One of the most interesting ways to explore a new city is to shop in places frequented by locals. In these establishments, one can glean the unique flavor of the culture by observing the ways that shoppers interact with merchants, seeing the items that are commonly displayed and purchased and trying out some of the vendors’ products. In Florence, one of these unique locations is the Mercato Sant’Ambrogio. This tented outdoor market offers a colorful array of the freshest produce from all around Tuscany, the region of Italy in which Florence is located, as well as further regions of Italy. If one is to know anything about Italian cuisine and food culture, it is that Italians take great pride in the local origins, seasonality and quality of their produce. This market bears truth to this food culture in the variety and freshness of produce sold for incomparably cheap prices!
As testament to my claim that this is indeed the best fruit and vegetable market around, I frequently buy bundles of lettuce that are so fresh there are still specks of fresh dirt in their roots after having been harvested from the earth. There is nothing like it! Piled neatly in baskets and kiosks that run the length of the tent, dozens of categories of produce are proudly presented, including the sweetest, ripest strawberries I have ever tasted, soft green artichokes with delicate purple veining and multicolored varieties of lettuce. Abundant baskets filled with bright clementine oranges electrify the produce landscape along with fire-engine red tomatoes. After having discovered this market, I visit twice every week to pick up my produce for the next couple of days. The one downside (if I can even call it that!) of buying produce at the peak of its freshness is that it does not last as long as supermarket produce, which is often times sold under-ripe since these products are shipped far-off locales. If anything, this circumstance along with the unbelievably amazing taste of the fruits and vegetables has made me crave more when I run out!