In 2014, Florence stepped into modernity in a big way: the long anticipated opening of Mercato Centrale in the otherwise unremarkable San Lorenzo neighborhood. While the first floor has more than a century of history, the second floor is entirely nuovo. Upstairs, visitors can shop for organic cleaning products and kitchen tools at the small Eataly branch, they can hover outside the glass walls of a cooking school, and they can meander from counter to counter, making an all too difficult decision on how to fill their tummies. Pizza and pasta made to order before your eyes, superb mozzarella, tramezzini, panini, fish, wine, a sit-down restaurant, fresh breads, pastries, and more, all served by very hip artisans in straw hats. Seating is aplenty, and the triple height ceilings give the space a loft-like feel, a warehouse re-used and re-vamped, an ultra ‘today’ vibe of a central market that might be found in downtown Los Angeles (Grand Central Market), New York (Eataly), or San Francisco (Ferry Building). Florence is joining the legions of food-centric cities whose youth is committed to educating each other about where their food comes from, the quality of their food, and the idea of ‘local’ gastronomical pride. There is even a bookstore.
Stalls on the ground floor are as exciting as any Italian market: beautiful displays and action-packed exchanges between producer, butcher, fish monger, florist, and shoppers are full of banter, laughter, and brusqueness, depending on the relationship between buyer and seller. Fiorentini have their favorites; their producers know what they like. While visiting, I watched an older woman approach her butcher with a short stack of family photos: the entire staff behind the counter gathered round; never mind if there was a customer lingering at the counter. Tourists are unavoidable, and who can blame them? This is certainly a must-stop for fresh fichi, lampredotto, and afternoon snacks for busy days shopping and touring Firenze.