Food trails: Ponce

The port of Livorno had already become the gateway to and an emporium in the Medici's Grand Duchy of Tuscany when, one morning in 1614, a Saracen felucca docked there, laden with coffee and barrels of rum.
The mysterious scented coffee beans immediately aroused the interest of several innkeepers who tried to use them in their taverns. They added hot rum to produce a strong, restorative drink for the shivering sailors forced to stay on land because of bad weather.
This is how ‘il ponce' began, and what an invention! The truly explosive combination (in the words of Aldo Santini, a "pirate's concoction"), capable of comforting souls and helping in difficult moments, is so unique that it is still plays a dominant role in the lives of every Livornese family, representing a highly satisfactory way of rounding off a fine meal.
However, Livorno is not just the city that invented ‘il ponce': in the 1800s the first cafés opened here, frequented by people from all social classes and cultural backgrounds, as well as by women - an important factor that gives us an idea of the mentality of the time, underlining once again the cosmopolitan and libertarian origins of Livorno.
Even before similar establishments opened in Venice, Livorno's cafés were thriving meeting places for locals and visitors alike, places for talk and discussion of every kind. It is worth visiting one of the city's many bars today, such as the historic Bar Civili with its colourful local atmosphere (situated in Via del Vigna, not far from the central railway station). From here you can explore Livorno's many trattorias and restaurants and try the highly recommended flavoursome local dish known as Cacciucco... but that is another story.

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