Truthfully, it’s hard to find a bad meal in Bologna. Widely known as the foodie capital of Italy (which is certainly saying something), Bologna is a place that takes it’s food culture seriously.
In Italy it’s always best to eat regionally. Look for local specialties on the menu, and you are guaranteed satisfaction. Here are some of the products and dishes that Bologna and the Emilia-Romagna region are best known for.
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Must Try Local Products
Forget that powdered stuff in the green can, this is the real, delicious deal. Parmesan cheese is produced in the neighboring city of Parma. If you’re never had real aged Parmesan it’s a real treat: complex and salty and savory with a slightly gritty texture.
Try parmesan on it’s own or on top of a huge variety of pasta dishes and sandwiches.
Prosciutto Crudo di Parma
Another product of the Parma region is this excellent cured ham, one of the most coveted kinds of proscuitto in the country. It has a delicate flavor, both sweet and savory at once, and is excellent paired with Parmesan cheese.
You can find Prosciutto di Parma as an appetizer in many restaurants. Remember though that if a menu doesn’t specify that it is Parma ham, it probably isn’t.
Forget rubbery bologna sandwich meat, this is it’s moister, more delicious great-grandfather. Mortadella is a cured pork sausage with cubes of pork fat inside. It’s usually served sliced very thin, as part of a taglia plate, or in a sandwich.
Aceto Balsamico di Modena
You may think you know what balsamic vinegar taste like, and you are probably wrong. Real balsamic vinegar is syrupy thick and sweet yet complex. It’s absurdly tasty and it will ruin you for the cheap stuff.
The best way to sample balsamic is on a factory tour in Modena, but many shops also offer samples. It’s best drizzled lightly over some parmesan cheese.
Spuma di Mortadella
Mortadella mousse. Sounds kind of gross but actually makes a pretty tasty pate, spread on some crusty bread.
One of the most delicious and prized salumi in Italy also comes from the Parma region. Culatello is made form the muscular hind leg of pigs from the Emilia-Romagna region. It is butchered in cured in a unique way that yields extremely flavorful yet delicate meat.
Unlike Parma ham, culatello is rarely exported, so it’s a great treat to try when you’re in the area.
Squacquerone di Romagna
Emilia-Romagna’s answer to cottage cheese. This very soft spreadable cheese is made with whole cow’s milk in Ravenna, Rimini, Bologna and Ferrara. You often see this cheese in piadinas, but it is sometimes served with taglia plates too.
Must Try Local Dishes
Every city in Italy has their unique local dishes. These are Bologna’s:
Tagliatelle al ragù
One of the cardinal sins of Bologna is ask for Spaghetti Bolognese. No. Any Italian worth their salt will tell you that spaghetti is a terrible pasta for holding onto sauce, thick tagliatelle is much better. And what the world has now come to know as bolognese sauce is a hearty, slow simmered minced pork ragu. It’s an absolute must try when in town.
Tortellini in brodo
Tortellini are elegant little folded stuffed pasta rings. The best ones are handmade, and stuffed with prosciutto and cheese. You can find them in cream sauce or even al ragu, but the most traditional way to eat them are en brodo- in a clear chicken or capon broth. It’s simple, but stunning: cozy and delicious.
Also keep an eye out for tortelloni- tortellini’s big brother. These larger dumplings are usually served with butter and sage.
Lasagne al forno
Lasagna lovers can’t miss lasagne bolognese. It’s rich and creamy, elaborate and savory. This lasagna is known for it’s spinach flavored pasta sheets (and their distinctive green hue), and it’s generous use of bechamel sauce and bologna’s famous ragu.
Gramigna alla salsiccia
Another delicious pasta dosh. Gramigna are squiggly hollow pasta tubes. They are topped with a sausage based ragu.
Cotoletta alla bolognese
Cotoletta is the Italian answer to wienschnitzel: pounded veal or pork cutlets, breaded and fried. They are delicious on their own, but decadent served alla bolognese: covered in parma ham and a generous amount of parmesan cheese and truffle slices. It’s an artery buster.
Friggione is a historical bolognese recipe for a caramelized onion and tomato sauce. You can find it served as side dish alongside grilled meats, a topping for polenta, or even served on toast points as a sort of bruschetta.
Polpette alla bolognese
Meatballs in a bolognese sauce. Remember that in Italy meatballs are never served over pasta, but are a standalone dish.
A soup of breadcrumbs (made of semolina, parmesan, eggs, butter and nutmeg) served in a capon broth.
Raviole and Pinza
Two hearty sweets made of shortbread stuffed with mostarde bolognese- a black marmelade made of quince, pears, oranges and mustard seeds. In raviole, the mostarde is wrapped in a shortbread pocket, like a sweet ravioli. In a pinza mostarde is wrapped in a sort of flat shortbread pastry.
A thin flatbread native to the Romagna region, but quite popular in Bologna as well. Piadinas are usually folded into sandwiches and make a great on the go lunch.
Lambrusco has kind of a shoddy reputation in the US, but here in Italy it’s delightful. Forget your preconceptions and give it a try. Made from lambrusco grapes, lambrusco is a bubbly red wine that is usually served cold. It is acidic, and can be sweet or very dry.
A white wine that is little known outside of Italy, but is increasing in popularity. Pignoletto is often bubbly, but still varieties are not uncommon either. The grapes are grown primarily in the hills around bologna.