What a load of tripe!

Florence's tradition of tripe dates as far back as the 1400s, and in 2010, it's still a growing industry. Everyone has seen the mobile kiosks in Florence's streets and piazzas advertising trippa and lampredotto in large, bold lettering. The number of these stands, collectively known as the trippai di Firenze, is on the rise.

To fully understand the product the trippai handle, which is largely unknown to the tourist masses and even many expats, a quick explanation is in order. Trippa (tripe), made from the cow's pre-stomachs, is soft, white and mostly flavourless. Enjoyed in many regions of Italy, it is cooked in a variety of ways. Lampredotto, a uniquely local Florentine speciality, is made from the cow's fourth (and only "true") stomach, called the abomasum. The abomasum consists of two distinct meats: a lean, darkly coloured, more flavourful meat; and a lightly coloured, fatty and lightly flavoured part. The name lampredotto comes, rather curiously, from the name of an eel, the lampreda, which once abounded in the Arno. When open, the mouth of the lampreda features a variegated, suction-pad aspect very similar to the coloured layers of lampredotto. Tuscan cooks rinse lampredotto well and boil it with tomatoes, onions, parsley and celery for two to three hours, serving it with a traditional parsley-based sauce, salsa verde. It can also be prepared in zimino - sliced and tossed in a pan together with chard or spinach - with pasta (pennette) or with Tuscan beans. The most traditional way of all, however, is serving it in a Tuscan saltless bread roll with salt, pepper, chilli oil or salsa verde, with the top slice of the roll dunked in the lampredotto stock. Whichever version you choose, lampredotto and trippa are meant to be enjoyed with a gottino di vino, or small shot of red wine, preferably a Chianti.

The economics of this micro-Florentine industry have an interesting history as well. Lampredotto and trippa have forever been the choice food of laborers and the working classes. Many of the oldest surviving kiosks in Florence are in the market areas, where traditional handcrafted goods manufacturing workshops were once situated - for example, in the San Frediano area. Back in the 1980s, their numbers had dwindled to five or six, and they often obtained their raw materials free of charge simply because they were the bits that serious butchers discarded. Now there are approximately 30 kiosks around the city, including one at the shopping mall I Gigli just outside Florence. Typical clients are both blue- and white-collar workers, including women, and the kiosks themselves are often expensive, four-wheel mobile devices with gleaming stainless steel cooking facilities. Indeed, Florence consumes approximately 250,000 kg of trippa (246 imperial tons) and 80,000 kg (79 imperial tons) of lampredotto are consumed each year. That's a whole load of tripe!

This growing market came under threat with the passage of a new European legislation (art. 23, law 88 of July 7, 2009) that banned street vendors from serving alcohol, which meant no more gottini! Outrage, demonstrations and general pandemonium ensued. Apparently, one simply cannot enjoy a panino al lampredotto with a glass of Coke. Fortunately, Florentine mayor Matteo Renzi, who openly flouted the ruling from the outset, speedily passed a bylaw allowing street food vendors, both temporary and permanent, to continue the centuries-old tradition of pairing tripe with vino.

Recently, the menu at some trippai has also expanded to include fresh hamburgers, sometimes even hot dogs. These recent arrivals have encouraged what was a previously reticent market sector, tourists, to approach the kiosks and find out what's on the menu. Eating the gelatinous bits takes some courage, but it takes just one bite to get hooked. They say that Michelangelo loved it: you can't get a much better celebrity endorsement than that!