Matt Barker proves he has the stomach for a real culinary adventure

Words by Matt Barker

Florentines, for all the jaw-dropping gorgeousness of their surrounds, tend to be a fairly earthy bunch. I remember once nipping into my local bar and savouring a glass of red, telling the barman how much I was enjoying the wine. He didn’t look impressed. “It’s just bloody wine,” he said. “I thought you lived here now. Stop acting like a tourist.”

An old guy in paint-splattered overalls laughed. We struck up conversation and he asked me if I’d tried a lampredotto yet. A what? “A lampredotto. Tripe In a sandwich. Buonissimo.” I pulled a face. “No, no, this is the true food of Florence,” my fellow drinker insisted. “If you live here, you have to eat a lampredotto. And have it with the chilli sauce…” The barman interjected. “Nah, nah, the salsa verde, with the parsley and garlic.”

He poured out another glass of the red while telling me all about the joys of offal in a bun. I shuddered at distant memories of eating tripe for a school dinner. Stewed and served with peas. However, keen to be accepted as a proper local, the following day I tagged on to the end a queue at a stall on Via Pellicceria, towards the back of the Piazza del Nuovo Mercato, tucked away from the stalls selling fake football shirts and aprons with Michelangelo’s David on them.

Like a 15 year old trying to get served in a pub, I just asked for the same as the bloke in front of me. He turned out to be a green sauce man; I, eventually, would become a committed red sauce (chilli) man. I got my order in and the woman behind the counter cheerfully picked a lump of tripe out of a huge vat, dipped two slices of bread into some broth, squeezed the sauce on and I was away. Hooked. On boiled cow’s stomach in a crusty bread roll.

I managed to get a huge dollop of chilli sauce on my suede shoes. How I raged, until a smiling trippaio handed me a tissue and told me my lovely Tod’s had now been baptised.

I soon became quite the connoisseur, with da Vinattieri, off Piazza Santa Croce, a particular favourite (great bread), while Albergucci, over by the Porta Romana, deserves a shout out for expanding the range with a menu including ingua di vitellone (calf tongue) and nervetti di zampa (hoof nerves). One day I managed to get a huge dollop of chilli sauce on my suede shoes. How I raged, until a smiling trippaio handed me a tissue and told me my lovely (and perishingly expensive) Tod’s had now been properly baptised.

This is all very well, but as anyone who’s ever tried to navigate a car around Florence’s increasingly pedestrianised centro storico will tell you, the Tuscan capital ain’t much of a driver’s city. So, with one more lampredotto for the road (you could try juggling it on your knees at the wheel, but at your own risk) it’s time to head out and discover some regional variations on the offal offer. A tripe trip, if you will.

“Looking skywards in Siena”
Image credit: Roberto Taddeo

AN OUTSIDER GETS STUCK IN

The drive down to Siena is a brisk hour or so along the Via Chiantigiana (or the Strada Regionale 222 to use its more official name). If time allows, take a little diversion through Chianti, passing through a cluster of small towns like Panzano, Castellina and Greve; you can quickly jump off the main motorway and then back on again via slip roads. It’s celebrated wine country, of course, so if you want to stock up on bottles carrying the Gallo Nero (black cockerel) direct from the source, now’s your big chance.

Siena rather has the feel of a museum city, all provincial posh, but again, like it’s great rival just to the north, it has a far more raunchy side. Tuscans, famously, utterly despise each other. The animosity between fans of Livorno and Pisa’s football clubs would make Celtic and Rangers supporters blush. The point being that no-one in Siena would ever want to be seen dead eating anything remotely resembling a Florentine dish. Hence we have all these staunchly proud, local gastro traditions.

For the Sienese, tripe comes served up with sausages, pecorino cheese and beans, usually accompanied by crostini bread. That’s quite a belt-loosener. If you plan to make this a 48-hour tripe tour (now you’re talking), stop off at the excellent Osteria del Gatto (Via San Marco, 8; near Porta San Marco leading back out of the city centre and mercifully off the tourist trail) for a steaming plate of trippa alla senese. They do some great desserts as well.

“Italian ingredients fresh from the market”
Image credit: Karin Dalziel / Michela Simoncini / Grant Rambojun

THE BELLY OF THE BEAST

Heading out from Siena towards the coast and on to Grosseto and again, if time is no object, go and get yourself lost in the winding hill towns of the Crete Senesi (the Strada Bianca di Medane, which follows an old Roman road and takes you up into the rolling green hills, with views out across Siena, is a real stunner) before heading back on the still magnificently scenic E78 road. If you’re doing a straight city-to-city run, it shouldn’t take much more than an hour or so.

I like Grosseto. Not many Tuscans do but, as we know, that doesn’t actually mean much (I also really like Livorno, which once caused a Florentine friend of mine to spin her car off the road after I ‘fessed up to such an appalling crime). Set in the still-underrated Maremma coastal region, it lacks the cultural clout of its more illustrious neighbours, but there’s much to enjoy and the cobbled maze of the centro has plenty of charm.

But we’re primarily here for the tripe. The local trippa alla maremmana isn’t massively different from what you’ll find on the streets of Florence, but bigger on the Parmesan cheese. If you head just out of town on to the Strada Provinciale 40 Trappola, you’ll find Gli Attortellati (at number 39), where you can sit down to tripe and sausages with lemon, and, if time and energy allows, some chocolate tart with hazelnut frangipane to follow.

 

No-one in Siena would ever want to be seen dead eating anything remotely resembling a Florentine dish.

 

We’re nearly in Lazio now, the region where Rome sits. Driving towards the border, you turn along the coast at Orbetello on the E80, past Monte Argentario, zipping through the underwhelming Civitavecchia and down to Cerveteri. Etruscan relics abound here, if that’s your thing, and it might be an idea to get out and burn off some of that chocolate, but we’re pretty close to our next destination, the Castelli Romani, set just to the south of the Italian capital.

“Overlooking Orbetello’s waters”
Image credit: lo.tangelini

STRAIGHT FROM THE SAUCE

Follow the E80 until it links up with the A91 ring road that encircles the outskirts of Rome, then head down the SS7 past Ciampino Airport. That all sounds easier than it actually is (we’re in the Eternal City’s suburbs here), but it’s well worth the detour. A collection of small towns clinging on to the Alban Hills and dormant volcanic craters, pick of the bunch are Nemi and Ariccia; the former with its 11th-century watchtower and public gardens, looking out over to the coast, the latter a baroque jewel and renowned gastro hub.

Ariccia is best known for its porchetta (pork roast), but order a tripe dish in one of the town’s small, informal eateries, known locally as fraschette, and you’ll have the staff cooing around you like good ‘uns. Try the trippa alla romana at L’Ariccarola (Via Borgo San Rocco, 9), which comes in huge glops of tomato sauce with hints of vanilla and garlic, topped with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. As sauces go, it’s a belter.

Trippa alla romana comes in huge glops of tomato sauce with hints of vanilla and garlic, topped with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. As sauces go, it’s a belter.

Head back up on the SS7 back into central Rome though our final destination (a 40-minute journey, if the traffic’s behaving itself), and you’ll soon see how the city’s kitchens take this whole tripe thing up a notch or two. La pajata is a sauce made with unweaned calves (and occasionally lamb) intestines, normally served over a plate of rigatoni pasta. Its heartland is over in Testaccio, once home to Rome’s largest slaughterhouse.

Agustarello (Via Giovanni Branca, 100, near Piazza Santa Maria Liberatrice) is the tripe Gracelands. The portions are huge and, if by now you’re getting a tad tired of eating intestines, try the coratella (lamb’s heart, lungs and liver with artichokes) or the gricia (pork jowl). Da Gino (Vicolo Rosini 4) is a bit more upmarket, but the menu waves the flag for Rome’s fabled cucina povera (including a great spaghetti all’amatricana (with pork cheek), while over towards Trastevere, La Tavernaccia da Bruno (Via Panfilo Castaldi, 12) is another tripe trove.

But for all of Rome’s flamboyant energy and the plentiful depths of that la pajata sauce, I’m still getting a serious jones for a Florentine lampredotto.

What do you reckon? Maybe we should be heading back…

ADDITIONAL IMAGE CREDITS:

Article Header – Crete Senesi Panorama by Giovanni Volpato

Food of Florence triptych – Judy Witts / storem  / Marco Varisco