Bologna La Grassa’s (Bologna the Fat) reputation as Italy’s gastronomic capital is well deserved. Most Bolognese start their day with a visit to the bar for coffee, a pastry and some chitchat with the barista (bartender). The local bar is a social center and most Italians have their favorite, which can say a lot about them. There are posh ones with marble counters and gold-plated sugar bowls or ones with blaring soccer matches. There are bars where the elderly play cards or read, and bars where the barista will draw a heart into the foam of your cappuccino. In the evenings, the bar becomes the place where friends meet for an aperitivo to map out plans and debate about where to eat. One of the first decisions is what type of establishment to frequent: enoteca, pizzeria, osteria, trattoria, or ristorante. Price and quality are not necessarily linked. One can eat poorly at an expensive restaurant and very well at a simple trattoria. Here is the breakdown for each offering:
Enoteche are Italian wine shops oriented towards being a ‘wine library’, that is to say a place in which to taste wines, find in-depth information on the local and regional wine culture and purchase discoveries by the bottle. Often the enoteca sells other local packaged food products and serves small snacks to accompany the wine tasting.
Pizzerie, which usually serve other dishes alongside the famous pie, are often the most economical choice. There are differences in regional pizza by toppings, shape, thickness, and even dough hydration percentages. Arguments on the merits of each can go on for days but perhaps it is best settled by saying there is a type of pizza for every occasion. Frompizza Napoletana and pizza tonda Romana to pizza al tegamino and panzerotti, if you explore with an open appetite, you will certainly find favorites.
An osteria originally was a place only serving wines and you could bring your own food to accompany your drink. The option of an offered meal was the difference between an osteria and a trattoria. Today, osterie emphasize pared back menus highlighting exceptional local specialties supporting the growth of the slow food movement in an informed, but informal, atmosphere. Emilia-Romagna is home to three of the oldest osterie in Italy. In Bologna, we have ‘Osteria del Sole‘ (where, to much delight, you still can bring your own food) and ‘Osteria del Cappello Rosso‘. In Ferrara, there is the beautifully eclectic ‘Osteria al Brindisi‘, established between the 14th and 15th century. Fun historical fact: Bologna’s osterie multiplied in the late 1200s when the university experienced a major influx of students. Copious amounts of wine accompanied by sausage, mortadella and lively conversation were consumed in these establishments. One of them, ‘Osteria della Scimmia‘, was frequented by students looking for lessons in ‘love’, but in 1490 it was closed down due to its nefarious reputation.
Trattorie are usually a bit more formal and frequently family-run. They can be sought after for the quality of food and for their particular characteristic atmosphere, almost always serving regional standards. The economical prices matched by the quantity of the foods offered are an attraction.
Then there are Bologna’s elegant and renowned ristoranti where you will find celebrated chefs, lush upscale settings accompanied by schooled service and prices to match. Towards the end of the week you may find the local glitterati and literati peppering the bar of ‘Fourghetti’ and the dining room of ‘I Portici‘, Bologna’s only Michelin starred restaurant. You’ll pay more, but aren’t you worth it?
Gambero Rosso, the Italian equivalent of the French Guide Michelin, publishes a restaurant guide and the most authoritative guide of Italian enology. Both are available to purchase online at www.gamberorosso.it and in major bookstores around the city. Some of our top choices can be found here: www.iwfbologna.com/to-dine-in-bologna-and-beyond
If you are in the mood for something other than Bolognese or Italian, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the diverse choices of cuisine available in Bologna. Restaurants offering menus from Africa and Eastern Europe to Middle East and South America can be found in every quartiere, along with fresh seafood, vegetarian, organic, and vegan offerings. Even echoes of the fabled American brunch and Chinese dim sum can be found in trending locals.
Tipping is not customary in Italy and it is not expected in bars. In trattorie, you might leave a few euros in spare change. In the better restaurants, consider rounding up. Leaving a mancia (tip) is really reserved for excellent service.
IN THE PROVINCE
There are countless year-round events celebrating the area’s gastronomic heritage. Timed to the harvest of the particular item being celebrated, dozens of sagre (food festivals) fill the province’s piazze with tasty wines and prodotti tipici (typical, local products). In the spring, these may include cherries or asparagus; in the fall, castagne (chestnuts) and tartufi (truffles). For more information, see the sites www.cittametropolitana.bo.it, clic on ‘Sagre e feste‘ or www.prodottitipici.com.
The Province of Bologna also boasts several noteworthy Food and Wine Routes, tourist itineraries related to the region’s specialties.
Strade dei Vini e Sapori dei Colli d’Imola (Wine and Flavour Route of Imola’s Hills)
Via del Pane (Route of Bread)
Colli Bolognesi (Wine Route of the Bolognese Hills)