An Italian food adventure started one day with lunch at Trattoria Mario, a tiny, noisy, restaurant favored by locals and tourists alike. It was located just outside the Central Market which I explored afterwards. This was the day I was introduced to communal dining, Italian-style. As a solo traveler, this added a special element to my dining experience.
There were no frills at Mario’s – only large quantities of good Italian food at reasonable prices. They seated me at a communal table with three international travelers in the packed trattoria. One person was John, a young man from Ohio who was teaching Chemistry in London. He was having the time of his life taking advantage of Europe’s cheap airlines by hopping around Europe on weekends. The other two, who were friends from a university in Spain where they were studying, were from Taiwan and China. A lively conversation ensued over a delicious lunch.
I ran into John later that afternoon sitting at a communal table on the second floor of the huge Central Market taking in the eclectic, cosmopolitan atmosphere that surrounded him. We were in the middle of a thriving, upscale marketplace where Italian cuisine was cooked to order in a trendy, yet casual atmosphere. Tourists and well-dressed Florentines crowded the various self-serve food counters while waiting for their orders. Staff belted out numbers in Italian and English when the orders were ready.
“New Age” came to my thought as I worked my way through the throngs of people while passing upscale wine bars, cheese and salami platters, a beer garden, fresh pasta dishes being served piping hot, pizza coming out of a brick oven, and brilliant colors of gelato being served up in huge scoops. A man with a pushcart selling mozzarella cheese balls caught my attention when he blew his horn, plus he caught the attention of just about everyone he passed. He obviously enjoyed the attention and the resulting business.
I noticed a thought-provoking sign on a wall in the market which said “Italy is *Eataly.” I was familiar with the word “Eataly” from the operation of that name in New York City which I had visited. It is a high-end Italian food market chain which includes restaurants, beverage stations and Italian cooking classes. The point of the sign was that Italians don’t have to turn their eateries into a chain to make them special. Their eateries are special by the very nature of them being Italian. Brilliant sign to have in such a place as this, I thought.
I returned to the Central Market two more times before I left Florence. The first time I enjoyed a freshly cooked pasta meal in amazing surroundings. The next time I found a relatively quiet corner with a nearby electrical outlet and went to work on my blog using free WIFI and snacking on various food that was being offered at nearby counters. The continual change of people, languages, and food that revolved around me while I worked kept me entertained for hours.
I shall never forget Pompi, the shop in Rome near the Spanish Steps which specializes in six kinds of tiramisu, a delectable, Italian coffee-flavored desert. I stopped there at every opportunity and bought a piece to go. Then I sat on the nearby Spanish Steps eating it while talking to people from various parts of the world who were seated around me. This was communal dining at its best!
A special element can be added to one’s experience with communal dining, especially if traveling solo.
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