Mortadella takes many forms at this famed specialty foods store.
Bologna is a multifaceted city with all sorts of cultural attractions. It’s a UNESCO City of Music with a prestigious jazz festival and a frescoed, thoughtfully designed museum on the subject. The modern art museum boasts a formidable collections and the Cineteca has one of the most important collections of cinematic records in the country. Visitors can climb the famous Garisenda and Asinelli towers in the center or scale steps through 666 porticos to the Basilica Santuario della Madonna di San Luca for a panoramic view of the red rooftops.
Yet, worthwhile as all of these things are, Bologna’s mighty gastronomic heritage tends to
overshadow them. This is a city famously nicknamed “la grassa” (“the fat one”) and the birthplace of some of Italy’s most iconic pastas—where would we be without slow-simmered ragù draped over sunshine-yellow tagliatelle or sandwiched between whisper-thin sheets of spinach pasta with béchamel? So while you should go for Bologna for the art, the ambiance and everything else, you may still find yourself, as I recently did, planning your days in the city around meals.
On my latest trip, one of the hotels I stayed at was Albergo delle Drapperie, a cozy boutique situated in the Quadrilatero, a network of ancient alleyways crammed with some of the best food shops and bars in the city. During the evening, the narrow streets fill with locals stopping for aperitivi or picking up a gourmet spread to take home.
Four generations of master bakers have worked at this legendary pasticceria, producing delicacies like saffron-hued panettone and certosino, a bolognese Christmas cake dense with glacéed fruits. They also carry a few unusual specialties, including a small tart filled with pasta. I wasn’t sure how I felt about a dessert tagliatelle, but one bite of the buttery, crumbling pastry shell and the crisp noodles changed my mind. On my visit, I was lucky enough to get a behind-the-scenes look at the kitchen, where the staff were hard at work preparing seasonal sweets and some of the tiniest tortellini I’ve ever seen.
More than just cheese at La Baita Formaggi.
When you stop by this unusual cheese shop, be sure to pick up a slab of black mountain cheese. It’s actually a unique variety of Parmigiano-Reggiano—though it cannot legally be called such due to the strict regulations—covered in a fine layer of vegetable ash that is only sold by this store. All sorts of other cured meats and cheeses are available; in the evenings, the table outside are an excellent spot for people-watching and nibbling.
These two neighboring stores on Via Drapperie and Via Pescherie Vecchie are run by the same family. The father, Nino, still runs the former, and his son Davide is in charge of the latter, a relatively recent addition to the street. Both offer an excellent selection of artisanal, quality cured meats, many from their own family label. If you stop by Focacceria Laboratorio Simoni, be sure to stay for a glass of something and try their clever reinvention of the tortelloni: a pasta-shaped bread stuffed with silky mortadella.
Like kids in a candy store.
A second-generation purveyor of the finest of foods, this well-curated emporium has everything you want. Bottles of Krug Champagne, huge wheels of cheese, and legs of prosciutto line the shelves. The tortellini and other prepared foods are exceptional, even in this city of sky-high culinary standards.
Colossal wheels of the good stuff at Tamburini.
Not so much a bar as an institution, Osteria del Sole might be one of the best places to grab a drink anywhere in the city. The no-frills venue has been serving dirt cheap wine to high and low society since 1465. Dinner is on a BYO basis, meaning you can load up an impromptu picnic basket at any of the neighboring shops and have a feast. Later in the evening, the osteria gets so packed that the crowds spill into the street.
Mercato di Mezzo
Reopened in 2014 as an upscale food hall, Mercato di Mezzo is one of the trendier places in town at the moment. Offerings range from craft beer and bubbles to smoothies and traditional aperitivi snacks. An Eataly pizzeria is located on the top floor, meaning fans of the Slow Food behemoth can get their fix until the massive food emporium arrives in the next couple months. As food halls go though, my current favorite is still one of the most traditional. Situated on Ugo Bassi, Mercato delle Erbe serves as a produce, fish, meat and bread market during the day and offers drinks during the evening.
All I wanted for Christmas...