Recently I was invited to Florence on a trip loaded with indulgences, from being fed by the fanciest of chefs to being plied with the most coveted of wines, so thickly layered that instead of being ethereal one feels weighed down by it. Too much of a good thing really isn’t good at all.
In keeping with Newtonian laws of action and reaction, I went looking for a simple sandwich. Now don’t judge me just yet, there are sandwiches and then there are sandwiches. In Italy, we have Focaccia, Panini, Piadina and Calzone which are all a take on the classic.
Before I share some worthwhile addresses, let me side-step and mention Douglas Adams. He maintained that in this IT age, tomorrow, if all the people except you just vanished, you wouldn’t really know what to do. You may know how to work a TV but you won’t have any idea how to build one. Or, more basic, how to generate electricity. Otherwise put, with so much specialisation, people today can perform a part of the process called life but don’t know the entire play from scratch. In other words, mine really, welcome to the age of assembly-line existence.
But, Adams positively adds, you could make sandwiches. Grain goes easy and can be ground into flour. Once fermented naturally we can get a frugal fire going and create a rudimentary oven and over time, bake it right. That done, one would only need to slice it up and serve it with sauce and stuffing, all of which could be hunted or gathered. Such issues may not worry you yet. I’ve lost a lot of sleep wondering what if I were to end up in a place where I could fix myself a superb organic sandwich but wouldn’t have telly to eat it in front of!
Back to Florence, my hunt revealed a few noteworthy joints, Pino’s is a hard-to-find place, not even with Google Maps. Ask any student instead and they’ll surely know where to find this place, not too far from the Santa Croce church, which serves up well-priced sandwiches and some more. Not too far away and a good few gastronomic notches higher is All’ Antico Vinaio, the place that will ruin you for sandwich places forever! You can’t really miss this hole-in-the-wall joint—the line at any point in the day is a dozen strong and the number squatting outside with sandwiches is even larger. The choice of fillings and toppings are more detailed and delish than anywhere else you have been. In fact so overwhelming are the options that when my turn came I just asked my man to fix me a sandwich and told him what I wished to have included. He worked his magic in no more than a minute and what emerged was a seamless mix of flavours and textures, worth every consumed carb. Most importantly, it was simple and straightforward, frugal yet filling, a case in point for when less is more. Speaking of less, it cost me no more than a few euros; so not only can you eat cheaper than a McMenu in Italy, you can eat way better. The youth of Italy, or at least of Florence, are in good hands.
So I encourage you all to include these delightful places on your next stopover. And in case you have a good sandwich story that doesn’t allude to a ménage-á-trois, do share. As a parting footnote, there’s nothing as an open sandwich; even the idea of such a non-committal thing existing is callous to gastronomy.