Pastries || creative commons photo by Mink Mingle
As any night owl knows, there’s nothing quite like a late-night snack to perk up your energy – particularly if that snack comes fresh out of the oven. In Florence, the best midnight snacks come from the secret night bakeries, but to sample the treats you’ve got to follow the rules.
To be clear, these “secret” night bakeries in Florence aren’t even close to being secret. They’re just not typically frequented by the general public, nor are they open during normal working hours. These are the wholesale bakeries that supply the cafes and restaurants all over Florence with freshly-baked pastries and breads every single day. This means they’re hard at work in the wee hours, when most of the city is asleep. So, if you happen to be awake and peckish between 2am-4am, you can get your hunger sated in the backstreets of Florence.
The best way to find Florence’s secret night bakeries is to walk with an open nose. The bakeries are in nondescript storefronts, but they positively fill the streets with the smell of rising and baking dough when the ovens are on. Many times, when your nose zeroes in on the location, it will be confirmed by an existing gathering of other hungry night owls hovering around (often) an unmarked side door. In some cases, you may have to knock on a closed door (in these situations it’s very helpful to be with a knowledgeable Florence local or have a specific address).
Cornetti || creative commons photo by Olia Gozha
There are two main rules you need to follow in order to enjoy the goodies at the secret night bakeries in Florence without incident.
- The first is that you’ve got to keep quiet. These bakeries are in the midst of residential areas, and because they don’t have an indoor seating area for patrons, people are milling about outside in the middle of the night. The locals don’t appreciate being awakened by loud people eating pastries, and have been known to give the bakeries a hard time or even dumping water on the diners in the street. So keep your voices down while you wait and eat.
- The second rule is that there isn’t a menu at these night bakeries. If you have something in mind that you want, you can ask for it specifically – either by name (“cornetto,” for example, if you want a croissant) or by category (“something with fruit,” or “something with chocolate”) – or you can simply ask for whatever is most fresh. Be prepared to pay in cash, with prices usually in the €1-2 per pastry and below.
Even if you’re not usually awake at 2am, sampling freshly-baked pastries from a back-alley bakery in Florence might be reason enough to set the alarm.
A few handy Italian phrases you might need during a night bakery visit in Florence:
- per favore – (pehr fah|VOH|reh) – Being polite, part one. This means, “please.”
- grazie – (GRAHT|zee|eh) – Being polite, part two. This means, “thanks.”
- cornetto – (kohr|NET|toh) – This is the Italian word for “croissant,” but is also sometimes a word used more generally for the basic pastry that people get with their morning espresso at the local bar.
- bombolone – (bom|boh|LOH|neh) – This is like a raised doughnut, usually with a sugar granule coating and some kind of filling, like custard.
- sfogliatella – (svol|yah|TELL|ah) – This is actually a pastry that comes from Naples, but some bakeries in Florence make them, too.
- qualcosa con frutta – (kwal|KOH|zah kon FROOT|tah) – This means, “something with fruit,” which will be a pastry like a cornetto filled with fruit jam of some kind.
- qualcosa con cioccolato – (kwal|KOH|zah kon cho|koh|LAH|toh) – Here’s your “something with chocolate,” for you chocoholics. Again, this is usually something like a cornetto or other basic pastry with chocolate custard-y filling.
- qualcosa con crema – (kwal|KOH|zah kon KREH|mah) – If you (like me) prefer that vanilla custard filling, this is your phrase, which means, “something with cream.”
Visited several of these bakeries in 2015 in the wee hours and they were wonderful, but tried finding many of the same location in November of 2017 only to find that most of them have moved out of the city center or are closed. Very sad to see this tradition die.
Oh, that’s a bummer! I hope the tradition isn’t entirely gone… I’m not surprised they’d move out of the city center, though – I can imagine the rent there is pretty high.