Our first afternoon/night here was very difficult. We were dropped off with our keys and luggage at the door to our apartment. We were excited to finally arrive, but were hungry and dead tired. We did not know the slightest thing about shopping in this new place, but together we found a little food store near our apartment. Clueless on what to make, the three of us purchased noodles and butter. Our first meal here was buttered noodles. Classy I know!!! 🙂 We were looking for cheese to make homemade mac ‘n cheese, but of course there were not blocks of cheddar or bags of shredded mozzarella therefore we had no idea what kind of cheese to buy. With not the slightest idea what any of the oddly named cheeses tasted like, we were a little bit too scared to just grab one. There were very expensive and we did not know which would melt well. We played it safe with our bland, pathetic buttered noodles.
Since this first night we have learned so much! Our second day here we had orientation. We were given endless pointers on where to shop and how to shop. We thought we knew how to shop, but here it is very different. We were taught where to find the open air markets. These markets are located in the Piazza’s (squares) all over Florence, but they are only open from around 8am to 2pm Monday thru Saturday. In Florence you typically buy your food fresh each day.
The markets here are amazing with endless fresh fruit and vegetables. We have really grown to love this. Juicy, flavorful and inexpensive, we have been living on fruit! Through observation we also learned that in the markets the clerks often pick up the fruit for you. They put it into a bag and weigh it. At supermarkets you do this yourself. You must wear a glove, which they have on rolls just like the bags. You weigh your fruit and press the number that corresponds with the fruit your buying. The machine prints you a price tag for your fruit or vegetables. This is very high tech. I am surprised we do not have anything like this back home or if we do I have never seen it. With the seasons changing soon we hope the fruit stays, but we have been told it will not, which is very sad.
The open air markets also have meat shops with the freshest meats, fish, and eggs. We have learned in our Mediterranean Diet class that meat is not eaten like it is in America. Italians have it once a week if that. We have had a few chicken and pasta dinners, cheeseburgers one night and sandwiches with deli-meat, but other than that we do not eat a lot of meat.
We go through a lot of bread because we are always making sandwiches and toast for breakfast. White bread is inexpensive so that is what we buy. I miss wheat bread! We also have saltines as a snack. They are inexpensive and yummy with fruity jam and nutella, which I have not bought yet, but my roommates eat a lot of it. We buy noodles at the market as well. They have every flavor and shape imaginable. They have chocolate flavored noodles at the market, which we plan to try before we leave. The last pack of noodles we brought had three flavors in one: garlic, tomato and spinach. It was very yummy mixed with chicken and vegetables. We also made a tomato, chicken casserole with red sauce. These were both a big step up from our buttered noodles.
Another difference from shopping here and at home is bags. When we go to the markets we always take our own cloth bags. Some shops give you bags, but it is nice to have a bigger cloth bag to put everything in for the trek home. At grocery stores you are charged extra for bags. It is usually only .10 or .05 euro, but we still usually bring our own bags to conserve on bags and save a few cents here and there.
Shopping here in Florence is always a time consuming adventure. We spend a significant amount of time wandering through markets searching for just the right thing at just the right price. This is a constant battle because there are varying prices everywhere. Where you shop, the quality of the food you buy and the prices you pay depends on how much time you have, how far you want to walk and how long you want to carry all those groceries. The challenge of shopping gets easier as we continue to learn new tips and tricks each week.
Brittany Mazemke is studying abroad at Florence University of the Arts in Florence, Italy.