Italy: Food Lover’s Bologna

Courtesy of Tamburini

Even in Italy, a country that takes food very seriously, Bologna stands out. Its chamber of commerce preserves centuries-old recipes, and the city’s nickname, La Grassa, means “the Fat One.” The Cesarine, an association of foodies who spread the gospel of regional Italian cuisine, got its start here, as did such specialties as mortadella, tortellini, and, of course, Bolognese sauce. All of which is to say, Bologna is an omnivore’s dream.

From Market to Market

Mercato di Mezzo and Mercato delle Erbe are the city’s biggest food markets. Mezzo, located in the Quadrilatero area, behind Piazza Maggiore, the main square, is known for the cured meats of its salumerie. The best, Tamburini, is an informal store/enoteca where everything—for example, the crescente (stuffed oven-cooked bread) with prosciutto or olives—is made in-house. La Baita is the ultimate formaggeria and does its own version of Parmesan called Sua Maestà il Nero, as well as the delicate squacquerone, a soft and creamy stracchino-like cow’s-milk cheese with a mild flavor and a pleasant acidic tinge.

Paolo Atti & Figli is best for breads and cakes, while Melega—nicknamed Cartier because of its high prices and excellent quality—is known for its fruits and vegetables. The nearby Rosa Rose is a favorite spot for aperitivo. The seemingly hole-in-the-wall Osteria del Sole, where locals play cards and share snacks, is perfect for a glass of wine. It’s also one of many so-called posti da struscio—places where people go to see and be seen—in the area.

The Mercato delle Erbe, meanwhile, on Via Ugo Bassi, might be more rough-edged and low-key, but it’s just as good. Everyone at the family-owned Formaggeria Bernardi is quick to recommend the day’s freshest cheeses, and across the street, Le Sfogline—a favorite of master Italian chef Lidia Bastianich’s—is named after the title given to tortellini-makers. Fittingly, it is the spot for two local pastas, one being the tortellone stuffed with spinach and ricotta or seasonal vegetables. And then there’s the tortellino (tourtelein in the local dialect), which is filled with mortadella, prosciutto crudo, egg, buttery pork loin, and Parmesan. It’s flavored with nutmeg, a common Bolognese spice, and traditionally served in broth. (Orders must be placed in advance.)

At Table

Great restaurants dot the city, and there are plenty on Via Broccaindosso, but we love Da Maro, especially for its pasta with fish, like the chitarra with calamari and zucchini. Diana, on Via Indipendenza, has a quiet, elegant old-world atmosphere: Waiters wear suits, and diners come in, especially at Sunday lunch, for the traditional bollito di carne—offal and other meat boiled for up to five hours (and better tasting than it sounds).

One of Bologna’s most sophisticated spots and a secret even to locals, La Terrazza fuses Mediterranean recipes with seasonal products from the area, like porcini couscous. When eating at the classic Da Fabio, meanwhile, one doesn’t use the menu. Instead, owner Alessandro Cavalieri fills the table with freshly sliced cured meats, mozzarella di Bufala, cotolettine (fried and breaded meat) with homemade Bernese sauce, and classic Bolognese entrées like tortellini and lasagna.

For some of the most typical specialties, Da Gianni has crunchy polenta under melted squacquerone cheese; Osteria al 15 has perfectly fried crescentine (a puffy focaccia-like bread) with cured meats and squacquerone. And to answer that inevitable question: Where do I get the best Bolognese? The tiny 26-seat All’Osteria Bottega makes a slow-cooked ragù alla Bolognese that’s about as close as anything you’ll find outside the house of one of this city’s grandmothers.

Sweet Stuff

Chocolatiers working in the open kitchen at the century-old Roccati make artisanal dragées (nuts covered with chocolate powder) and the shop’s famous foot-tall chocolate domes filled with hazelnuts. The original outpost of Laganà, on Via Santo Stefano, in the Bologna-bene, an area that’s home to the city’s wealthy, is the best—albeit one of the most overpriced—pasticcerie in town. Not to miss are the meringues with fresh whipped cream and traditional desserts like torta di riso (rice cake). The family-operated Drogheria Gilberto, open since 1905, has a wide assortment of local sweets, like tortellini-shaped chocolates, fruit-flavored jellies, and the anise-flavored doughnut-shaped cookies called zuccherini all’anice. Bologna’s finest ice cream, perhaps the creamiest in the world, is at Cremeria Funivia. Flavors range from classics like crema (the Italian equivalent of vanilla) to inventive alternatives like toasted pine-nut cream, ricotta and lemon, and the decadent Alice confection—mascarpone ice cream with melted chocolate at the bottom of the cone or cup.

Beyond Bologna

At Dal Nonno, an inexpensive spot in the Colli area, a ten-minute drive from the city, the wise old owner serves delicious prosciutto- or stracchino-filled crescentine and the best tigelle, a flattened bread filled with cured meats or cheese. (The house wine isn’t great, however.) Nearby, the popular Trattoria Monte Donato has a similar feel, but it serves northern Italian–style cuisine in winter and southern Italian in summer: pasta with sardines, cockerel with mustard and almonds, and its famous crispy chicken with potatoes. The trattoria Sandro al Navile, meanwhile, is worth traveling the 20 minutes outside the city for the balsamic vinegar ice cream alone, made tableside. Next door is La Cantina di Sandro, the liquor store owned by the restaurant’s founder, Alessandro Montanari. He’s one of Europe’s top whiskey collectors, with holdings dating back to the late 18th century, some of which are even for sale.

All’Osteria Bottega, dinner, $55; 51 Via Santa Caterina; 39-051/585-111. Da Fabio, dinner, $65; 2/A Via Del Cestello; 39-051/220-481. Da Gianni, dinner, $40; 18 Via Clavature; 39-051/229-434. Da Maro, dinner, $35; 71/B Via Broccaindosso; 39-051/227-304. Diana, dinner, $70; 24 Via Indipendenza; 39-051/231-302. Formaggeria Bernardi, Mercato delle Erbe; 39-051/264-470. La Baita, 3/A Via Pescherie Vecchie; 39-051/223-940. La Terrazza, dinner, $55; 20 Via Del Parco; 39-051/531-330. Le Sfogline, 7/B Via Belvedere; 39-051/220-558. Melega, 14 Via Clavature; 39-051/221-676. Osteria al 15, dinner, $30; 13 Via Mirasole; 39-051/331-806. Osteria del Sole; 1/D Vicolo Ranocchi; 39-348/225-6887. Paolo Atti & Figli, 7 Via Caprarie; 39-051/220-425. Roccati, 49 Strada Maggiore; 39-051/261-964. Rosa Rose, 18 Via Clavature; 39-051/225-071. Tamburini, 1 Via Caprarie; 39-051/234-726.

Cremeria Funivia, 1/D Piazza Cavour; 39-051/656-9365. Dal Nonno, dinner, $20; 62 Via di Casaglia; 39-051/589-093. Drogheria Gilberto, 5 Via Drapperie; 39-051/223-925. La Cantina di Sandro, 7 Via del Sostegno; 39-348/264-4200. Laganà, 112 Via Santo Stefano; 39-051/347-869. Sandro al Navile, dinner, $65; 15 Via del Sostegno; 39-051/634-3100. Trattoria Monte Donato, dinner, $40; 118 Via Siepelunga; 39-051/472-901.