How To Celebrate Thanksgiving In Florence
Thanksgiving is fast approaching – and with a national holiday right around the corner you might be thinking of travelling to Italy. This year, the last Thursday of the month falls on November 22nd, a quiet if not slightly chilly time in Florence as the days grow shorter and Christmas creeps closer. But if you’re fortunate enough to be in the stunning Tuscan capital this year, you have no shortage of things to do for Thanksgiving.
While there are plenty of festivals and events around this time of year, it’s worth mentioning that Thanksgiving is not a tradition in Italy. The traditional American feast’s family-centric focus crops up far more often than once a year in Italy’s festal calendar, with extended families hosting each other most weeks to spend a day grazing on exquisite food in convivial company.
Most Italians are familiar with the American tradition though. They learn about Thanksgiving at school, and have their own translation, La Festa del Ringraziamento – though this phrase refers not to the traditional American Thanksgiving, but to the various patron saints’ days that take place throughout the year.
Florence, as the globally adored, culturally diverse city that it is, finds itself better positioned than most other Italian cities in satisfying your Thanksgiving fix. So whether you’re out hunting for your elusive Tuscan turkey or want to learn more about and participate in other Italian traditions this time of year (after all, when in Rome, do as the Romans do), Roman Candle Tours have written this guide packed full of useful information to help you plan for your upcoming trip to Florence.
Where to celebrate Thanksgiving in Florence
Thanksgiving is a Thursday like any other in Florence. Which means that come the evening, the city centre will be awash with life as people do some after work shopping or pile into the hundreds of bars, restaurants, osterie(small, family-run restaurants), and enoteche(wine bars).
With so much to choose from (and too little time to risk making a wrong decision), working out where to eat out for dinner can be tricky. That’s why we’re giving our top recommendations for where to go for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
Take part in tradition at the Ristorante Accademia
A stone’s throw from the Accademia, the renaissance residence of Michelangelo’s magnificent David, the Ristorante Accademia has been a home away from home around Thanksgiving for Americans and Italian Americans for the last 18 years. The restaurant’s owners, Gianni and his American wife, established their longstanding Thanksgiving dinner in the wake of 9/11. Their raison d’être, Gianni told me, was “to make those far away from home feel at least a little closer.”
The menu, perfected over the years, consists of pumpkin soup and cornbread to start, followed by roast turkey with stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce – an ever elusive condiment here in Italy. For your side dish, you have a choice of creamed corn and mashed potato, while for your dessert you can chose from a mouth-watering range of homemade pumpkin pie, pecan pie or apple strudel.
The Ristorante Accademia’s Thanksgiving dinner costs €35 a head, not including drinks. But as it’s a long-established and well-rehearsed menu, using the freshest Tuscan produce and fusion Italian cooking, you can be sure you’ll get your money’s worth. To make sure you don’t miss out on this increasingly popular event, reserve your spot by calling them on (+39) 055 217343 or by dropping them an email.
Tuck into your Turkey at Florence’s 1950s American Diner
Loved by locals and Erasmus students alike, this quirky American-style diner has really entered into its own in recent years, becoming one of the most in vogue establishments in the heart of San Lorenzo, the medieval quarter once home to the Medici.
As you’d expect, little of the Medici’s lifestyle lives on within the walls of this 1950s diner. Its chequered floors, brick walls and padded booths make a radical departure from Florence’s more traditional restaurants – as does its kitchen, which serves up honest American classics (and generous American portions).
This Thanksgiving, the 1950s American Diner’s menu consists of buttery corn on the cob and potato and pumpkin soup to start, roast turkey with stuffing served with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce for the main, and a selection of pumpkin cupcakes to finish.
At just €20 per head, the 1950s American Diner can boast the best value Thanksgiving dinner in Florence. With its retro, nostalgia-fuelled décor, eccentric atmosphere, and super-attentive service, it might also prove the most memorable.
Kick off festivities at the Fashion Foodballer
In the heart of Florence’s historic centre, just off one of the city’s most famous piazzas and fashionable high streets, the Fashion Foodballer is a sleek, modern bar and restaurant offering something radically different from the area’s usual culinary fare. In case its name doesn’t give it away, Fashion Foodballer is football mad, and so fits right in to the traditional Thanksgiving celebrations. A quick caveat though: when we Europeans say football, what we actually mean is soccer.
Its surrounding screens stream all the live matches and its museum displays a kooky collection of football memorabilia. As a diner, you can be an active participant as well as a passionate spectator: go for a couple of rounds of table football or talk your friends into an equally heated game of foosball. Oh, and it goes without saying that the winner buys dinner.
This year’s €25 Thanksgiving menu consists of stuffed turkey with two sauces, mashed potato and sweet potato mash, baked macaroni and cheddar cheese, peas, beans, cornbread and homemade apple pie. Make sure you reserve your spot by giving them a call or sending them an email.
Indulge in a gluten-free Thanksgiving at Quinoa
As the Thanksgiving tradition was founded on inclusivity, it’s only fair that your gluten-free friends and family should have somewhere to celebrate too. And when it comes to gluten-free Italian food, nowhere beats Quinoa. Florence’s first 100 percent gluten-free restaurant has built up a strong reputation since opening in 2014 with its delicious food complimented by its beautiful, intimate setting in an atmospheric renaissance courtyard.
From 19:00 – 23:00 this Thursday 22nd, Quinoa will be serving up its signature Thanksgiving dinner. A starter of cream of pumpkin soup will be followed by stuffed roast turkey, its scent wafting around the restaurant, accompanied by creamy, mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables. To round things off, tuck into pumpkin pie with an Italian staple, gelato – which, after all, was invented in Florence.
Quinoa’s menu is remarkably good value, costing just €25 a head. And if you want something a little more traditional, you can choose from their extensive classic menu, which includes Florentine sirloin steak, mixed fried fish and a range of fusion takes on traditional pasta dishes. Reserve your spot by booking online or by calling Quinoa on (+39) 055 290876.
Go hard or go home at the Hard Rock Café
Situated in a vaulted arcade just off Florence’s atmospheric Piazza della Repubblica, the Hard Rock Café has made a name for itself in Florence as a haven for students and locals looking for something a little heavier. For Thanksgiving this year, it’s the best bet for people looking for a Thanksgiving lunch, as from midday to midnight its kitchen will be serving up roast turkey with all the trimmings.
Diners will be treated to a starter of corn chowder with crispy bacon bits, followed by roast turkey with chestnut stuffing and sides of fresh vegetables, creamy golden mash and sweet cranberry sauce. Pumpkin pie with whipped cream will round off proceedings, after which you can walk some of the calories off by visiting the nearby Duomo on one of our tours. Just make sure to be there after 10:00pm to take part in the age-old tradition of Thanksgiving karaoke. Sing for your dinner; the winner takes it all!
The best way to book your place for this Thanksgiving event is to visit the Hard Rock Café’s website. Tickets prices vary from €15 per child to €33 per adult, with sodas and a bottle of beer included. As with all Thanksgiving events, I’d recommend booking in advance. But because the Hard Rock Café’s kitchen will be open from midday to midnight, if you like to live life on the edge you can probably just turn up and chance it.
Italian Thanksgiving vocabulary
Thanksgiving Ringraziamento Rin-grat-zee-a-men-toe
Soup of… Zuppa di… Zoo-pa dee
Pumpkin Zucca Zoo-ka
Potatoes Patate Pa-tah-tay
Turkey Tachino Ta-KEE-no
Stuffed turkey Ripieno di tachino Ree-pee-AIR-no
Cranberries Mirtilli rossi Meer-till-ee ross-ee
Mashed potatoes Purè di patate Pur-EY dee pa-tah-tey
Pumpkin pie Torta di zucca Tor-ta dee zoo-ka
Autumn and Winter traditions in Italy
It’s little surprise that the Italians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Though not founded as a unified country until 1861, Italy could always pride itself on a historical narrative stretching back more than 2,000 years, to the heydays of the Roman Empire of Trajan and Hadrian, among whose imperial monuments and ruins in Rome Plymouth Rock would pale into insignificance.
The history behind Thanksgiving – with its strange blend agrarian, protestant and, uncomfortable as it is to say, colonialist origins – is distinctly American. And yet what Thanksgiving has come to represent – spending time together with good food and good company – manifests itself throughout the world. Though as far as food as family are concerned, it’s hard to find a country with deeper roots than Italy.
The Italian love of food is a stereotype for a reason. And it culminates most strongly, and most commonly, in the sagra. Sagre, as they’re known in the plural, are held all across Italy throughout the year to celebrate any given kind of food. Half feast, half festival, they see communities come together in a public space for copious eating, drinking and merriment.
Recent sagre in Florence have included the sagra della carbonara (carbonara festival) sagra del lampredotto (Florence’s speciality tripe — don’t knock it till you’ve tried it) and, here for two days from November 17th, the sagra del cioccolato which is, yes, you guessed it — chocolate.
Taking part in a sagra is a wonderful introduction to Italian culinary culture, and going to a sagraduring the winter would be one of the best ways to get a taste of the Italian equivalent to Thanksgiving. As we approach the dead of winter, though, we can’t forget about the other main event on the festal calendar – Christmas.
Because Italy is still very much a Catholic nation (as you’d expect, given it’s home to the Vatican), religious services in ancient churches play a more central part in the Italian Christmas – or “Natale”, as it’s called – than in our own. But the the more secular acts of gift-giving and feasting punctuate these religious proceedings, and in households up and down the country Italians deck their tables with Italian Christmas food (though the exact culinary traditions vary according to region).
Next month, we’ll be publishing a series of articles about spending Christmas and New Year in Italy, looking at our three favourite cities of Florence, Venice and Rome. If you’re coming to Italy before, around Thanksgiving, though, and want to explore any of these cities in the company of one of our expert guides, get in touch or visit our website, where we have a detailed list of all our tours as well as the option to tailor your own. So until next time, from all of us at Roman Candle Tours – happy holidays!
If you liked this article, read also “Visiting Florence In Fall“