What to eat in Bologna: the main dishes of Emilia-Romagna and good restaurants in Bologna
Bologna is one of the most delicious cities in Italy. After all, everyone’s favorite Parmesan, lasagna, tortellini or prosciutto from Parma are the specialties of Emilia-Romagna, and Bologna is the capital of this region of the country.
In today’s piece, I tell you what you should definitely try during your trip to Bologna, and I also give you the addresses of the right places to go for a tasting, lunch or dinner.
APPETIZERS (ANTIPASTI) : CHEESES AND PROSCIUTTO
1. MORTADELLA Russians often think that mortadella is the Italian equivalent of our doctor’s sausage. This is completely wrong, although, indeed, in appearance they are very similar. In both cases it is a round sausage with white pieces of fat. But mortadella is made 100% from pork, and it is seasoned with crushed myrtle berries and pepper.
In terms of size, in the case of mortadella, the principle works: the bigger the better. Sometimes in Bologna they make a sausage the size of the famous Lenin log. The name specialita comes from the Latin word mortarium, the name of the ceramic bowls in which the Romans used to grind meat for making sausages. And, yes, mortadella is a sausage with a rich history. Archaeologists believe the people of ancient Rome loved to indulge in it, and the first recorded recipe for mortadella dates back to 1376.
2. Parma prosciutto Well, who hasn’t heard of it! The classic prosciutto crudo from Parma is famous all over the world, and in Bologna succulent dried hams are on the doorstep of every other bar. I see no point in telling about it, but I have to remind you that you should try it in Bologna.
3. Parmigiano Reggiano was invented in the Middle Ages by Benedictine monks. It happened somewhere between XII and XIII centuries, and since then the recipe of this famous hard cheese hasn’t changed a lot. It starts on April 1 and ends on November 11.
For one kilogram of Parmesan you need about 16 liters of milk, and the cheese ripens for 12 to 40 months, depending on the type. The older is the Parmesan, the higher is its price, and the taste and aroma are richer. The readiness of the product is checked with silver hammers: special people go around the rows with the cheese heads, hit them with hammers and by the sound they determine whether the Parmesan is up to the mark or not.
4. If prosciutto from Parma is a delicacy, then culatello is a super delicacy; it’s not without reason that the royal family of Monaco and Giorgio Armani order this ham for their Christmas dinners. Culatello is made from hams of pork that are cured for 36 months.
The precious ham comes in two varieties: black and white. No, in color it is exactly the same, here it all depends on the breed of pigs whose meat is used to produce culatello. White ham is said to have a delicate and mild flavor, while black ham has a wild and rich flavor. And, while in Bologna you can find culatello made from the meat of white pigs everywhere, the black ham is served only in selected places, because it is considered a delicacy of the highest category.
WHERE TO TASTE ANTIPASTI IN BOLOGNA?
SALUMERIA SIMONI is one of the central places in the city where everyone should go to buy mortadella, cheeses, prosciutto or culatello. The store has been open since the 1960s, and one look in the store windows can drive a hungry person crazy. Or drool in their mouths. The shop has a bar where you should stop in for an aperitif. Also the owners of the store opened a restaurant Laboratorio Simoni, its main specialty is just ham and cheeses.
Salumeria Simoni’s shop is located at Via Drapperie 5/2a. Address of the Laboratorio Simoni restaurant: Via Pescherie Vecchie 3/B. General phone number: +39 3518801130.
TAMBURINI is another cool shop in the city center that sells the best of everything at once. It has tables at the entrance where you can settle in with a glass of wine and goodies. From noon to 6 p.m. it also serves hot snacks and the store’s wine bar is open from 12 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Address: Via Caprarie, 1 40124, Tel: +39 051 234726
PASTA (PRIMI PIATTI)
Pasta in Bologna must be handmade. Another of its distinctive features is a rich yellow color. The thing is that the eggs used in making all kinds of pasta have very rich yolk color. And by the way, Italians themselves consider pasta of Emilia-Romagna to be the best in the country. Not without reason chefs from neighboring Tuscany and Rome come here to learn how to make it.
TAGLIATELLE AL RAGU There’s no such thing as spaghetti bolognese in Italy. Americans came up with the recipe and like all fakes, it’s disgusting compared to the original. If you see it on the menu of a restaurant in Bologna, get out of there as fast as you can. This place is only for tourists and locals avoid it a mile away. The classic pasta in Bologna is tagliatelle with minced meat (tagliatelle al ragu).
It is long and flat, and its name comes from the word for “cut” (tagliare). The tagliatelle is said to have been invented on the occasion of the wedding of Lucrezia Borgia and Alfonso I d’Este, duke of Ferrara – allegedly inspired by the long golden hair of the bride. This is the most famous pasta in Bologna and must be tasted by all without exception.
TORTELLINI There’s a legend about this pasta too. It’s said to be invented by a chef in love and the shape of the tortellini is inspired by the navel of a girl he was in love with. In the classic homemade version, tortellini are made with chicken or minced meat and served in broth. However, the pasta is even more delicious with tender rabbit meat. Also popular in Bologna are tortellini stuffed with ricotta or pumpkin, which are great options for vegetarians.
The lasagne (LASAGNE AL FORNO) is considered an iconic dish in Bologna and was invented in Naples in the XIV century. By the way, in Bologna lasagna is often eaten not with a knife and fork, but with a spoon. Unusual, but generally convenient.
The name of the pasta can be translated as “hats” and it’s really reminiscent of Alpine shooters’ headdresses. The filling can be ground meat, ricotta or mushrooms, but the best cappelletti are always made with ground capon meat. They are served in broth.
WHERE TO TRY PASTA IN BOLOGNA?
1. In the kitchen of Trattoria Annamaria, Bologna resident Anna Maria, who is now in her eighth decade, works. The pasta here is made simply according to traditional recipes, as they say, just like your grandmother’s. Tagliatelle with ragu or porcini mushrooms are unmissable hits on the menu. Address: Via Belle Arti, 17/A, tel: +39 051 266894 2.
2. L’altro? is located in the Mercato delle erbe, Bologna’s vegetable market, and its name can best be translated as “What else? Here you can try the classic types of pasta: lasagne or tagliatelle with meat ragu, and versions with lemon zest or slices of prosciutto. Address: Mercato delle Erbe, Via Ugo Bassi, 23/25, 40121, Tel: +39 351 014 4191
Osteria Broccaindosso is a favorite of Bologna locals. It serves exclusively local seasonal specialties, but the restaurant also has a gluten-free menu. At the end of summer and beginning of autumn the osteria is especially crowded. Locals come here to try pasta with precious porcini mushrooms from Borgorato, the dish costs about 15 euros. Address: Via broccaindosso 7/a 40125, Tel: +39 348 169 8924
4. Le sfogline is one of the best places to buy handmade pasta and to watch how it is made. But the owner Renate Zappoli and her daughters Daniele and Monica are best at tagliatelle and tortellini filled with meat or ricotta. For years, the Zappoli family has owned a store where Bologna residents come to buy handmade pasta for their homes. Address: Via Belvedere 7, 40121 Bologna BO
SECOND COURSES (SECONDI) : COTOLETTA ALLA BOLOGNESE
The name of this dish often confuses Russians. Many people even joke that cotoletta is a cutlet from a cat. In fact, La cotoletta alla bolognese is not a cutlet at all. And not even schnitzel, which is very similar to cotoletta alla milanese. In Bologna, they do not fry a piece of veal or chicken fillet in breadcrumbs, but in lard melted from lard.
Then the veal or chicken fillet is for some time immersed in the meat broth to make the cotuletta not too dry. Then it is again fried in a deep pan, previously supported on top by a thin piece of prosciutto. But this is not the final stage either! In the last but one step they sprinkle the kotoletta with parmesan, put it in the oven and wait until the cheese melts completely. And just before serving, the dish is sprinkled with shavings of white truffles.
WHERE TO TASTE THE MEAT DISHES?
Because cotoletta alla bolognese is an ancient dish, the attitude to it in Bologna is respectful. Every year there is even a competition among restaurants for the best cotoletta in the city. In 2018, the winners were:
1. The family restaurant Diana , which is located in the city center and is considered one of the best in Bologna. The meat dishes here are above the most generous praise. Address: Via Volturno, 5, 40121, phone: +39 051 231302.
Trattoria Bertozzi is a classic Italian trattoria. This place is famous not only for its cotoletta alla bolognese, which is always generously sprinkled with truffles. Tagliatelle with ragu and lamb is also worth ordering here. Address: Via Andrea Costa 84, 40134, telephone: +39 051 614 1425
The third place, where everyone should be advised to go without exception, is the Oltre Osteria. In fact, it is a restaurant for special occasions, not without reason it was noted in the guide for 2019 by the picky Michelin critics. Bologna’s traditional dishes are reinterpreted here in an original way, but they do not forget about the traditions in the creative process. By the way, apart from cottoletta, Oltre also serves amazing tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms from Borgorato. Address: b 1, Via Augusto Majani, 40122, phone +39 051 0066049, book on WhatsApp
Food in Bologna
The second image of the city of Bologna is La Grassa. Yes, they love to eat here. The people of Bologna have come up with many dishes that have become a world culinary heritage. If you will eat here (and you will) you should definitely plunge into this provincial and Gurmanian atmosphere, when even in the dullest alleyway, even inexpensive trattoria you will be fed no worse than in posh restaurants. Bologna is a gourmet capital.
You will find a table in every street.
From the previous post we can draw a disappointing conclusion. Bologna has lost the battle of Italy’s first cities. Not the capital of art like Florence, not fashion and business like Milan, no sea and wealth like in Genoa or Venice and no ancient history like in Rome. Shakespeare wrote nothing about Bologna (unlike Verona), everyone knows about the Tower of Pisa, not the two towers of Bologna.
What were the inhabitants of Bologna to do, to fade into the margins of the glory of other cities? No, they’re not like that, they’re proud and they love their city. They came up with another attraction: delicious food.
Food in Bologna
Traditional Bologna cuisine does exist! Here’s a list of just some of the traditional dishes that Bologna has invented:
- Bolognese ragu (ragu alla bolognese, “Pasta Bolognese”)*.
- Lasagna bolognese (lasagne al ragu)
- Cottolette bolognese (cottolette alla Bolognese)
- Friggione bolognese
- Sausage Mordatella (aka “doctor’s”)
- Torta di riso
- Salsa verde.
And that’s just the first thing that comes to mind. If you ask the locals themselves, though, they’re likely to tell you that everything delicious was invented here. Without exception, only in Bologna you can eat delicious food.
*Important note, such a dish as “pasta bolognese” or “spaghetti bolognese” in Bologna does not exist! Any other city has it, but not here. The correct name for this dish is “ragu alla bolognese” (ragu alla bolognese), that’s what the menu will say. If the word “pasta” appears in the name of this dish, this is the place for tourists. Run, run away from here. By the way, it can be served with anything, because it’s a sauce.
Local cuisine in Bologna
The dough and meat here is really great, and meat and dough too. Tortellini, it’s dough with stuffing, Tagliatelle is pasta sliced in wide strips, lasagna is also dough.
Everything else, it’s meat. Mordatella is a cooked sausage known in our area as doctor’s sausage. Sold in any store, but it tastes very, very different. It is worth buying and trying.
Bolognese cutlet is a cutlet of beef with breading and Parma ham. Friggione is an onion stew with tomatoes (I’ve tried it myself, I can’t say anything), but I’m sure it tastes just like all the local delicacies.
Palazzo Re Enzo
What to eat in Bologna
Here are three dishes you must try in Bologna. Apart from the fact that it’s delicious, you can always talk like an expert and say “tortellini here is nothing like in Bologna”.
Here are these local Bologna dishes:
- Tortellini with Parmesan (or pumpkin or any other filling)
- Bolognese ragu
- Tagliatelle Bolognese.
This is something you must try, otherwise you will have to come back a second time, the impression will not be complete. But no one forbids eating other dishes.
Where to eat in Bologna?
Italians love to eat. The lunch break here can last 3 hours, easily. After all, food doesn’t tolerate a rush, and work isn’t going anywhere. In Italy, as in Spain, there is a siesta, it is called pennicella. During this time Italians have lunch and socialize and relax. Uncomfortable for visitors, but familiar to the locals – you can eat not when you want to, and when the kitchen is working.
- Lunch time is from 13:00 to 16:00 (pausa pranzo).
- Dinner time: from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m.
And breakfast? There’s coffee for breakfast. Yes, a cappuccino and only for breakfast. If you order coffee after 10 a.m., they serve espresso. That’s the way it is here.
The main thing to remember is if you get hungry and want to eat something delicious in Bologna after 16:00 – you won’t get anything. No one will feed you. That’s the way it is here, this is Italy. Plan dinner in advance. With dinner the matter is easier, but you will have to run around looking for an empty table too. There is an “aperitivo” tradition here. Many establishments practice this trick every night. You buy a drink and the appetizers are free. I thought it was a great idea, but it seems that way to absolutely everyone in this town, so there are no seats anywhere. You have to come early.
But if you know where you’re going, you don’t have to. Here is my advice.
Drogheria della Rosa.
I do not remember exactly where I read about this place. Usually before a trip I make a map of places to visit, so as not to leave such an important part of the trip as dinner to chance. And this restaurant turned out to be the closest.
But during lunch, I suddenly remembered everything I had read. I remembered the rave reviews about the cuisine and the owner. If it wasn’t for the owner, the place would be mediocre….
His name is Emanuele, he’s Italian and he loves his guests. This manifests itself in the fact that no table escapes his attention. He talks to everyone, finds out how family and friends are doing… He drinks wine (yes, lambrusco) with everyone.
Round, ruddy, loud Italian, in a fancy jacket – that’s the main feature of the restaurant. Here you feel like a guest in his home. Our attempt to just leave failed, he sat down at our table as well, and they brought us a bottle of ice-cold lambrusco so we wouldn’t be in a hurry to leave. And it was free. It makes no difference to the host whether you understand him or not, he’ll chat, he’ll have a drink with you. And then, some traveler is sure to remember his place and recommend others to stop by.
I was so immersed in the atmosphere that I didn’t take pictures. Somehow I didn’t want to spoil the experience with such tastelessness as a commemorative photo. If you’re anywhere near (southeast of Piazza Maggiore – come and see how they eat lunch or dinner in Bologna, it’s worth it. Here are the coordinates on the map. And here’s the Facebook page, you can watch a video here and you’ll see everything.
And yes, the food here is delicious. I’ve had tagliatelle al ragu and tortellini with parmesan. But in Bologna it’s good everywhere, here it’s definitely colorful.
- Lunch is from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.
- Dinner is from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m.
It’s a pleasure to immerse yourself in the Italian rhythm of life. This is just the part of the trip that escapes us because we are in a hurry to get everywhere.
And the local food and drink, traditions and habits, remain behind the scenes. But Bologna will teach anyone to follow the rules. There are simply not enough sights to “eat up” all the free time, and there are plenty of Ristorante, Trattoria, Osteria and Taverna to go around. Where life flows many times slower than we are used to.
Tip: The name of the place hints at the cost of food in it. Ristorante – a restaurant, can be acceptable or very expensive. Trattoria – a democratic place with “homemade” food. Osteria – more like our bar, even simpler than Trattoria where you mainly drink and not eat, though of course there is also a cuisine.
Most likely, you will be served chilled young wine.
What else do you need to know about food in Bologna? It’s a little more expensive than in the surrounding area. After all, the standard of living in Bologna is higher than in many other cities.
What to drink in Bologna
Since Bologna is the capital of Emilia-Romagna region, here you should drink Lambrusco. The girls will love it, but they are not the only ones. The thing about Lambrusco is that it is very refreshing in hot weather, it sharpens the taste and makes the meal more leisurely. Actually, there are five varieties of lambrusco: Salamino, Grasparossa, Sorbara, Marani and Maestri. If you get confused and don’t know what to order, you can rely on the waiter or look at what Italians have on their tables.
Another option is to order “house wine”. Just because it says vino della casa on the menu doesn’t mean you’ll be served house made wine. It’s the wine “from home” (that’s what the “house” offers to the guests), that is, the wine that the restaurant recommends to its dishes.
Most likely from a supermarket nearby or a nearby winery in bulk. This does not mean that the wine is bad, just that it is the most inexpensive of the pretty good ones you are offered. Since I’m not a big wine drinker, every time in Italy I liked what was brought in a misted decanter, the “wine of the Cossacks”.
What’s interesting, Bologna’s third nickname, “scholarly,” also has to do with food. After all, in fact, no Bologna University existed. In our understanding. There wasn’t some building where poor students came to study.
There was a kind of medieval guild of scholars who taught what they themselves knew. But, importantly for our story about local food, students were not poor. Only a rich man could afford to hire a teacher. So when young, not-so-young people began to move to Bolnaya in search of knowledge, the town began to get rich. And throwing feasts on any occasion became a good tradition.
Come even if you don’t like pasta or are on a diet, prefer sparkling wine to beer (like me, for example), prefer to eat lunch when you’re hungry rather than on a schedule… Even then, come for the atmosphere. Bologna is a great contrast to the other tourist gems of Italy, it’s so nice to relax and forget about the obligatory sights.