1. Tuscan Bread has No Salt
I was at a restaurant in Tuscany waiting for our first course to arrive. In the meantime, I ate a piece of bread out of the breadbasket. I immediately noticed that it tasted funny. It was missing something. Salt. There is no salt in Tuscan bread. The reason is still debatable. There are a couple theories:
- The Pisa vs. Firenze (Florence) conflict around the year 1100 – During this conflict, Pisa managed to block Florence’s salt supply coming from the port of Pisa in order to force its hand during the conflict. Instead of giving in, the people of Florence opted to start cooking without salt.
- During the middle ages the salt tax was the biggest income earner for Florence but it was too expensive for most families to pay. Therefore, cooking without salt became the norm.
2. Ciccia – “CHEE—-cha”
In the most part of Italy, ciccia means “fat.” It could mean the fat of the meat, the fat on a person or a fat person. It could also be used as a term of endearment towards a girl. In Tuscany (and Umbria), the word “ciccia” is used to describe red meat.
3. Pronouncing the letter ‘C’
In Italian, the letter ‘c’ followed by the vowels, ‘a’, ‘o’ or ‘u’ is pronounced as a hard ‘c’, like “k.” For example, the word ‘casa’ is pronounced “KAH-za.” This is not the case in Tuscany. Instead of the hard ‘c’, you will hear an aspirated ‘h’ sound instead. For example, the word ‘casa’ is pronounced ‘HA-za.’
4. Italian Past Tense
I learned Italian in Northern Italy where the (far) past tense (passato remoto) only exists in books. Northern Italians almost always speak in the present perfect tense to describe an action in the past. Once you cross over to central Italy, you will start hearing the past tense being used a lot more. I’ve been told that Italian spoken in Tuscany is the most accurate since the father of modern Italian is the famous florentine, Dante Alighieri.
5. Typical Tuscan Dishes
Don’t get stuck in the usual tourist trap eating margherita pizza and tomato pasta. Try the local specialties:
- Panzanella – a ‘poor man’s dish’ invented out of the necessity of having to reuse leftover, dry bread. The dish includes dry bread from a Tuscan loaf, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, basil, salt, pepper, vinegar and olive oil.
- Ribollita – A typical Tuscan farmer’s dish consisting of leftover bread, a variety of vegetables (cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, leeks, celery), a variety of beans and potatoes. Ribollita literally means re-cooked. It was a dish that was prepared in large quantities so it could be reheated and eaten again.
- Caciucco Livornese – a typical seafood and fish soup from Livorno.
- Bistecca alla Fiorentina – Famous Chianina T-bone steak grilled to perfection and sprinkled with rock salt and Tuscan olive oil. Read about eating steak in Tuscany.
- Lampredotto – a local street food. A special part of tripe usually served in a bun.