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While sometimes forgotten by the troves of travelers to Italy, Bologna is beautiful, charming, and, most important for food lovers like us, delicious.
Enjoying typical Bolognese cuisine isn’t just for tourists. The locals enjoy the classics too. So, here we’re diving into the iconic Bologna food that has given this city its reputation as a bastion of classic Italian cuisine. But before we get into what to eat in Bologna, let’s get into what makes it unique.
A Word On Emilia Romagna
Look on a map, and you’ll see that Bologna is in the Northeast Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. Like neighboring Lombardy, this region runs along the fertile Po Valley, which allows for producing world-class food treasures, like Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and prosciutto di parma.
This region is best known for fast cars (Ferrari, Maserati, and Lamborghini are all based there) and as a world-class spot for some of Italy’s most comforting foods. A few classic dishes from here include pasta like the pumpkin-filled cappellaci, mortadella, tagliatelle al ragù, and tortellini. The three-Michelin star restaurant, Osteria Francescana, is in Emilia Romagna, but most of our travel clients set their sights on the culinary mecca that is Bologna.
What Is Bologna, Italy, Known For?
Bologna is first and foremost known for being the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region and has a reputation for an excellent quality of life thanks to its economic prowess. The city is home to the University of Bologna, the world’s oldest university. The historic city center is noteworthy for being one of Europe’s largest (at more than 350 acres) and having a stunning mix of medieval, renaissance, and baroque architecture.
While travelers love to walk the rose-colored porticoes and climb the historic “Due Torri” towers, we’re fans of its culinary history. During a visit, you visit the gourmet shop Bottega Portici, the historic Mercato delle Erbe, or the FICO Eataly World, a self-described agri-food park that is a few miles north of the city.
What Iconic Bologna Food Should I Try?
As the capital of Emilia-Romagna and the reigning queen of Italian food, Bologna has earned the nicknamed La Grassa or “The Fat One.” And it has plenty of recognizable foods to relish.
Proof of how food dictates everything in Bologna, even the most famous local expression, “Al premm turtel, an ven mai bel” is food-centric. Translating to “the first tortellino never comes out well” means that first attempts are never successful.
When you visit Bologna, your itinerary should be food-centric, so you can try all the Italian classics and leave time for a glass or two of the area’s local wine. Here you have it: the iconic Bologna food you must try on your next trip:
Aceto Balsamico di Modena
The best-known balsamic vinegar in the world is the prized vinegar from Modena. Known in Italian as aceto balsamico di Modena (“ah-che-toe ball-somm-ee-ko dee Moh-deh-nah”), this PDO product is among the most exported products from Italy. The authentic vinegar is made from cooked grape must that is aged in a series of barrels for at least 10 years. You can get into every last about this beloved Italian product here, but our clients love to visit a maker in Emilia-Romagna or try it IRL at the markets in Bologna.
Cotechino di Modena
This pork product has been made in the region since medieval times, and the essential recipe hasn’t changed much. It is a mixture of high-quality ingredients like minced pork meat, fat, and rind, as well as black pepper, nutmeg, and cloves, and it is all stuffed into an intestine casing. Try it whenever you come across it because the recipe changes from butcher to butcher.
Cotoletta alla bolognese
Cotoletta alla Bolognese is a traditional dish of Bologna that is also known as “Petroniana” after the city’s patron saint. It consists of a veal cutlet coated with eggs, flour, and breadcrumbs. While it sounds like cotoletta alla Milanese or schnitzel, it has a different cooking method than those classic recipes. Also, similar to pollo alla valdostana, this dish has cheese, and ham added. But, in an only-in-Emilia-Romagna move, the cheese is Parmigiano Reggiano, and the ham is prosciutto crudo.
Also known as gnocco fritto in Modena and torta fritta in Parma, this traditional street food is a deep-fried dough that puffs up like a beignet. You can find these filled with savory ingredients like salumi, cheese, or sweet versions filled with jam.
Culatello di Zibello
This PDO salami originating in Parma is renowned for being made from the finest pork leg cut. Like prosciutto di Parma this product is salted and left to age for at least 10 months. However, it is generally sweeter and more delicate than prosciutto di parma.
My favorite gelato in the city is from Gelateria Gianni. While not specifically from Bologna, gelato is still done very well here. There are two locations in the city center, and both do it right.
In the states, we’re used to Lambrusco being a sweet, dessert-like wine. But you can find it made correctly in Emilia-Romagna: a dry, bubbly, slightly sparkling deep red wine. Good Lambrusco wine can be found almost anywhere in Bologna. Most restaurants even serve a house carafe of Lambrusco, which I highly recommend getting.
Lasagne Verde alla Bolognese
When you travel to Bologna, you don’t want to look for lasagna but, more specifically, for the traditional dish, lasagna Verde. It is a layered pasta dish with sheets of spinach pasta, cheese, and ragu alla bolognese. Lasagna Verde isn’t cheesy or saucy when done well – just simply layered and satiating. You can find this classic pasta dish anywhere in town, so it is always a good bet.
Mortadella is a distinctly Bolognese charcuterie product that is nothing like the insipid American product known as bologna. This salami is made from pork shoulder, spices, and sometimes pistachios. If you are looking for the best salumi in town, with mortadella at the forefront, go to Salumeria Simoni.
Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
The “King of Cheeses” in Italy, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, was born in the Emilia-Romagna region. Do yourself a favor and eat lots of this in Bologna (even head to visit a creamery!) because it doesn’t get better or fresher than straight from the source. My favorite place to buy it by the pound is Tamburini in the ancient market area known as Quadrilatero.
Prosciutto Di Parma
If Parmigiano Reggiano is the “King of Cheese, ” Prosciutto di Parma is the “King of salumi.” Dating back to Roman times, this beloved ham is made by salting and aging a pork leg. When buying it at a salumeria (charcuterie shop), ask for sliced paper thin, as this will allow it to dissolve in your mouth rather than being tough or chewy.
Tagliatelle alla Bolognese
Genuine ragu alla bolognese differs from the Bolognese (or meat) sauce in the states. This traditional ragu alla bolognese sauce is slow-cooked. It involves onion, celery, carrot, different types of minced or finely chopped meat, white wine, milk, and a tiny amount of tomato concentrate. Traditionally ragu alla bolognese is paired with tagliatelle, a flat, ribbon-like egg pasta. My favorite tagliatelle alla bolognese in the city is from Trattoria Mariposa.
Tortelloni Burro e Salvia
Snag the traditional tortelloni burro e salvia at any trattoria in town or at my favorite contemporary eatery, Bottega Portici. More significant than the better-known tortellini pasta, tortelloni is classically served with butter and sage. Does it get more comforting than this?
Tortellini en Brodo
Depending on who you ask, the ring-shaped (or belly button-shaped) stuffed pasta, known as tortellini, was born in Bologna. Traditionally, Bolognese people eat it in a bowl of broth and topped with a lot of Parmigiano-Reggiano. The best tortellini en brodo in the city is from Trattoria Anna Maria. They have been making their prized tortellini by hand for over thirty years.
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