Florence, Italy is a city of hugely influential art, breathtaking architecture and, of course, amazing food. For my final semester of college, I’m traveling across the pond to Florence. I’ll spend three months learning all I can about the rich food culture of the land of Piazzas, Pasta and Pomodoro.
When planning a trip to Florence, the culinarily-inclined tourist will likely prioritize seeking out the legendary dish known as “Bistecca Alla Fiorentina.” A simply seasoned T-bone steak charred on each side and served bloody leaves little to the imagination, but few dishes are taken more seriously by the people of Florence. Don’t even try to order it cooked to a different degree of doneness. It’s considered an act of blasphemy, and the request will likely be refused.
Devouring a two-pound steak (they’re sold by the kilo) may result in a rise in cholesterol and a reduction in funds, as few traditional dishes come with a higher price tag. Luckily for you, there are many other ways to eat beef in Florence, among the most honored and least costly is the one-of-a-kind dish known as Lampredotto.
This quintessential Florentine street food was roots as peasant food and is named after the lamprey, a species of eel that shares some aesthetic characteristics with the cut of meat that it comes from. Scared yet? Lampredotto is the fourth stomach of the cow. It’s stewed with vegetables for hours, piled onto a roll and served out of food carts citywide.
Unless you’re particularly well-versed on the anatomy of cattle, you may be confused by the whole “fourth stomach” description. All ruminants (cattle, goats, etc.) have stomachs that are divided into four parts, each having it’s own special job. The fourth and final compartment, the abomasum, breaks down food into nutrients that are to be absorbed by the small intestine.
While that little factoid doesn’t exactly evoke hunger pangs, the resourcefulness of Florence’s working class must be respected. Can you imagine a financially-strapped parent of four coming across a rubbery piece of cow stomach and thinking, “Let’s just cook it for a long time and see what happens.”
As it turns out, when done correctly, the result is tender, slippery meat with a mouthfeel that confuses as much as it delights. Carts selling lampredotto (often alongside trippa, aka beef tripe) are hidden in plain sight across the city. Among the most famous is Sergio Pollino Lampredotto.
Known as a bastion for anyone in need of a quick, inexpensive and convenient meal, this food stand is insanely popular with locals and adventurous tourists. After one visit, it becomes clear that thse folks have mastered the art of slow-cooked cow abdomen.
Order a sandwich, and you’ll be entertained by the cook vigorously chopping the meat, splitting the crusty roll in half, dunking the top half in some of that wonderful braising liquid and assembling the sandwich. The process takes about one minute. Now just add on a cold beverage or a plastic cup of red wine, take your meal to the nearby church steps and eat like nobody’s watching.
The sandwich comes slathered with a spicy red sauce and an herb salsa verde (You’ll be asked if you want them…you do). The combination of herbaceous and piquant from these sauces provides a subtle flavor boost that is far from overwhelming. They are the beat of this love song in sandwich form. They may go unnoticed at first, but take them away and the result is totally different.
The lampredotto is the lyrics. The meat itself is surprisingly succulent, with the juices from the top half of the bun seeping into the meat. The idea of a cow’s stomach, a part of the animal that sees quite a bit of action, ever becoming tender can be difficult to grasp, but Sergio and company managed to do so, with the result requiring only gentle chewing.
The symphony of stomach, sauces and braising liquid unite between a crusty roll barely large enough to contain all the excitement. When approaching the end of the sandwich, you’ll notice that the last bit of bread has fully absorbed that aromatic-laced liquid from the braise. This is the sandwich’s outro. The temptation to push replay is real.
Sergio Pollini also offers the aforementioned tripe, and either protein can be dished out in a container with the roll on the side. Either way, it’s a must-have dish on your playlist.
Find the legendary Sergio Pollini Lampredotto at Via de Macci, 126. They open for business at 9:30 A.M. and close at 3:30 P.M. They’re closed on Sundays.
Originally Published on https://unconventionaleatsnh.com/