Think of Tuscany and the things that probably come to mind are the rolling hills of the countryside, medieval hill-top towns, and stunning scenery; and, of course, the amazing local food and wine. Tuscany is a huge region of Italy; it stretches from the borders of Liguria and Emilia in the north, down to the border of Lazio in the south – over 300 kilometres away. The region prides itself on its simple but spectacular cuisine, and here are some tips to eat like a local whilst you’re there.
The specialities of the region vary depending on where you are in Tuscany, so be sure to research what the typical local dishes are before you go on your trip. Wild mushrooms are in abundance, and you can be guaranteed that any dish made with the local mushrooms will be excellent quality, so don’t be afraid to try a vegetarian dish even if you’re a confirmed carnivore. As in the rest of Italy, pasta in Tuscany is cooked in such a variety of ways and styles that you could eat a completely different pasta dish every day and be completely satisfied. Typical Tuscan mains include steak ‘La Fiorentina’; tripe (for the more adventurous!), and fried meats such as lamb, chicken and guinea fowl.
Whether you’re in a big city or a small village, always look for small, local restaurants, and whatever you do don’t select the ‘tourist menu’. Whilst the price may be appealing, you won’t be sampling the more traditional recipes of the area. Don’t worry if the menu isn’t translated into English – as long as you have a phrase book or dictionary with a good section on food you should be able to muddle through, even if you don’t speak Italian.
The cities of Tuscany, Florence, San Gimignano and Siena, to name but a few, are all popular tourist destinations due to the wealth of art, architecture and beautiful sights to be seen. By avoiding the typical tourist-trap restaurants (usually to be found in close proximity to the more famous museums, palaces and piazzas), and taking the smaller back-streets, you may find yourself at a hidden-gem of a trattoria where the local city-dwellers eat.
Although the cities are spectacular, there is so much more of Tuscany to be discovered, so if you really want to dine like a local you’ll need to hire a car to discover all that the region has to offer. The car hire companies available at Pisa Airport, such as National Car, make it easy for you to seize the freedom to travel and explore.
The magnificent, green mountainous region of the Garfagnana in Northern Tuscany is a truly delightful area for exploration, with windy mountain roads and amazing sights seemingly around every corner. If you’re feeling adventurous you could head out for lunch without making any plans, as you’re sure to come across a tiny local restaurant that’s worth the trip. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time though, as the mountain roads may look short on the map, but going up and down the hills means that your journey could take longer than anticipated!
One such restaurant in Garfagnana is Il Totto, in the small village of Sassi. Walking in, you could be walking straight into the family’s dining room, and they will definitely treat you like one of the clan. A recent meal there included a multitude of local salads, cured meats and other delicacies, followed by delicious homemade pasta with meat ragu, and of course a flagon of delectable local wine.