If you’re off to Florence, a visit to Mercato Centrale is compulsory. The ground floor boasted stacks of fresh fruit and vegetable, tins of anchovies, baskets brimming with different sun-dried tomato varieties and porcini mushrooms. The first floor contained casual dining establishments, a ‘street food market’ vibe with offerings such as seafood, pizza and traditional Tuscan dishes, all made to order. I need not bother with the minutiae as I do not want to be blamed for excessive salivation everywhere.
My mother enjoyed the seafood stall; freshly grilled squid and the fried fish medley were her favourites. My brother and stepdad were less adventurous, choosing the authentic pizzas every time; the chefs were armed with only 5 ingredients, creating an intimate menu which garnered a lot of attention on each of our visit. Whilst I, inevitably, frequented the sole vegetarian and vegan stall, Veg & Veg, for my plant-based fix.
Veg & Veg prides themselves with their vegetarian (Cheese Up and Donatello) and vegan (Popeye and Giotto) burgers. A bean-based burger on toasted, seeded buns with an array of toppings and flavour combinations are offered.
They also have a dedicated fruit and juice bar, along with a well-stocked salad counter, where one is also given the option to eat it out of an edible bread-based bowl or a crostada. Other smaller side dishes include roasted potatoes with herbs, multi-cereal bread crusts and brown rice with vegetables.
Unashamedly, I visited the stall thrice in a row that I am 100% sure the cooks recognised me each time I passed and know that I am only in the vicinity for their food and their food alone. On my first visit, their food counter was shut by the time we reached the market (about 4:30 pm on a Friday), so just I opted for one of their refreshing juice mixes. ‘Vitamin’ was my poison of choice, a combination of peach, apple and orange. The small size was enough to quench my thirst, yet it left me wanting more.
The next day, I had the opportunity to finally try the Popeye burger. It consisted of a single bean burger topped with toasted sunflower seeds, valerian, caramelised onion, beetroot, red cabbage and some vegan sweet mayo. The beetroot and caramelised onion gave lovely sweet-yet-savoury tones to the burger; the seeds added to the crunch of the toasted bun; the red-tainted vegetables created pleasing food visuals.
I also opted for a 3-ingredient leafy salad comprising of sun-dried tomatoes, pea and courgette purée, and some artichokes. The sauce and salad choices were so good that I ordered a similar combo on the third day, alongside the rice and vegetables dish: beautifully cooked brown rice (with some crunch, just how I like it), with a variety of vegetables and pea and courgette purée to finish.
If that description is not enough to convince you to fly to Florence, a few words by co-owner Marcella Bianchi explaining the wonderful ethos behind Veg & Veg might.
Growing up in Verona amongst a family of six kids and a homeopathic doctor, Marcella claims to have had a “natural education” from a very early age. Though she has a background in law, her previous waiting experience further developed her passion for food, particularly those grown naturally.
What is the philosophy behind Veg & Veg?
Every person is different. One has to figure out what is best for their bodies, inside and out. Veg & Veg gives a meat-free alternative to help people find their optimal body balance.
What are your future plans for the business?
I am hoping to create a new branch, and hopefully take it out of Italy, too. For now, I hope to do our best in our sole branch in Florence.
Finally, where do you recommend going in Florence for the best vegetarian/vegan/plant-based eating?
Note: some of the establishments above are vegetarian-friendly only!
Thanks very much Marcella for giving us an insight into your passion for natural food, as well as your extensive restaurant and café recommendations! If anyone is interested in seeking out the best food places for veggies/vegans in Florence, I vouch for guides created by Firenze Veg and A Girl in Florence for stress-fee dining out.
Peace and love, Julia