This guest post by Carol Yee is adapted from her book book Welcome Back to Abuja Once Again: How I Became a Citizen of the World.
When one thinks of Tuscany, one may think of Florence, the leaning tower of Pisa, and the Palio in Siena, but also of pasta, wine, and gelato. And this is only the start of a list.
After three Untours trips to Tuscany and one to Umbria, my family and I always get excited when our pre-departure packet arrives from Untours, a company that can extend the ability of people like my parents to travel “independently” and safely. Yes, we love Tuscany and its rolling hills and cypress trees, but why do we really go to Italy? For the food!
Before we depart, we prepare for our trip. Not only do we read all the materials Untours provides, we also read guidebooks and the latest articles on food and restaurants for the area we are traveling to. No, we don’t focus on famous chefs and their restaurants, although on occasion we will dine at one. We focus on the small mom and pop restaurants that the locals go to that feature good, basic food.
To us, everything in Tuscany tastes better—the tomatoes, the pasta, the grilled meats, and the desserts. In Italy, we can eat a three-hour sit-down lunch, or we can visit little cafes where we stand at the bar (counter) and eat a sandwich and drink an espresso—taking your sandwich and espresso to a table will cost more.
When we plan out our daily activities, we always incorporate our plans for food. If we are going to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, what food markets and restaurants are nearby that we want to visit after the museum? We will make sure my father can get some good Trippa alla Fiorentina. Other days, the destination centers on the food itself, such as when we drive to Follonico on the coast for grilled octopus or to Lucca for focaccia.
We also love to take advantage of local markets, not only to take pictures of the wonderful produce they sell, but also to see what local delicacies we can find. And as we drive through the Tuscan countryside, we always keep our eyes open for food sellers along the way. We especially love it when we come across a meat truck that is selling porchetta sandwiches. Watching the butcher carve the meat and put it on a freshly baked roll makes our stomachs growl, even if we have just eaten breakfast.
Sometimes it works out that you can participate in a local festival. It was so much fun to join the locals at long tables running down the middle of one of the main little streets in Buonconvento as Ristorante Da Mario served up pasta to hundreds of people! We also loved learning how to make pasta during a cooking classes at a local Untours farm with Donella, Serenella, and their mother.
Untours apartments always have a kitchen. While some Untourists eat all their meals out, and some eat all their meals in, we tend to eat lunch out and then buy local ingredients to cook for dinner. This way we get the best of both worlds, eating at restaurants but also using the fresh local ingredients to try our hand at cooking. And as we wander the streets of the Tuscan towns, we always have room to try the delicious gelato and have an espresso!
Speaking of which, my cousin traveled to Italy once and ordered a latte thinking she would get her Starbucks latte from back home. Instead, they served her a glass of warm milk—she should have ordered a café latte! Also remember, if you want to follow the locals, Italians never order a cappuccino after 11 am as they find them too filling. And if you need a weaker American coffee equivalent at the espresso bar, order an Americano where they dilute a shot of espresso with hot water.
So, what about that canned ham? Once a staple in American kitchens, they seem to be a rarity these days, but some people still eat them. Once we stayed in an Untours apartment at a farmhouse in the heart of Tuscany. We started chatting with our American neighbors, other Untourists also staying at the property. To our horror, we learned that they had not gone out to eat at all, and in fact they had carried food from the US, including a canned ham, to eat during their two-week vacation. They feared they wouldn’t be able to find anything good to eat in Italy and wanted to make sure they didn’t go hungry!
With Untours as your guide, be adventurous and enjoy the local cuisine. Half the fun of traveling is to experience the food. Some foods may be different, not everyone is going to try Trippa alla Fiorentina. I won’t, but you can always find something good to eat. And if you really don’t like the food, you can always find eggs, ham, cheese, and bread anywhere you travel.
So, leave your canned ham at home and take advantage of the local foods to enrich the experience you have on an Untours vacation. You won’t be disappointed.
Carol J. Yee is a multi-trip Untours alumna. This post was adapted from Carol’s recent book Welcome Back to Abuja Once Again: How I Became a Citizen of the World.