Travel, Exploration and Food

Tuscan bread

Tuscan bread

by Shannon Berg

When I’m traveling, I love to stop and really explore a place, not just visit its famous monuments, but delve into its traditions and culture as well. My favorite way to do this is to try as much of the local culinary specialties as I can. Food says a lot about people, and traditional dishes can be very revealing. Many cherished regional specialties were born of necessity, and really, by learning about the local foods I also learn about history and customs as well. So as often as I can, I sacrifice myself to cultural research and eat as much of the local cuisine as possible.

For example, while visiting Florence I discovered that unlike in the rest of Italy, in Florence the bread is traditionally made without salt. This is because Florence and its greatest rival city, Pisa, were at war for centuries. It just happened that Pisa, sitting near the sea, controlled the salt trade and at one point, for strategic reasons, decided to cut off Florence’s salt supply in an attempt to bring Florence to its knees. However, always independent and contrary, the Florentines chose to defy Pisa and developed a bread recipe without salt. Even today this is most common bread on the Florentine table, a tradition kept alive just like the grudge against Pisa.

Florentines are very proud of their bread, and as it happens, they have good reason. It is especially suited for the rest of the local cuisine. Few things are better than a couple slices of this rustic bread paired with the local prosciutto, a saltier version than Parma’s famous specialty, and a glass of chianti. Each of the local products seems to highlight the other. So, whenever in Florence, I have a real cultural experience and enjoy them all together.

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