livorno’s Mercato Centrale, known to locals as the Mercato delle Vettovaglie, is located on the city’s Scali Saffi along Reale Canal. Built at the end of the 19th century, it features Neo-classical and Art Nouveau elements.
Today, it’s the second largest indoor market in Europe, second only to Barcelona’s Boqueria. The beating heart of the city, and still frequented daily by Livorno locals looking for fresh fish, meats, fruit and vegetables, this market boasts more than 180 stands offering everything you need from a market.
Not far from Mercato Centrale, in Piazza Cavallotti, from Monday to Saturday, there’s also a lively fruit and vegetable market.
Where: Via Buontalenti, Livorno.
When: Monday to Saturday, 7:30am to 2:00pm.
A few years ago, this Friday morning farmers market started at La Lizza, in Siena, just along the tree-lined boulevard that runs from the fortress into town. Shop here for local stoneground flour and pasta, local pecorino cheese, ricotta, organic fruit and vegetables, herbs, wine and extra virgin olive oil.
Where: La Lizza, Siena.
When: Fridays from 8am to 1pm.