by Melinda Gallo

Lunch in Prato

Bari and I had decided the other day that we would take a train ride to Prato to have lunch. Neither one of us has ever been to the centro (downtown area) of Prato and thought it would be fun. I told Alessandro of our plans and he said, "Che ci fate a Prato?" (What are you going to do in Prato?) I explained to him that because they have such a high population of Chinese, we thought it'd be fun to go there to eat at a Chinese restaurant. Most Florentines seem to consider it a place not worthy of visiting, but we were determined.

Living in Florence :: Lunch in Prato

I had imagined us hopping off the train and walking around a small, but bustling city. But instead, we arrived to a deserted town. It was almost 1PM and the shops were closed. We saw about three people walking on the long street that led to the Duomo. I was a little disappointed that we only saw one Chinese man walking toward us as everyone I know told me how many there would be there.

We walked to the Duomo where I took the picture shown. We were both a little surprised how quiet the town was. We giggled each time we looked at each other. Our vision of Prato was certainly shattered.

As we strolled the streets in the hopes of finding a wide selection of Chinese restaurants, we only saw a few Italian bars that served food on outside terrazze (terraces). The more we walked around, the hungrier I was getting. We did see a few more Chinese, but didn't feel comfortable about asking them for a good restaurant.

In the end, I spotted a carabiniere (Italian military police officer) who was smoking a cigarette outside. "Scusi, ma ci potrebbe dire dove si pu trovare un ristorante cinese? (Excuse me, but could you tell us where we can find a Chinese restaurant?)" He let out a slight giggle and smiled at us. "Dovete andare nella zona loro. Basta prendere quella strada almeno 700 metri e andate sotto la porte. Questa la via Pistoiese, sono tutti l. (You must go into their area. All you have to do is take that street for 700 meters and go under the door. That is via Pistoiese, they are all there.)"

We thanked him and began walking. More and more people we passed were Chinese. Eventually we were the only two non-Chinese people in the street. We looked at the shops as we walked past. There seemed to be numerous wedding dress shops and electronics stores along the street. Most of which were open even during the lunch hours while all the shops in the entire centro were closed.

We walked down a few blocks and didn't see a single Chinese restaurant. I spotted one place that looked like they had food. It was a bar that had food that you could pick out of the glass case. There were plates of food that I didn't recognize except for the chicken feet and some of the vegetables.

We ended up turning ourselves around and going back to the centro of Prato. By this time, it was at least 2PM and we were starving. We spotted a terrazza with people outside, so we dashed down the street to see if it was still open.

The menu was sitting on the counter and we looked at it, ordered our food, and sat down outside on the covered terrazza.

I felt a bit uncomfortable there as it felt as if people were staring at us. We had felt a bit scrutinized in the Chinese area, but no one made us feel uneasy. But, at this bar, I could feel them gaze at us. Maybe they don't see many tourists in this area; we were obviously not regulars at this bar.

The cameriere (waiter) spoke to us and we explained that we live in Florence and that it was our first time ever to go to Prato. I told him that we were looking for a Chinese restaurant. He laughed and told another patron, "Sono venute solo per trovare un ristorante cinese...Prato conosciuta per i cinesi ora! (They only came to find a Chinese restaurant...Prato is known for the Chinese!)"

We ended up parlare del pi e del meno (talking about this and that) to the cameriere and his brother who own the bar. It began to rain and we scooted our chairs so that we wouldn't get wet. We didn't bring umbrellas even though the forecast said there was a 50% chance of rain. They offered us a caff (coffee) and we stayed even longer to chat with them.

Once the rain subsided, we left and walked down via Ricasoli to the famous Biscottificio Antonio Mattei, where cantuccini (biscotti) are made. Unfortunately, it was closed for most of August and wouldn't be opening up for another week or so.

We visited the inside of the Duomo, which reminded me of the Duomo in Siena, for a few minutes. We headed back to the train station and took the first train back to Florence. We both enjoyed our excursion to Prato even though we couldn't find a Chinese restaurant. We might have to return when the shops have opened back up in September. At least, I wouldn't mind buying some fresh cantuccini.

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