In a country known for its amazing cuisine, Bologna is known among locals as the food capital. Although it's primarily known internationally for its association with lunchmeat, Bologna, and the surrounding region of Emilia-Romagna are the birthplace of many well-known dishes.
Foodies are definitely in for a treat when they head to Bologna la Grassa (Bologna the Fat, an apt nickname). Here's what you need to know to eat extremely well in one of Italy's greatest food cities.
Don't fear: you won't find greasy processed bologna here. Instead there are a variety of amazing cured meats to try. What we know as bologna's closest ancestor is mortadella, a cured pork sausage that incorporates spices and cubes of pork fat. Salty cured parma ham comes from the neighboring town of Parma (as does parmesan cheese of course). Salami and other cured pork meats can be found as well.
Sample these meats alongside some authentic balsamic vinegar from the neighboring town of Modena. Unlike what you'll find at home, authentic balsamic is thick, sweet and tastes great atop a hunk of salty parmesan cheese.
If you think that Spaghetti Bolognese is one of Bologna's most famous exports, you’d be wrong. It’s a foreign dish that just took the name of this popular foodie region. But what you will find in Bologna is ragù alla bolognese. The rich sauce is made with slow cooked meat (pork, veal or beef depending on the recipe), tomato and pancetta. It's never served over flimsy pasta like spaghetti. Instead enjoy it with thick egg-based tagliatelle.
This ring shaped stuffed pasta also hails from Bologna and can be found in markets and restaurants all over town. Their suggestive shape is said to represent a woman's belly button (they are sometimes called ombelico for this reason). Tortellini are traditionally filled with cheese or pork and are almost always served floating in a clear broth. Tortelloni are their oversized cousins, which are sometimes served in a hearty sauce instead.
The region is the birthplace of two other notable forms of pasta. Tagliatelle are thick hand-cut egg noodles. Everyone knows what lasagna is, but few people know it hails from this meat and cheese rich area.
Bologna doesn't claim to have invented gelato (Sicily has that locked down) but they are constantly working on perfecting it. The Gelato University, run by ice cream machine make Carpigiani, is located just outside of town, where prospective gelato makers go to learn the trade. They run a small gelato museum as well. In town there are several amazing artisan gelato makers, just follow the crowds of locals to find the perfect happy ending to your meal.
Where would you start your culinary adventures in Bologna?
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Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! Since graduating college in 2007 she has either been traveling or planning to travel. She's lived on four continents and visited everywhere from the Great Wall of China to the Great Barrier Reef. She now writes and travels full time, blogging about her adventures on Why Wait To See The World? (formerly Twenty-Something Travel). Follow Stephanie on Twitter or visit her on Facebook.
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