By Elisabeth, globetrotter and self-confessed food fanatic. Edited by Emma White
Italy is well known for its wonderful food culture, adored by so many and deeply rooted within the nation’s identity. Each of Italy’s regions boasts a whole host of traditional dishes, specialities, cooking methods and other culinary secrets that make them unique. Bologna and the Emilia-Romagna region is no exception! Bologna’s food scene is based upon traditional cuisine using locally sourced, fresh produce from the surrounding hills and beyond. Local life in Bologna is centred around food, so much so that the city’s nickname is in fact La Grassa, meaning ‘The Fat One’! With so many edible treasures to be discovered, you’ll be asking what and where to eat in Bologna before searching things to do in Bologna! To help you out, here’s a list of must eat foods in Bologna. Use this guide to create your own personalised Bologna food tour and discover the flavours of the Emilia-Romagna region with my tips on where to eat in Bologna like a local.
Tagliatelle alla ragù
Not be confused with Spag Bol, this dish is the perfect pairing of two Bolognese traditions: the meaty ragù and the fresh, handmade egg pasta. Although this is indeed the dish that the popular Spaghetti Bolognese is originally based on, they are perceived to be totally different dishes and asking for the latter in Bologna will surely have you banished from the city! As we all know, Italians take their pasta very seriously. The reason why it is not made with spaghetti in Bologna is that this type of pasta originates from the south where durum wheat is used, whereas white flour grows in Bologna and is therefore traditionally used to make pasta here. Try this Bolognese classic at one of the best restaurants in Bologna, Osteria dell’Orsa (via Mentana, 1), where you are guaranteed a wonderfully authentic Bolognese dinner with some of the best pasta in Bologna. For those looking for vegan-friendly pasta options, check out Ristorante Clorofilla (Str. Maggiore, 64).
Tortellini al brodo
The second dish featuring the all-important main ingredient of typical Bolognese fresh egg pasta is tortellini. Where this type of pasta came from is something that has long been disputed by the once rival cities of Bologna and Modena. According to legend, an innkeeper in Castelfranco Emilia once welcomed the goddess Venus as a guest at his inn and was instantly captivated by her beauty. So much so, that when he peaked through the keyhole of her room one night and saw only her navel, he felt compelled to replicate such divine beauty with pasta. Whether you believe the myth or not, tortellini is a must eat food in Bologna and can be found on almost any traditional Bologna restaurant menu. When sampling fresh, handmade tortellini, locals agree that less is more – the traditional way to enjoy them is in a simple meat broth or brodo. For some of the best tortellini in the city, head to Trattoria dal Biassanot (via Piella 16/a), an authentic trattoria in Bologna packed with locals and tourists alike every day of the week - it’s clearly a popular choice.
Mortadella is a smooth textured, Italian pork sausage flavoured with spices that originates from Bologna (hence the American version being named ‘Bologna’). Although many of you may have tried this common supermarket variety, it must be said that authentic mortadella produced in Bologna is a totally different ball game! Contrary to its American counterpart, mortadella is a prized meat in the Emilia-Romagna region and has even received a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) rating. For those wondering what food Bologna is known for, it’s this! The Bolognese are extremely proud of their mortadella and vendors will always encourage tourists to try it. You can try mortadella at most trattorias in Bologna, usually served alongside other regional favourites such as Prosciutto Crudo di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano, but my favourite place to get it is from the old Bologna food market known as Il Quadrilatero. Vendors will often let you try before you buy so pick a few samples and see what you fancy pairing your mortadella with, then take the whole lot to Giardini Margherita for a delicious Bologna-style picnic. Admittedly, this is best if visiting Bologna in the warmer months but if it’s too cold to sit outside then head to Osteria del Sole where you can enjoy your bought food alongside a refreshing glass of wine.
Lasagna alla Bolognese
You might be thinking “I’ve had lasagna a thousand times so I can probably skip this one when I’m in Bologna, right?” Wrong! Lasagna has many different versions, both within Italy and around the rest of the world, but when we talk about “real” lasagna we mean lasagna alla Bolognese - from Bologna and the surrounding Emilia-Romagna region. The reason that Bologna’s is best is that it is always made with layers of fresh, high quality egg pasta sheets rather than dried strips. Many Italians now use dried pasta for convenience, as do most people outside of Italy, but here in Bologna it is still common practice to stick with tradition and make fresh pasta for a lasagna. Unlike other parts of the world, Italians are lucky enough that fresh egg pasta is inexpensive and readily available at the local pastificio or pasta shop – such is the case in Bologna. One of the best restaurants in Bologna for a traditional lasagna alla Bolognese is Trattoria Anna Maria (via delle Belle Arti, 17/A), give it a try and see if you agree!
Torta di riso
Torta di riso is a typical Bolognese dessert, also known as torta degli addobbi meaning “the cake of decorations.” It is a delicious rice cake flavoured with citrus fruits, spices and sometimes nuts and candied fruit. Although this sweet treat is traditionally made and eaten for special occasions such as Easter, Christmas, parties or weddings, these days it is available all year round from restaurants and pasticcerie throughout the city. You will find that there are many versions of this cake as each family has its own traditional recipe, incorporating different ingredients into the mix. My favourite place to go for torta di riso is a small and very old bakery called Paolo Atti & Figli (via Caprarie,7) – an institution in Bologna when it comes to traditional Bologna food!
Another sweet, must eat food in Bologna is zuppa inglese, an Italian dessert originating from the Emilia-Romagna region resembling the classic English trifle. It consists of sponge cake pieces soaked in Alchermes, a pungent red Italian herb liqueur, alternated with layers of crema pasticciera (similar to custard), chocolate cream finished with a top layer of cream, meringue or almonds. Most trattorias in Bologna will have zuppa inglese on their menu but I recommend trying it at Trattoria Collegio di Spagna (via Collegio di Spagna, 15), a hidden gem in a quiet location close to Piazza Maggiore serving traditional Bologna food and most importantly, an incredibly delicious zuppa inglese!
Cotoletta Bolognese, translated as ‘Bolognese cutlet’, is another one of the typical regional dishes and a must eat food whilst in Bologna. A meat cutlet (of veal or chicken) is first fried in lard, then soaked in broth to add flavour and keep the meat moist. Slices of ham are then laid across the cutlet along with a generous sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano, before putting the whole thing in the oven until the meat is tender and the cheese has melted. The dish is then often upgraded with a handful of truffles grown locally in the surrounding hills of Bologna. Give it a try at Osteria Le Sette Chiese (via Borgonuovo, 6), they serve a divine cotoletta Bolognese which I really think is hard to beat!
Hello, curious traveler!
Embark on a unique experience with Hello, curious traveler!
Embark on a unique experience with Our personalized, private tours, led by local hosts, make you feel like you’re exploring the city with a knowledgeable friend. We’ll take you to well-known sights and reveal Bologna’s hidden gems, unveiling stories typically missed by traditional tours. So unscript your journey, and see Bologna through the eyes of our local hosts!
Top private experiences in Bologna
We’ll pair you with the perfect host
There is no better way to see a city than with a friend who lives there. This is why we carefully match guests with their perfect host based on interested, personality and type of experience so they can discover a city beyond the tourist trail.
Make your inbox happy with our travel tips and inspiration as well as exclusive offers and first access to new services.