In a nation that’s renowned the world over for its food, Bologna stands out as the food capital of Italy. Eating in Bologna is more than a necessity, it’s an art form, but it can be difficult figuring out what the top must eat foods in Bologna are when visiting the city. We take food seriously here. Tradition has a capital T and you can easily end up in the middle of a discussion about who makes the best pasta in Bologna. Our most iconic dishes aren't as sophisticated as, say, elaborate Sicilian creations, but they represent the perfect comfort food and are a celebration of guilt-free joy at the table, as well as a feast of meat and saturated fats. There are a couple of dishes I would recommend but if you are embarking upon a Bologna food tour then a good starting point would be with my five top choices.
One of the foods you should try in Bologna, Italy, is definitely tortellini! According to the legend, this precious little dumpling of fresh pasta filled with minced pork meat, mortadella, a hint of parmesan and a shadow of nutmeg was originally inspired by the navel of Lucrezia Borgia, a seductive and controversial icon of the Italian Renaissance. During a short stay in Castel Franco, a little village halfway between Modena and Bologna, she caught the eye of the innkeeper, who one night peaked through the keyhole and was struck by the vision of her navel. Such a vision eventually came to inspire a sultry recipe and to define the ideal shape for the perfect tortellino. The fascinating story cannot be demonstrated on the website of the “Confraternity of Tortellino”, the place to go if you look for the original recipe. However, if you want to eat them the right way, try Osteria Bottega, Donatello and Leonida, or Bologna's very own Trattoria di via Serra. Or buy them fresh and uncooked at Da Bruno e Franco or Atti. Eating them in broth is respectful of The Tradition, alla panna is acceptable, but al ragù will immediately reveal that you're a tourist.
Tagliatelle al ragù
The universally acknowledged version of ‘spaghetti bolognaise’ simply does not exist. Not in Italy, and certainly not in Bologna, which is known for its hearty meals. The reason is simple: the heavy, nourishing dish of tagliatelle al ragù results from the union of handmade fresh egg pasta with ragù. The latter, as you probably know, is a rich topping of minced meat slowly cooked (though not as slowly as in Naples, where they have their own very different and very respectable version of ragù) with soffritto (a classic mix of semi-fried little dices of carrot, onion and celery) and tomato sauce. Tagliatelle is a generous, soft kind of fresh pasta whose texture and shape is gently uneven and little rough, and its porous surface perfectly absorbs the topping... Hungry already? Try tagliatelle al ragù, a must eat food in Bologna, at the fancy Ristorante Diana, a local institution and a true retro experience, at the less decadent but still very famous Trattoria Anna Maria, or at locals' favorite Trattoria Della Santa.
Tortelloni burro e salvia
Yes, they sound like tortellini and they look like them, but tortelloni is a different dish delicious enough to make my list of foods you should try in Bologna, Italy. Tortelloni are bigger than tortellini and with a whole different filling (ricotta cheese and spinach in the original recipe), making them a gentler and more elegant alternative to their impressive little brothers. Eat them the original way, with melted butter and sage, and add a dash of tomato sauce for extra flavor. Try them at Bottega Portici (where you can also see them being made in real-time by the sfogline in the Piazza di Porta Ravegnana) or at Sfoglia Rina: they're both quite crowded but both eateries are known to offer some of the best pasta in Bologna.
This homemade comfort food par excellence is a must for any Bologna food tour. The delicious dish is stacked with layers of thin egg and flour fresh pasta filled with ragù and a little amount of béchamel and cooked in the oven. Most locals prefer lasagne verdi (green), which has a little spinach on the dough. Lasagne is one of the must-eat foods in Bologna when the weather is gloomy and you are looking for some comfort. Everybody swears that the best lasagne is made by “my mom/grandma/husband” but restaurants can serve you the real deal, too. Especially the no-frills, family-owned trattoria. Try Ristorantino Il Tinello (where they also serve Bologna's own and much rarer balazoni) and Ristorante Bolognese (not the fanciest location but in front of the station: perfect for a lasagne on-the-go!). Trattoria Baraldi on Via del Pratello, the heart of Bologna students' nightlife, also offers a menu featuring all the top foods you should try in Bologna, Italy. If you have an oven at your place, but them at fresh pasta shops (dalle sfogline) such as Le sfogline in front of Mercato delle Erbe or at one of the many Bologna food markets.
Yes, gelato was born in Sicily, but a couple of Bologna's ice cream makers regularly figure at the top of the Italian gelato charts. So much so that gelato has become a must eat food in Bologna. This is partly due to local business company Carpigiani: they make the most important ice-cream makers in the world, have their own academy and museum of gelato, and contributed to creating a gelato craze and “creamyness” competition within the city. Some of the best gelateria in Bologna work so hard (and make so much money) that they close throughout the winter, spend some lazy months in some warm beach and come back by April. However, you'll hardy be without a good gelato in Bologna in any time of the year. My ever favourite is the boutique-gelateria Cremeria Santo Stefano, quickly followed by Galliera 49: they both are top-notch. La Funivia will always have a queue but will reward you with some very rich creams, vegan Stefino is the most ethical and exotic, and Cremeria Mascarella and Cremeria San Francesco offer great quality in the middle of the busiest, studenty parts of the city.
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