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Bologna Eating in the Cradle of Italian Cuisine

Tucked away between Venice and Florence, while not Italy’s most popular destination, it is certainly one of the cities that best distil the essence of the country. Bologna is nicknamed “the Learned One”, as its university is one of the oldest in Italy. It is also known as “the Red One” on account of the reddish hue of the city’s rooftops. But the most endearing epithet of the capital of Emilia-Romagna is “the Fat One”. In Bologna, gastronomy is a religion and it would be a sacrilege not to observe the ceremony involved in sitting down to table, while the traditional recipe for tortellini is jealously guarded in the city’s Chamber of Commerce vault. We ventured into the cradle of Italian cuisine and wandered through the streets of Il Quadrilatero, its historic centre (the second largest and best preserved in Italy), in search of the best restaurants, trattorie and osterie.

Mercato di Mezzo
In the heart of Il Quadrilatero, Bologna’s historic centre, stands the Mercato di Mezzo, one of the hotspots of any gastro route through the city. Its history goes back to the Middle Ages, a period when the shops and street stalls were divided up according to guilds. This state of affairs endured until the early 20th century, when the system was gradually disbanded. After being restored over the last few years, the Mercato di Mezzo, with its stalls selling fresh pasta, local wines, meats, fish, vegetables and cheeses has become the must-visit spot for all demanding foodies who happen to be in Bologna.

Osteria del Sole
You won’t see any sign or poster pointing you to what is one of the most emblematic establishments in town, so it is not easy to find. Located at Vicolo Ranocchi 1/d, between the Via degli Orefici and Via Pescherie Vecchie, you will come across something resembling a small rectangular opening in the wall. Don’t hesitate to go in, as this is the Osteria del Sole. It opened in 1465 and is Bologna’s oldest canteen. According to many in the know, in the whole of Italy as well. It breathes authenticity throughout. However, if you’re feeling peckish, this is not the place to still your hunger, as they only serve wine – and what wines, too! – beer and aperitifs like grappa or the local liqueur par excellence, Amaro Montenegro. They do let you take your own food, though, whether in a lunch box or from some nearby trattoria. Quite an experience!

Trattoria Tamburini
Trattoria Tamburini
is one of those places where you would eat everything, including the tablecloth. Opened in 1932 on the premises of what was once one of the most popular butcheries in the city, Tamburini is the ideal choice for an aperitif. If your taste buds are up to having an orgasm, take up a seat on the terrace and taste their exquisite cheese and sausage boards, washed down with a fine lambrusco. They serve what are unquestionably the best mortadella and parmesan cheese in Bologna. If you feel like something heartier and more consistent, you can always go inside and wolf down some tortellini. You can’t go wrong with the ones they serve up at Tamburini.

Paolo Atti & Figli
Tortellini, zuppas, torta di riso, pane bolognese... the folks at Paolo Atti & Figli have been pasta artists since 1880. Their centuries-old workshop is located at Via Caprarie 7, while their other shop is at Via Drapperie 6. Go up close and watch how Elda, one of the most respected sfoglina (pasta makers) in Bologna, delicately and purposefully kneads the pasta based on eggs from hens who feed solely on corn and semolina brought especially from Altamura, in Puglia. They do not add any salt at Paolo Atti & Figli as they claim it kills the flavour.

Trattoria Gianni
Here is one of those secrets you’re reluctant to share with anyone, so that the next time you visit the city the restaurant is still frequented by mainly locals, with just a few stray tourists. Modest and inviting (these are definitely the ones to go for) and just a few steps away from the central Piazza Maggiore, Trattoria Gianni is the place to go all out on tagliatelle al ragú alla bolognese, tortellini in brodo (very similar to the Catalan “sopa de galets”), cotoletta (breaded veal cutlets) with baked potatoes… The premises are small, so you are advised to book in advance. Otherwise, you will have to wait a while, although the waiters will help you kill time by plying you with glasses of prosecco on the house.

Al Voltone
Their claim to fame is having been the first restaurant in Bologna to make their culinary creations using products sourced exclusively from the province of Emilia-Romagna. Popularly known as La Torinese 1988, Al Voltone focuses on simple cuisine with a steadfastly traditional essence. Or, twice good, to put it another way. Apart from the omnipresent, irresistible tagliatelle and tortellini, the menu at Al Voltone also features such culinary temptations as green lasagna a la bolognese. And, for dessert, you can’t possibly refuse to sink your spoon into their piccolo pecato with custard and chocolate.

The Grand Ambassador of Bologna
It is regarded as a lesser pleasure, but the genuine variety is exquisite and sublime. Mortadella – there are various theories about the origin of its name – is the grand ambassador of traditional Bolognese cuisine around the world. The story goes back to the Renaissance, when it is believed that Cristoforo da Messisbugo, carver to Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, devised the original recipe. Bologna mortadella is made exclusively of meticulously selected pork which is ground into a fine paste, to which are added nuggets of fat (never less than 15% or more than 28% of the total meat surface), endowing it with a characteristic flavour. It is then stuffed into a casing of natural or artificial gut. Eaten with a few slices of freshly baked bread and a piece of cheese is bliss on the palate.

Book your Vueling to Bologna and get ready to savour their excellent cuisine.

Text by Oriol Rodríguez