When you’re in Bologna — one of Italy’s best food cities — these are the dishes you can’t miss.
Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, is a fascinating place to visit. Depending on who you ask, Italians know it as "the learned city" or "the fat city," which sounds a lot more charming in Italian: la città grassa. These nicknames were earned because of the city’s historic university, which has been in operation since 1088 (the oldest continuously operating university in the world!), and its rich, decadent cuisine.
Chances are, some of your favorite Italian foods hail from Emilia-Romagna: think balsamic, prosciutto, and parmigiano reggiano. You’ll be able to taste incredible examples of all of these in Bologna, but while you’re there, be sure to try these five truly local dishes.
This beloved meat ragu originated in Emilia-Romagna—whether it was invented in Bologna or a neighboring area is up for debate among food historians, but one thing is for certain: the city sure has perfected it. There’s even an official recipe certified by the Bologna Chamber of Commerce! Often served with tagliatelle or stuffed pasta, expect an incredibly rich bolognese that has been simmering for hours and hours. (Look for it in the uniquely green local lasagna bolognese, too!)
Thin slices of mortadella are one of life's great joys—and one of Giada’s favorite snacks. This creamy, cured pork sausage is studded with fat, black peppercorns, pistachios, and magic. It’s the predecessor to what we know in the States as bologna: when it was first imported it was called "Bologna Sausage," and as the recipe evolved to fit U.S. tastes, it became, simply, bologna. We have no hesitation in saying that the OG mortadella is far, far superior.
Tortellini are so ubiquitous in Bologna, they're referred to as the gems or jewels of the city. Every handmade pasta shop will have them proudly on display, and all the gift shops within city limits sell tchotchkes in the shape of tortellini. These teeny stuffed pastas are served in a myriad of ways, from tortellini en brodo (in broth) to tortellini bolognese and everything in between.
It should come as no surprise that even the bread in Bologna is rich. These little rectangles of puffy, leavened bread, fried until golden and crisp, are often served accompanying a traditional salumi platter in lieu of sliced bread. It can also be found split and stuffed with prosciutto or mortadella as a snack sold by street vendors, and sometimes goes by the name crescentine.
The pride of the Emilia-Romagna region may well be its lambrusco grapes, which give us both aceto balsamico and this delightfully effervescent red wine. Unlike the sticky-sweet version that (unfortunately) gained popularity in the U.S. a few decades ago, the lambrusco you’ll find in Bologna is dry and refreshing, often made using the wine-snob-popular pet-nat or Champagne methods. A cool glass is just the thing to pair with an aperitivo snack of mortadella and parmigiano reggiano.