Locations: Antica Porchetteria Granieri 1916 and Da Nerbone
Sandwiches: Porchetta on Florentine roll and the Lampredotto (respectively)
Contribution by William Barton
So much of what western culture and society finds acceptable and tasteful is based on what happened in Florence, Italy about four hundred years ago. When I planned on going, I expected it to be a sprawling metropolis, huge and unwieldy; another massive, sweaty shoulder. When I arrived, however, I was surprised to see how small it was– walkable from end to end.
While Florence is known as the birthplace of the Renaissance, a mecca of architecture and painting, it’s also a monumental city for the history of the sandwich.
On my first night, I had Florentine steak, which is just a gigantic, rare, porterhouse steak, and it was delicious. As my wife and I walked off the big dinner, we passed by a sandwich stall that was so picturesque, I couldn’t pass it up.
The shop was called Antica Porchetteria Granieri 1916. They kept the whole roasted hog right in the window and a stylish young man carved out each serving of porchetta when an order was placed. I was absolutely full, but as they say, when in Florence, eat back to back meat-dinners.
I ordered the number one, the simplest item on the menu: slices of porchetta on an unsalted roll. Florentines leave all of their bread unsalted as a heavy tax on salt forced medieval era bakers to omit it from their bread recipes. For whatever reason the tradition stuck around.
About two bites in, I’d committed enough gluttony and was finished. But the majority of the sandwich was still left. My wife looked me square in the face and said, “if you write a sandwich article about this sandwich, but you don’t even finish the sandwich, you’ll be lying to the people. What kind of sandwich writer would do something like that?”
Words of truth can never be rebutted. I want everyone still reading this to know, I suffered through that sandwich for the sake of art, and my immortal soul will never be the same. The sandwich was delicious.
The porchetteria was an accidental sandwich, one of the fine things you stumble upon that persist in your memory. As we were leaving, however, I hadn’t yet stumbled upon Florence’s most famous sandwich. We had to make a special trip across town to the basement of the Mercato Centrale where Da Nerbone is, a sandwich shop specializing in the penultimate traditional Florentine sandwich: the Lampredotto.
The Lampredotto is named after the Lamprey eels that used to snake through the Arno river. It’s an unsalted roll with stewed tripe and salsa verde. Another simple but perfect sandwich. When ordered, the sandwich maker plucks the tripe from a heavily spiced stewing pot and chops it finely. He puts it in a hollowed roll and dollops a few spoonfuls of bright and fresh salsa verde over the top. What you get is a mess and a napkin. I also got a beer.
We brought our bags with us because we had a train to catch. I tried to eat my sandwich in peace, but a woman who presumably owned Da Nerbone, or at least was a high ranking official in the establishment, shook her head at me and spoke quick, angry Italian. I took a sip of my beer and tried to pay her no mind. She realized she wasn’t going to get in my head, so she turned her attention to my wife, who had no sandwich and no beverage to hide behind. The pressure was too great to handle, so we had to load up our bags and eat out on the front steps of the Mercato Centrale.
It was better outside anyway, as the sandwich soon became drippy. I was able to enjoy my tripe sandwich among the hundreds of vendors selling the same exact leather purse, the pigeons, and the cigarette smokers.
If that doesn’t sound like it was a comfortable experience, you’re right. But comfort is overvalued. Adventure, with all of its inherent discomfort, is what life is about. And also sandwiches.