Where to find artisanal mortadella, tortellini with Lambrusco caviar pearls, and salty Turkish pistachio gelato in the capital of the Emilia-Romagna
Bologna, nicknamed “la dotta, la grassa, e la rossa” (the learned, the fat, and the red), has a mixed reputation when it comes to dining. With the oldest university in Europe and charming architecture (including medieval towers and nearly 25 miles of porticos which hug the city), the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region is a renowned cultural hub — but for a long time people clung to the idea that Bologna is only worth a day trip for a bowl of tortellini in brodo.
Now, more food-loving travelers are finding their way to the city, which is rich with quality ingredients thanks to the nearby Po Valley; the area is responsible for the bulk of central and northern Italian food production, including high-caliber foods known the world over, like aged balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and cured prosciutto di Parma. Bologna’s pride and joy is its mortadella, which you’ll see on every menu in town, alongside other hallmarks of the traditional dining scene like fried cotoletta (veal) cutlets in melted Parmigiano sauce and pasta freshly rolled by mattarello (rolling pin). The city is also the birthplace of lasagna, tagliatelle al ragu, tortelloni, and tortellini Bolognesi in broth (the way it should always be served, if you ask purists), as well as lesser-known specialties passatelli and gramigna.
Aside from casual eateries like cafes and bakeries, you’ll need to book at least a week in advance, if not more. The Bolognese are persnickety eaters, and everyone knows the restaurants that prepare the most exceptional meals. Don’t get caught hungry without a booking; you will be turned away. Also, considering the city attracts a huge student population and has major tourist appeal, real estate is some of the priciest in the country. Combine this with the city’s fare using more expensive raw materials (butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano, labor-intensive fresh pasta), and you’ll need to be prepared to spend a little more, too.
Prices per person:
$ = Less than 20 euros (Less than $22 USD)
$$ = 20 – €40 euros ($22 – $44 USD)
$$$ = 40 – 60 euros ($44 – $66 USD)
$$$$ = 60 euros and up (more than $66 USD)
Coral Sisk is a certified Italian sommelier and writer with Italian and Persian heritage. She parlayed her Florence-centered food blog Curious Appetite into food and drink tours in Italy. She moved to Florence via Seattle in 2012 after earning a B.A. in Italian Studies and splits up her time in San Francisco.