The old adage sticks in Pisa: Italians live to eat, whereas much of the rest of the world eats to live. And with olive oil, ripe tomatoes and homemade bread the ever-present staples, travelers consistently find the traditional Italian menu alive and well in Pisa.
Unsurprisingly, pizza is omnipresent in Pisa, with welcoming little neighborhood pizzerias dotted everywhere around the city. Most are also reassuringly cheap, with the exception of the myriad of touristy stalls around the Campo dei Miracoli.
A little to the north of the university (about five minutes’ walk from the Campo), the cafés of the Piazza dei Cavalieri are a tempting place to stop for a drink and a light bite when sightseeing
For a more rounded meal, Pisa offers numerous excellent (and affordable) restaurants. At the lower end, the ‘tavola caldas’ are restaurant/take-away hybrids that serve a variety of dishes at good prices; a ‘rosticceria’, meanwhile, is similar but specializes in roast meat and poultry.
The best option, though, is probably one step up. An ‘osteria’ is a basic, welcoming tavern that serves palatable wine and backs it up with tasty and filling food. A word of warning, however: some have gone a bit up-market of late, so check the menu before entering.
‘Trattorie’ are slightly more expensive, traditional restaurants (often family-run) that serve homely Italian food at its best. The decor can sometimes be a little on the kitsch side, and the menu limited to a couple of select dishes, but the food is almost guaranteed to be superb.
The cuisine in Pisa tends to change with the seasons. Expect to eat more pasta and fish during the summer; winter, meanwhile, supplies hearty and meat-heavy meals, as the locals spend their weekends out on large game hunts.
The Florentine steak and Tuscan hare are particular favorites, as is boar stew. To do things like the locals, make sure to begin a meal with a ‘primo piatto’ of fish soup or a ‘ribollita’, a thick soup containing beans, vegetables and cabbage.
Predictably, the caliber of the wine matches that of the food, and since there’s also wonderful olive oil, cheeses, and biscuits on offer, any meal is sure to continue well into the dessert stages. After all, in Pisa (as in Italy as a whole) a meal is a long, drawn-out, and almost sacred, ritual.