Just because a dish is a Florentine delicacy doesn’t mean one should be subjected to eating tripe without their knowledge.
Five years ago, before I started at Dickinson, I spent eight weeks in Florence learning Italian. My mom and her friend Kim decided to “drop me off” in Italy and ended up making a trip out of the send-off. We explored Florence for a few days– window shopping on the Ponte Vecchio, drinking wine with leather salesmen and consequently each buying a leather jacket, eating at restaurants where I’ve had my favorite meals of all time (ahem pear pasta), eating at restaurants where I’ve had my LEAST favorite meals of all time (this post is not about that, ironically). When in Rome. Well, if you want to get technical, when in Florence. But that just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Before that trip, I was hesitant to eat anything but traditional pairings– I never would have eaten pasta with pears in it or touched prosciutto and melon. Fruit stuffed in pasta and covered in cheese sauce? With asparagus? YUCK. And who puts meat on top of cantaloupe? Inconceivable. My palate was not highly evolved enough to appreciate said dishes.
But, when in Italy, if you want be totally immersed in their culture and experience and enjoy and celebrate food like they do, you CANNOT adhere to your weird food quirks. Throw them out the window. They will be of no use to you in Italy. First of all, you will be questioned as to why you’re not eating such and such. It’s better if you don’t even try to explain this to Italians: they don’t take no for an answer and will likely refill your plate regardless. Secondly, you will miss out on everything Italian food and tradition has to offer. Now what kind of trip would that be? The horror.
That was my attitude going into this program. I was in Italy for the first time in my life– I had to try everything at least once! These people are known for their food and I wasn’t about to shy away from something because I had never had it before.
My mom, Kim, and I arrived in Florence with a list of restaurants in which to dine, one of which was called Cibrèo. Not one of the three of us can remember who recommended this place, but they spoke so highly of it we had to go. And it was a block away from their hotel. Winning.
The cuisine at Cibrèo is considered “refined Tuscan” and it most certainly is “refined”– you will not find pasta nor grilled meat anywhere on the menu. That’s a pretty bold move for chef Fabio Picchi to make considering pasta and grilled meat are staples of Tuscan cooking. Apparently, most of his culinary creations are based on antique recipes. I can jive with that.
I honestly don’t remember a whole lot about the meal itself. I do remember that’s where I discovered my favorite wine on the planet: Brunello di Montalcino. I remember my mom and Kim ordering one of each item on the menu so we could try everything. I remember that the table was too small to fit all of the plates of food we had. I remember laughing and eating and savoring and probably shedding a few tears because everything was so damn delicious.
Even though the majority of our meal at Cibrèo is clouded in a foggy haze of Brunello in my memory, I vividly remember being handed a plate of something called “trippa.” (Keep in mind that I had not yet started Italian classes and didn’t know a lick of the language aside from “ciao” and “prego”). It looked sort of like ribbony-shaped pasta in some kind of tomato sauce– totally harmless. When I asked my mom to clarify what it was, she told me to “just taste it.” So I did. I took a tiny bite to explore this thing called “trippa” and moved on to something else. The dish didn’t send my taste buds into any kind of downward spiral; the dish wasn’t earth-shattering in any way. I didn’t know what it meant, but I at least I could say I tried “trippa” during my first week in Italy. Big whoop.
About a week later, when I was settled into my homestay and Florence actually began to feel like home, I had a free afternoon to read through some of my Florence guidebooks. I opened my windows, sat down on my bed, and started to read. I wanted to become the resident expat expert on Florence and know all of the local secrets and hot tips– I’m a total guidebook nerd and like to read them cover-to-cover when I’m in a new city.
So I was sitting there reading my Lonely Planet book, soaking everything in, constantly referring back to my gigantic map of Florence to pinpoint these cool trattorias and gelaterias, and I came across a little footnote. I read about three words and instantly became nauseated. “Trippa,” as it turns out, means tripe. Tripe, as it turns out, is pig or cow intestines. Pig or cow intestines, as it turns out, is a Florentine delicacy. This delicacy is called “trippa alla fiorentina”: fried intestines in a tomato sauce. There are tripe stands all over Florence. This is what Italians consider street food? EW. GROSS.
So, thanks (sort of), Mama, for making me unknowingly eat tripe. I love you, I’m glad to have had the experience, and I’m thrilled to have the story to share, but that’s one culinary ship that has sailed forever.