Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region is known for its cuisine. I mean, Massimo Bottura’s acclaimed Osteria Francescana is located in the little town of Modena next to Bologna. Have you seen Chef’s Table on Netflix? I’ll never get a table there, but a boy can dream.
Nevertheless, great Bolognese food can be enjoyed really anywhere here, one just has to know what to look out for.
A few staples includes parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar, tortellini (often served in a broth or with a sage butter) and of course, ragù (Bolognese sauce/ a meaty sauce with a base of carrots, celery, and onions) that all have origins in the region. These exports are indicative of the wider gastronomy, so expect rich, but not too overwhelming flavours. Italian cuisine relies on simple ingredients done well and plentifully, which is what one will receive at any local osteria or trattoria in Bologna.
As mentioned before, cold cuts and cheeses are a typical and lovely appetizer enjoyed by all even in the colder winter. Accompanied by piadina, a small, warm flat bread from Romagna origins, the tagliere ‘cutting board’ can be enough for a whole meal. However, if one is like me, you will still desire something else after even if it surprises the waiter.
So, let’s get into it …
For more touristy destinations, Osteria dell’Orsa and Sfoglia Rina are extremely popular and thus aptly crowded. I was not even able to go to Sfoglia Rina because it was packed both times I went to check it out. It looks extremely cute and hosts local pasta making classes for youngsters – adorable!
If you can make it in, I hear the tortellini en brodo (tortellini in broth) is superb! Buona fortuna!
Osteria della’Orsa on the other hand is a little more accommodating and also farther away from the centre of town, so it has less foot traffic. Thus, it is slightly easier to grab a seat there.
In these busy osterie, if one is dining alone, do not be surprised if one is sat at a communal table with other individuals or next to a random larger party that the staff had to find space for quickly. Seating this way just helps the eateries turn tables faster; do not be offended if you find yourself on the bench, literally.
At Osteria dell’Orsa, I had the classic tagliatelle al ragù (fun fact: the word ‘tagliatelle’ comes from the Italian word for tagliare ‘to cut’; ‘taglio di capelli’ means haircut!) as well as two types of bruschetta for about 20€ with also a seasonal beer, which is about the average price of a meal if one has an appetite like mine.
Osteria dell’Orsa is certainly not a tourist trap, but it is well known and according to my misterb&b host, almost all tourists go there. It is more of a tourist beacon as a result of the reasonable prices and quality dishes.
That being said, it is extremely good with a rich ragù. I was glad at the end of the day to have begun my bingeing in Bologna there.
For more laidback eateries, I suggest Bella Vita and also Osteria del Podestà (see above tweet). Both located on or close to Via Clavature, these eateries offer smaller fare and are a bit more compact than other restaurants, but still provide a warm and friendly atmosphere.
At Bella Vita, per my instagram post, I recommend the cold cuts and cheese spread with one of their many varieties of wine they have. They also sell a piadina-panini sampler spread, which I was recommended to by the waiter.
The cooked food is alright as well (I had the lasagna, another regional delicacy), but this venue is more for light snacking than a full meal. Conversely, Osteria del Podestà is more of a restaurant than snack bar, so here is a place to get another helping of ragù (see tweet above).
As for street food, Bologna is known for its piadina-pressed sandwiches, not so much pizza like in the south. These sandwiches, stuffed with your choice of meats and cheeses, can be bought at hole in the wall stores that specialise in them for a few euros each. Other varieties exist as well of course including panino (pl. panini, duh) featuring more robust ingredients like meatballs and eggplant in different styles of bread.
Mercato di Mezzo, a small food hall, is a great place to sample some meats, cheeses, and grab a sandwich quickly on the go. Lord, Scandinavia is rubbing off on me!
All these eateries thus far are located around the centre of the city in Bologna and thus all walking distance from each other. Mix and match each for a perfect lunch-early dinner combo in between admiring the scenery.
Nevertheless, my hands down favourite restaurant in Bologna is a little bit out of the way and serves more refined cuisine at reasonable prices to boot!
An off the beaten track restaurant on Via Guiseppe Massarenti (take the 14 bus), close to where I stayed, il Posto is a hidden gem in Bologna with an eclectic menu that takes traditional dishes for a spin in a cosy yet formal environment.
One standout quality about this restaurant has to be the staff itself who are extremely friendly and attentive. For a foreign traveller, this treatment is something that I take notice of and highly appreciate. I hope they found my poor Italian endearing. I came back after I left because I thought I lost my headphones, and they even helped me search. Later, I found them on my neck, but it is the thought that counts!
If they are reading this: Ho trovato le mie cuffie. Grazie per l’aiuto!
I will say my Italian was enough to trick the person who returned my bill into apologising because he spoke English to me initially and only then realised I was speaking Italian with the staff for the entire meal. I really should actually learn it if I keep coming back to Italy …
Besides friendly waitstaff, another amazing feature of this restaurant is that it presents customers with little hors d’oeuvres throughout the meal!
Here, I was finally able to sample some tortelloni (tortellini’s bigger ass cousins), which were served stuffed with savoury cheese and flavoured with salty anchovies and tomatoes – geschmacklich!
I am getting a bit ahead of myself.
For my first course (oh yes, I had courses), I tried what they call ‘Rivisitazione della Parmigiana di melanzane’, which is something like ‘Revisiting of Eggplant Parmesan’. It was accompanied with a variety of vegetables and a powder of dehydrated cheese. An interesting assortment and combination to say the least in a contemporary presentation.
I also splurged on dessert here, which as previously stated was accompanied by a little mini-cake. I very much discreetly just ate the whole thing at once in about .3 seconds. Very elegant, I am.
Together, the meal, which consisted of about four courses including wine and water (which is charged), came to about 40€. This price is about double what one might spend at a local trattoria, but the quality is there and it was a treat-yo-self moment. After I erroneously got my flights confused, it turned out I had an extra night in Bologna, so I thought I might as well go out in style!
Judging by my people watching, il Posto is perfect for a night out with friends or a romantic date (or loner travel blogger). All my dishes, other than the dessert, had a distinct salty twinge to them, which blended well with my light wine for a good Mediterranean mix of flavours. I highly recommend it for anyone in the city for a weekend or day!
When you visit, be sure to listen to the ever-changing specials that are just as complex (but only a little out of my price range). The night I dined there, they had some interesting seafood creations! Yes, despite being landlocked, fish and sea creatures galore are easily accessible in Bologna and can be found in restaurants or sold fresh on the streets!
In sum, Bologna despite its architectural opulence and stylish populace is a city a traveller can budget in. Cheap eats abound as well as more refined locals to savour less traditional dishes still rooted in the region. What matters here is the quality and sourcing of the ingredients, not necessarily each preparation. What makes this cuisine distinctive, succulent, and something to remember is its regionality like all Italian cuisine.
My best advice: look for the basic components in a dish that you know will be splendid together and go from there. Then, let Bologna take the reins.
I am frantically typing before I head out to Morocco, or more accurately the Copenhagen airport for a redeye flight to Charles de Gaulle (my nemesis) then Marrakech! Get ready for one more Italy-related post (hopefully) before a slew of Maghrebi marvels and must dos into the new year! Stay tuned and travel safely!