A foodie’s guide to Bologna

By Rashi Seth

BOLOGNA, Italy – Unbeknownst to the culinary tourists that flock to Florence and Venice, Bologna is one of Italy’s best-kept gastronomic secrets. La citta grossa, the fat city, is home to some of the world’s most beloved food — tortelli, lasagna, pancetta stuffed tortellini, tagliatelle al ragu and mortadella. While people outside Italy associate those delicacies with Bologna, the city has more to offer with its lard-dotted mortadella and a variety of cured meats including Prosciutto di Parma and culatello. While the locals think charcuterie boards are for the tourists, and the only way that tortellini should be served is in homemade brodo (broth), after a visit one will understand why Bologna is called the citta grossa. 

Another specialty includes Tigelle e Crescentine, a dish developed in ancient times when farmers fed the poor families of the Appennine mountains. Over time, tigelle became a delicacy of the Reggio Emilia region, traditionally served hot with pesto bolognese, salami and a generous serving of Parmigiano Reggiano. A favorite, less traditional preparation incorporates fig jam and ricotta cheese. Wines like the red Lambrusco and bubbly Pignoletto serve to cut these fatty foods. Find these and others at Pigro — a tucked away mortadelleria serving mortadella from the last Bolognese artisan, Pasquini. 

SAIS Europe students appreciate the pocket-friendly food scene of Bologna. Manon Thépault, a second-year MAIA candidate, thoroughly enjoys the wine, exclaiming “it is so cheap!” Sara Sharif, another second-year MAIA candidate, appreciates the vegetarian options when they are available. “I am from Florence, and I like the food that Bologna has, even though it is a little meat-heavy. Sadly, I cannot eat at the osterias since I am a vegetarian, but I like the diverse options for vegetarians available here.”  

Bologna offers a limited selection of international cuisine. Lola Shonibare, a first-year MA candidate eats at Delizioso, a Syrian-Lebanese kebab restaurant, since she is “tired of eating all the Italian food around here.” Yaniv Cohen, a first-year MA candidate who shares this sentiment, often finds himself at Happy Chinese Rotisserie, the one place with a plethora of vegan options. 

Bologna makes up for its limited, meat-heavy food-scene with gelato. At times, Bolognese gelato shops have up to six vegan options, often non-sorbet and made from rice milk. Cohen’s favorite vegan flavor is cioccolato fondente, chocolate fondant. 

Though Bologna has several family-run gelaterias, gelato originated in Sicily. Bolognese desserts are more dough-based, like Sfrappole, which are fried pastries like donuts and dessert ravioli. At Christmastime, the Bolognese eat Certosino, a chocolate cake with pears, oranges, two different kinds of cherries, figs and apricots, topped with almonds.Students explore Bologna’s adventurous creations alongside its traditional delicacies in the food stalls and shops surrounding Mercato di Mezzo, a history-rich hub for Bolognese food culture. The neighboring streets offer their own treasures: Via delle Pescherie Vecchie means Street of the Old Fish Mongers and Vicolo dei Ranocchi, Alley of the Frogs. Diving into a new cuisine means taking risks, but SAIS Europe is a program full of risk takers. Fortunately, regrets are rare when it comes to food in Bologna.

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