The smiley, curly brown-haired Italian dude on the other side of the sandwich station nodded towards me indicating it was my turn. The shop displayed a classic Italian deli set-up with men down the line chattering excitedly in loud voices as they took up their individual tasks. I went up to the glass that served as a divider to the rows of freshly prepared sandwich ingredients. I had been eyeing them excruciatingly, which I decided seemed for the most part, veggie friendly. He cut up a slice of focaccia bread, ready to pile on the ingredients for my custom sandwich.
“No carne per favore.” I requested calmly shaking my head as he pointed towards the selection of meats gathered in front of him, conveniently piled next to the mechanic slicer. This caused the entire row of pro-sandwich makers to let out loud animated gasps, eavesdropping as they went about busily completing each of their tasks.
In response, I sort of did one of those half-smiles where only the corner-right side of my lips raise, awkwardly forcing my cheeks to clump up on the same side. I continued to peak at the array of vegetable options behind the glass, convinced that I would walk out with a sandwich that I could enjoy. After making my way to two different vegan places, which were conveniently located in opposite directions from each other, I discovered that they were both temporary closed due to the holidays. I was pretty much thinking, grrrreeat. Despite this slightly disappointing excursion, I was still very much determined to find something to eat. After Mr. “smiley, curly brown-haired Italian” dude’s initially taken aback demeanor, he quickly composed himself, answering with, “Mozzarella?”
“Anche senza formaggio.” Came my reply.
Reactively, he replied, “Veh-gan?!?” I was surprised at his awareness of the vegan diet. Without a single objection or judgment shown on his face, in English he continued with, “OK. I make for you.” And then, he proceeded to put together my vegan sandwich among their meat filled line of sandwiches.
At the end, I was presented with an Italian sandwich full of eggplant-something, olive tapenade, juicy tomatoes, fresh greens, other veggie dishes that I don’t remember and olive oil drizzled on top. I had carefully watched as he concocted my meal, which I completely trusted in him to customize for me. I am a pretty big control freak and perfectionist, so allowing him to pick the ingredients to go in my vegan sandwich at his beloved meat shop, could have easily been nerve-wracking. However when traveling, you gotta let all that shit go, keep an open mind and have a little trust – it does wonders with ridding my anxiety.
The nice, jolly older gentleman who rung me up, held the hat I had been holding for me as I juggled the sandwich in one hand and rummaged through my bag for my wallet with the other. He then tried on my hat, but quickly took it off saying, “Looks better on you.” Accepting his joke and his playful attitude, I laughed. “Molto bella,” he said as he waved goodbye. I paid an unbeatable 5 euros for a hearty veggie-full sandwich.
I walked out beaming and eager to bite into my vegan sandwich. Often times you’ll be surprised what an open mind and a positive attitude will result in. So need I remind you, practice this mindset when you are traveling to make your time the most enjoyable one.
When you are in Florence, don’t hesitate to walk into All`antico Vinaio – that is, if you don’t mind that they sell meat in the same location.