Since my last post, I had a quick day trip in Como, a 3 night visit to Venice, and now I’m in Florence. Venice is a living museum more than an actual working city, and has more tourists than locals, but it’s amazing. Florence is the opposite in many ways. It has many historical monuments and a rich history, but it also seems like the type of place you could live in rather than just visit. Venice was exorbitantly expensive while Florence has been quite affordable.
If you recall from my early posts on food, in Italy, people eat in courses. Antipasto, primo, secondo, contorno, insalata, dolce, etc. In restaurants, you have the option to order all these courses, but the prices are way too expensive to have them all each time. Many people will go out to eat and just order pasta (primo) or just order a meat dish (secondo) in order to have reasonable prices. Sometimes the antipasto can even be a meal.
The problem is that after three months with my host family, I’ve become far to accustomed to eating the Italian way, and the idea of eating just a bowl of pasta, for example, just doesn’t seem like a meal. I’d like to have a full blown Italian meal at least once every day or so while I’m here.
In Venice, on the second day, I wandered the streets. All the restaurants have their menus in the window so I started looking at all of them as I passed by. On occasion, you’ll find restaurants that have daily meal specials where you get at least a primo + secondo for a reasonable price. Another tip is to avoid eating at the main tourist squares and streets and go a few blocks into a quieter neighborhood – you’ll find better food for better prices.
Around 2:00 in the afternoon on my second day in Venice, I was ready for a nice meal. I recalled that morning walking by a restaurant which had a great daily special for only 16 Euro. I saw nothing better the rest of the day. So I decided to retrace my steps and find that restaurant. It took me a half hour but I found it. I also verified it was good by checking internet reviews first.
I got spaghetti ai frutti di mare, salmone, and insalata together and it was a great meal.
Today in Florence, I saw the greatest sculpture in the world, David, and walked around the Renaissance streets of the city afterwards.
I decided it was yet again time to find a nice meal. I walked out of the main center of town and across the river – Rick Steves’ guidebook said this area was a bit more of a locals part of town. He gave a good selection of restaurants and I found a small one which had a self-service cafe’. I had a primo + secondo for 9.90 Euro. (The euro is about the same as the dollar nowadays, add 12-13% to the price to get to the dollar figure.)
The first course was this amazing traditional Tuscan salad-type dish called panzanella. I’ve never seen it in the US but I’m sure it exists somewhere. It’s a salad made with pieces of stale bread, a way to not waste it. It was delicious.
The second course was beef stew which did not disappoint. My stomach is still full and satisfied as I write this.
In general I’d like to eat meals like this at least every other day. Breakfast is usually free at hostels and for lunch and quick meals, pizzas are always cheap and can be had for 5 or 6 Euro. Last night I went to Pisa to see the leaning tower, and I had a nice pizza afterwards. (Pizzas seem to be the exception to the course “rules” and are generally eaten on their own.)
I hope to continue to use this basic strategy of finding good deals on filling, full meals, and supplementing them with hostel breakfasts and cheap sandwiches and pizzas, to be able to eat well without blowing my budget as I travel through Italy.
Check out the flickr page (Click the menu bar in the upper right) for pictures from Venice, Como, and Florence. They all deserve their own write-ups but right now I have to get back out and see more sights!
PS – Almost forgot about gelato. About 2 Euro for a cup. Just like with restaurants avoid tourist traps on the main strips. Consult guidebooks and the internet to find the really good places. Lemon and strawberry in Venice d-