Food is full of rituals in Italy and Lucca is the perfect place to see how this culinary history has remained unchanged. There are still some foods shop in Lucca which link back to their original family owners. Below I have described four such shops that are preserved in time but serving their 21st century customers with wonderful natural products proving that ancient food traditions are totally valid and up to date. Their beautiful ancient edifices with their fixtures and fittings, which are now protected, make food shopping a unique and wonderful experience. The locals still use these shops, as they know they can rely on the quality of the products.
The old saying goes "Bread is the staff of life". It would be unthinkable for an Italian table to be void of a breadbasket. Every Italian needs a piece of bread to do a "Scarpetta" , which is used to mop the juices off one's plate. Forno Giusti in Via Santa Lucia has been supplying the Lucchesi (citizens of Lucca) for generations. It was originally set up to serve the surrounding monasteries. The original steam ovens are still in use though now they are run on gas. The vapor gives the products a unique shine. One of the specialties of Giusti’s is their foccacia beloved as a "merenda" (snack) by the school kids. This specialty is either cooked in a pan with olive oil or on the oven floor. If you feel like a picnic why not buy a fresh piece of the caramelised onion focaccia and the sweet focaccia from the window and you have a five star gourmet meal for a few euro. This is what fast food should be! Though you will need to work of the calories!
Just across the narrow street is Prospero where the Lucchesi buy dry herbs and legumes, different types of flour including the wonderful sweet chestnut flour used to make some of the traditional treats of the area. The same family has owned the shop since it opened in 1700 and the fittings are also the same. Entering the shop is like stepping into a culinary Diagon Alley.
Lucca isn't famous for its cake like other parts of Italy but we do have our own specialties. One is "Torta co' becchi"a sweet tart made out of vegetables and the other is Buccellato a sweet raisin bread flavoured with aniseed. This delicacy can still be bought from Taddeucci bakery in Piazza San Michele where it was invented. Prince Charles is said to be a fan when he visits our little city. The taste is a bit like a hot cross bun with aniseed. The Lucchesi love to toast it and serve it with ice cream. A little light number by oh soooo good!!
If you are feeling a little bloated after all those carbohydrates like many Italians you will feel the need of a digestive. A liquor to help you digest. Here in Lucca you can buy a bottle of Cinchona know locally as simply as China. This has been made in the city since 1855 when the chemist Dr Massagli who created the concoction to treat the malaria epidemic. The medicine was then sold as an elixir and can therefore be sold in chemists. The secret recipe of herbs and roots is passed down from owner to owner of the chemist shop but we do know the main ingredient is of course the Jesuit’s bark, the natural form of quinine. The liquor also contains nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon. The shop was originally a spice shop and has moved a couple of doors down but the original shop furniture has been preserved in the new shop, which is still a working homeopathic chemist.
Lucca has become the capital of ice cream parlours or gelateria. There are so many and my daughter and her friends all have their favourites. The oldest in the town however is Gelateria Veneta. Found just off Corso Garibaldi though there are other branches around the city and a guy peddles a refrigerated bicycle around the walls in summer. The shop itself isn’t anything special but the gelato is rich and creamy and the fruit flavours full of fresh fruit. Licking a cone is the perfect way to cool down on a hot summer afternoon. The locals meet for an ice-cream on a summer afternoon and the semifreddo (literary translated semi cold) games make perfect gifts to take to a dinner party. Here in Italy it is traditional to take a dessert when invited for dinner.
There are many other wonderful food shops in town and some of my favourites I will describe in other posts but how many cities in the world have food shops with direct family links going back centuries.