Bologna: What to Eat in the Food Capital of Italy
Bologna is the underrated, bustling, historic capital of the region of Emilia-Romagna, found in northern Italy. The city has been an urban centre for the ancient Etruscans, Gauls and Romans as well as an important centre of learning since the 11th century. Known as Italy’s food and cultural hub, the city is identifiable by two prominent towers, where the shorter of the pair, Garisenda, leans more dramatically than the famous leaning tower of Pisa. Bologna has really become one of our favourite places in Italy to visit as there is so much to discover. We have be fortunate to have returned to the city on numerous occasions for personal travel, business and leading some of our small group tours. Each time we have uncovered new hidden gems, restaurants and delicious local delicacies. So here are some of our tips on what and where to eat when visiting Bologna.
1. You are incorrect to assume Bolognese sauce originated in Bologna. In fact, Bolognese sauce is a western creation, you could say sort of a decedent. The true Bolognese sause is called Ragu. Ragu has more meat and minced elements, such as minced carrot, celery and pancetta. Wine, beef broth, and a dash of cream or milk are added to lighten the colour and enrich the flavours. Ragu in Bologna is traditionally served with home-made tagliatelle pasta or in Lasagna alla Bolognese. One of our favourite places to try a genuine tagliatelle Ragu is Trattoria Gianni in the Quadrilatero District. Make sure you book ahead to avoid missing out!
2. Cured meats galore. Bologna and the Emilia Romagna region are the home of Mortadella and Prosciutto, particularly from the nearby city of Parma. There is also the rarer, leaner and more delicate Culatello di Zibello, which is made in the hill-towns north of Parma from the deboned heart of specially bred pig thighs. If your taste buds prefer the fattier meats then there’s Speck, equally as tender and more indulgent. All of these delicacies are perfectly paired with a glass of local sparkling wine varieties such as Lambrusco or Pignoletto. Best place to try tasting boards or tagliere of local cured meats would be in the many sulmerie in the old market Quadrilatero district of Bologna.
3. To compliment your meat palate, what’s an antipasto plate without CHEESE. The Parmigiano Reggiano (and Parmesan) cheeses are famous around the world. Hard and extremely granular in texture due to the long aging process, Parmigiano-Reggiano has been called the “King of Cheeses”. Grated over pasta, used as an ingredient in Italian dishes, or served on an antipasto plate, it’s an all-rounder cheese. A short drive outside Bologna will take you to one of the areas many dairies that produce Parmigiano Reggiano. Checkout the parmigianoreggiano.com website for a full list.
4. Known for stuffed pastas, the Tortellini, which are small dumplings, to this day are still handmade by trattorias and restaurants – and are a favourite in Bologna. Famously served with a rich, meaty broth known as Tortellini in Brodo, this alone is one reason to visit the city. A truly Bolognese experience is to see a genuine pasta lab that producers on a daily basis all the fresh pasta consumed in the restaurants, bought by locals, and sold in the many deli windows across the city. These pasta labs start early and are full of activity making these perfect parcels of pasta joy. You may be lucky enough to stumble across one or join a local tour group to get exclusive access.
5. Gelato! Just outside of Bologna, in Anzola dell’ Emilia, you will find Carpigiani Gelato University, yes you read correctly, there is a school teaching students from around the world how to make gelato. Carpigiani Gelato University, established in 2003, is the 1st university in Italy and the world, concentrating on delivering the art and science of gelato making. If you want to take your love and understanding of gelato to the next level Carpigiani have a range of courses from 1-day right up to a multi-day professional course. If you are looking for a gelato in Bologna try Stefino Organic Gelato, but honestly there are numerous independent gelaterie around the city and most are really good! Bologna is a city of gelato!
There is so much more to explore and eat in Bologna. We have only just scratched the surface so hopefully we have given you a little bit of an insight and inspiration into this culinary capital of Italy. Buon appetito!
Pronto Travel organise private itineraries and tours for travellers wishing to visit Bologna.