Learn how to shop Bologna's iconic market like a local.
In many Italian cities, the market is the beating heart of local life. In Bologna, that market is the Quadrilatero, a central hub of narrow streets that dates back to before the 11th century. Unlike many self-contained marketplaces, Bologna’s Quadrilatero is a whole neighborhood near the Basilica di San Petronio lined with delicious shops and bordered on four sides by major streets.
Each of the streets in the marketplace is named for the ancient businesses that once dominated the quarter: shoe shops on Via Calzolerie, butchers on Via Caprarie, drapery shops on Via Draperie. Via Clavature was home to key-crafting blacksmiths who also made mechanical devices used to open and close the canals. Vicolo Ranocchi was where you could stock up on frogs, a common delicacy when frogs were widespread in the Po Valley and made an affordable source of protein. Today, the fishmongers on Via delle Pescheria Vecchie are the only businesses that remain on their designated street; the rest have been replaced by delis, produce stands, shops for chefs’ tools, and other culinary delights.
In addition to shopping, Bologna’s historic popularity with travelers and university students made the Quadrilatero a popular spot for the osteria, a tavern offering various comforts: hot food, wine, and a bed to sleep in. But in this city, the taverns had a twist: they only served wine, and you brought your own food! This made the experience more affordable, while still providing an important social gathering place. To experience this for yourself, pick up some provisions and get to Osteria del Sole (so named for its daytime hours, from 11am to 11pm), which has been open since 1465.
The kaleidoscope of produce in the marketplace is a reminder that the surrounding Po Valley is one of the most fertile lands in Italy. In the morning hours, you’ll find Bolognesi shopping for the freshest finds for their aromatic ragù: carrots, onions, celery, and, of course, meat and cheese. It’s also a hub for a quick work-week lunch break or aperitivo hour, with locals knocking back fizzy glasses of pignoletto or lambrusco with cured meat boards and Bologna’s take on focaccia, crescente, and the English muffin-esque crescentine.
To get a taste of the Quadrilatero experience, be sure to stop in at these favorite shops:
Gilberto: for traditional balsamics, chocolates, and a dizzying array of wine in their underground cellar
Paolo Atti e Figli: for vintage cases of tortellini and baked specialties like Bologna’s humble rice pudding cakes
La Vecchia Malga: for local foraged mushrooms, truffles, and aged cheeses or sitting at a table in the market streets enjoying an aperitivo board of local meats from around the Emilia-Romagna region, such as culatello, mortadella, prosciutto di parma, and salame rosa
Zeroquinquantino: for fast plates Bologna’s iconic pastas, from lasagna to tagliatelle al ragù and cheese-stuffed tortelloni
Caffè 14 Luglio: for specialty coffee and whole beans to bring home
Paolo Atti e Figli Panificio: for the unassuming-looking fruitcake called certosino, a Christmas tradition loaded with almonds, hazelnuts, cocoa, candied citron and orange peel, said to have been whipped up by monks of the Certosa di Bologna for the coronation of Charles V in 1530