Food in Bologna: 10 Quintessential Must-Eat Foods in Italy's Culinary City
Think of Italy and you immediately think of the food, am I right? Food is so much a part of Italy's culture, and each region's unique specialties are worthy of their own place on any foodie's Italian bucket list when you eat it at the source — whether it's pizza in Naples, pesto in Liguria, or seafood in Sicily.
And then there's the food in Bologna and Emilia Romagna, arguably the culinary capital of Italy.
What's so noteworthy about Bologna food?
Like the iconic luxury cars that also hail from this region in north central Italy, Bologna and Emilia Romagna are the Ferraris and Lamborghinis of Italian food so the first question to ask isn't what to do in Bologna, it's what to eat in Bologna! You know it's true when even other Italians admit it. Yes, in Bologna, Italy, food is life. It defines the region. So whether it's your first time to Bologna or you've already visited, be prepared to pace yourself so you don’t overdo it and flame out too quickly. Don’t be an amateur! There are so many foods you’ll want to try in Bologna, and they are filling.
Here are 10 Bologna foods that define Emilia Romagna, one of the most delicious regions of Italy.
Food in Bologna
Bologna may be known for its stuffed pastas, but it all started with the tiny tortellini and the slightly larger tortelloni, still handmade today by locals in sfogline, or local pasta shops. The giant oversized single tortellacci is also unique (see below) but you don’t the fun, textural experience in your mouth of the smaller shapes. And let’s face it, why are some shapes of pasta more fun to eat than others? Because they feel better in your mouth. ;-)
You can cover up tortellini with yummy sauces or add them to chunky soups, but the traditional way to enjoy them in Bologna is in a simple broth or in brodo. Simplicity is a hallmark of Italian cooking, and never tasted so delicious as it does in this dish!
My tortellini in brodo at Trattoria Serghei (right) was served with a fresh grate of parmigiano reggiano. It’s an authentic family-run restaurant north of the Piazza Maggiore serving amazing authentic local food.
Americans may think mortadella looks and tastes like the Oscar Meyer bologna they grew up eating as a kid. And they’d be half right. But any resemblance ends with your first bite. Fresh mortadella tastes porky and garlicky. It's delicious and completely unique to Bologna.
TIP: Build the perfect Bologna picnic basket one day by shopping for goodies like mortadella in the Quadrilatero, the oldest market in the city. Shops will let you sample before you buy, then make sure you get enough, It’ll be gone before you know it!
Take a day trip from Bologna to Modena when you’re here and taste some of the most amazing flavors in the region. Modena may not produce the staggering number of proscuitto hams as their Parma neighbor, but I would argue that less quantity results in a higher quality and tastier ham. It's tender and porky, with just a touch of saltiness. It's perhaps the most well-known Bologna Italy food. Also try the fattier version known as Speck if you can — equally as tender and bursting with flavor.
The Italians take their DOP very seriously when it comes to food production, and well they should! The Designated Origin of Protection is what distinguishes these famous Bologna foods from anywhere else in the world. Food in Bologna and elsewhere in Italy is heavily regulated by the Italian government to very high standards. Lucky for us! True Parmigiano Reggiano doesn’t come in a can. It takes years to produce and age, and a second to devour. They don't call it “The King of Cheese” for nothing.
Balsamic di Modena
Will you take a look at that! That's 25 years in the making. Authentic DOP Balsamic di Modena is silky smooth and gets along with just about anything in your pantry from cheese, figs, and micro greens to pastry, pasta, or a scoop of gelato. Want to taste test for yourself? Italian Days Food Experience runs a killer food tour that combines this balsamic visit with some prosciutto and parmigiano reggiano cheese. It's one of the most fun foodie things to do in Bologna.
You know this namesake has to be one of the most famous food dishes in Bologna! But please don’t let the term ‘meat sauce’ con you into thinking this is a simple dish just anyone can make. Homemade tagliatelle or pappardelle pasta in a classic Bolognese sauce is a surprisingly simple but delicious dish. But authentic Bolognese takes time. It's one of the oh-so-classic dishes that defines Bologna, the capital of the Emilia Romagna region. Pair it with any of the wines of Emilia Romagna and it's a match made in foodie heaven.
Bologna food is unique among Italian regional foods. They're known for the stuffed pastas, like this giant tortellini known as tortellacci (below). A single sheet of pasta is typically stuffed with spinach, meat, onions and garlic, and sauteed with butter, maybe a little white wine, and flavorings like rosemary and pancetta. Yum!
I know what you're thinking - this looks nothing like the lasagna you're used to eating, right? It's not. Since I was a kid, lasagne was my least favorite Italian pasta dish. It was usually dry and unappealing, with thick layers of ricotta and mozzarella cheese covering up any flavor or texture of the noodle. But this? This honors the noodle! I'm not kidding, with one bite I was hooked. And I found out the secret - béchamel sauce. That's right, no dollops of ricotta cheese straight from the plastic tub. This smooth and flavorful cream sauce is key to typical Bolognese lasagne, traditionally made with spinach noodles. I guarantee you'll fall in love with lasagne.
These small flat round disks are ubiquitous in Emilia Romagna. Simply made from flour and water, tigelle are traditionally cooked in a cast iron mould called a tigelliera, branding them with pretty markings so unique to its look. They can be found everywhere around Bologna, and are typically served with delicious foods to stuff inside like prosciutto and mortadella. But tigelle are tasty on their own, and the more traditional disks are lightly filled with a mixture of herbs, spices, pork, and lard.
Caffe ‘Allo Zabaione
A good coffee drink to start your day after a meal just makes sense!
This one is the only coffee drink on the list. But Caffe ‘Allo Zabaione is more than just coffee — it's an indulgent mix of espresso and zabaglione — the egg, sugar, and sweet wine concoction usually reserved for dessert. So why not go all-out Italian and give it a literal shot?
Aroma Cafe's twist on a traditional early morning pick-me-up has been enjoyed here for centuries, so you'll be in very good company! Bonus: Check out Taste Bologna for a great walking tour of historic Bologna that begins the day at Aroma :-). They’re just off the SW corner of Piazza Maggiore!
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Where to Stay in Bologna
If there's one thing to plan on for your first trip to Bologna, it's staying within the city centre, close to the main attractions. This means staying inside the outer highway loop that circles the city. You'll find luxury hotel rooms and quaint B&Bs, all within steps of your favorite piazza. We highly recommend these choices in every budget:
If you're looking for modern elegance, Portici Hotel is a good choice. Located within walking distance to the city center near the University, one of the best parts about staying here are the cooking classes through Bottega Portici! Check out the latest rates and more details.
The city's only 4-star luxury is at the Hotel Corona d'Oro, super close to the Piazza Maggiore. Get the latest prices and details.
The Viennese-style Hotel Novecento on Piazza Galileo has gorgeous contemporary rooms & suites with marble bathrooms. Some rooms also have outdoor terraces with great views! Check out the latest prices and details.
Simple, elegant, and generally under $100 USD/night, the Art Hotel Orologio is a great value in the heart of the city centre. Check out the best rates and more details.
The Hotel Metropolitan is a great choice if you love chic elegance in a great location (just a few blocks from Piazza Maggiore), with a beautiful outdoor space. Check out the latest prices and more details.
What am I missing?
C'mon, you Italophiles and Bologna lovers — what important foods am I missing? Tell me below -- I'm working on my next list of ten! ;-)