Family, food, and wine, three of life’s most precious gifts and some of the main reasons most of us travel around the world to study in Florence for the semester. By the time you leave, you will hopefully have a deeper understanding of the meaning of these three elements and it will most certainly be difficult to adjust to life at home without them. Let’s start with family, la famiglia, arguably the most important priority in an Italian’s life. The bond between Italian family members is difficult to comprehend unless witnessed first hand. After arriving in Italy, it doesn’t take long to notice the light in which an Italian male sees his mother, normally his everyday provider late into his 20s (if not his whole life). For those of you who don’t come from culturally Italian families, the differences between an Italian family and your own may be even more surprising and leave a bigger impression on you.
A close second to family on the priority list is unquestionably food. Italian food is something we may have thought we had experienced at home in an Italian restaurant, but the real thing is even more satisfying—even if it’s just a dish of simple pasta or a panino that seems effortlessly made with only bread, prosciutto, and mozzarella. The tomatoes in the pasta are inconceivably delicious and the panino has more flavor than any sandwich you have ever eaten at home, regardless of the amount of spices and toppings you may have added.
It would be naïve to think that the homemade cooking of an Italian mamma has nothing to do with the special bond of their family. (Could the real reason Italian men won’t leave home be because they can’t find another woman whose cooking can adequately replace their mamma’s?).
An authentic meal in a true Italian family isn’t complete without a glass of vino. Portions vary from a quantity for a young girl whose mom gives her only the tiniest sip so that she acquires the taste, to that of a nonno who has been drinking wine for well more than five decades and may finish a glass or two before i secondi piatti hit the table. If nonno is from Tuscany, he is also more than likely knowledgeable about wine and his recommendations are surely the best.
If you’re looking to meet one of these wine professionals in Florence, no need to go further than via dei Neri, one of the city center’s oldest streets and a five minute walk from the Duomo. You are looking for Daniele Mazzanti, the owner of L’Antico Vinaio for almost 20 years—though the vinaio has been there for over 100.
For those of you who don’t know what a vinaio is yet, it’s about time you learned. In the case of the Antico Vinaio, it’s a mix of family, food, and of course, wine. Take a left off via dei Leoni to via dei Neri and you will quickly notice the bottles of wine and glasses on a shelf outside, usually surrounded by locals during lunch and dinner time.
This is the self-service system, a unique part of the Italian culture that immediately creates a family and togetherness vibe—a vibe that is likely also a result of the fact that the vinaio and the facing rosticceria are family run.
Based on what Daniele’s son Tommaso told me, Daniele wakes up early and opens L’Antica Vinaio at 8 AM until around lunchtime when his sons take over until closing at 9 PM. Father and sons will all gladly share their knowledge of wine with you while explaining the origins of over 150 different wines they serve, all from Tuscany.
Across the street at the rosticceria seems to be where the women of the family spend most of their time, most notably Fedra, Daniele’s wife. Between the vinaio’s outdoor self-service table and the convivial atmosphere at the rosticceria across the street, you’ve got a community of regulars and first-timers milling in the street talking, sipping wine and munching on one of the many panini from the Antico Vinaio or a chicken wing from the rosticceria. Family, food, wine: a true Italian experience.
Although the prices are already very affordable, I have never left the vinaio paying anything other than 5 Euro, no matter how much I ate or how many glasses of wine I drank. It seems like every time Tommaso (Daniele’s son) begins to start doing the math in his head to add up the glasses of wine and tiny panini I have eaten, he never does more than smile, say cinque, and give me a ciao bello with a wave. For those of you intimidated by the group of locals standing outside, be assured that you will surely feel welcomed by Tommaso’s smile once you go inside. If you speak a little bit of Italian to him, he may even start to give you the “5 Euro Ciao Bello Special”.
Via dei Neri, 65r