Friday, July 23, 2010

Panini a trippa at Da Nerbone, In Firenze's Mercato Centrale

Load it all up! I love tripe! And put it all on a crusty, crunchy italian roll!
It's called panini a trippa - a sandwich that is stuffed with soft slices of stewed and seasoned tripe.
But it isn't really tripe, the ordinary, greyish  honeycomb tripe that goes into our kare kare that we know so well.  
Trippa is the fourth stomach of the cow the Italians call lampredotto -- it's brown, wrinkly, 
very tender when cooked and has a more "meaty" texture and flavor than tripe.
According to Fodor's (and they have a lot of good tips, believe me) a must eat in Florence is 
panini a trippa -- a tripe sandwich or in this case, a lampredotto sandwich.

I headed off to the Mercato Centrale at at the unholy hour of 7 a.m to find the market already bustling with just-opened stalls,  lots of shoppers but Nerbone -- the oldest lampredotto sandwich stall in the market and an icon in the Firenze food scene -- still closed. It would be an hour's wait but looking at the crowd already gathering, I knew it would be worth it.
When the stall finally opened, I took my place in the queue amidst a predominantly male and middle-aged crowd. I guess it would take some testosterone to have a really hearty sandwich so early in the morning!
Since I spoke no Italian, I took my cue from watching how everyone placed their orders.

First you line up at the cashier, pay for your panini and then give the receipt to the counter man who was busily assembling the sandwiches. Then it was time for some non-verbal communication.
"Manzo? Trippa?" - for the unadventurous,  Nerbone also makes traditional Italian beef sandwiches.
Trippa of course!
The man split open a roll, speared a piece of lampredotto from the liquid, sliced it oh-so thinly, piled it on the roll -- looked at me again and asked ...
"Salsa?" -- pointing to the red (hot) sauce and the green (piquant) sauce.
Gesturing wildly -- I said "Everything on it!!!"
"Bagnato?" he cocked an eyebrow at me ...
Oh dear God I wanted to scream ... YESSSS! YESSS! Just give my my panini, can't you see I'm dying here?!
Bagnato means to dip the sandwich bottom side down, in the tripe's stewing liquid, just a quick dip to make for that perfect texture of a soggy bottom with a crunchy hard top.
He wrapped the sandwich in some greased paper and I found myself a chair, opened my sandwich and bit it into it --- stupendo!

Every bite was a blend of soft meat, mixed with crusty roll, just enough drippings for a juicier
chew.  The red and green salsa gave an added spice and kick that seemed to change with every bite -- to make you look forward to the surprise the next mouthful  would bring.
It was a large and hefty sandwich and the Italian men were looking at me and wondering if I could finish it all -- and of course I did.
 When I got up to leave, there were smiles and nods of approval.
See you again tomorrow ...  they seemed to be asking.
Definitely, I will be back!

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