Emilia Romagna is an Italian province, nestled between Milan, Florence, Venice and Genoa. It is actually two historical provinces, Emilia & Romagna, both with their own food & wine identity, but with common threads.
Home to Parma ham, parmsesan cheese & balsamic vinegar, and those are just the most famous ones that you have heard of, it is also the home of pasta, specifically tagliatelle with ragu, lasagne, tortelloni and tortellini in brodo. There are several local breads, gnocco fritto (called torta fritta in Parma), a fried puffed bread that you stuff with salami, and tigelle, small patterned breads traditionally made in stacks of heated round terracotta tiles, now in pans over a fire.
The capital, Bologna is a great city to start from. Easy on the eye, brown, orange and yellow buildings are lined with porticoes – arched walkways – which protect from the rain in winter and the sun in summer. It is a gorgeous bohemian city, the perfect size for a weekend exploring, and has much to offer in terms of trattorias, gelaterias and salumerias. It is a great base from which to explore the rest of Emilia Romagna. Trains are reasonable and frequent, if you have a car, the countryside has lots to offer too and you would miss much if you didn’t explore it.
Lambrusco and Sangiovese are the most prolific local wines. Lambrusco, a gorgeous sparkling wine, whose reputation has sadly suffered due to lots of cheap imitators in our supermarkets. My favourites were the dry sparkling reds and rosés, some rich and thick, and others light and transparent. Lambrusco is the wine of Emilia, which is perfect for clearing the palate after the rich foods usually cooked in butter there. Sangiovese is more commonly found in Romagna, where olive oil is the cooking fat of choice. Both use lard too.
My focus in Bologna was tagliatelle with ragu (there is no such thing as spaghetti bolognese in Bologna), primarily, then tortellini in brodo and lasagne, both at home and in restaurants. After that gelato, aperetivo (a traditional drink at 6pm, how could I refuse?), and the local breads. Every local you speak to has a preference and strong opinion on all of these dishes. The Bolognese ragu tends to be very meaty and served with a toothsome homemade tagliatelle. Some prefer the pasta thin, but not me, I was to discover.
Trattoria Anna Maria
Now well on the tourist trail due to copious coverage, Trattoria Anna Maria is still serving very ood authentic dishes. Tortellini in brodo is the star dish here, tiny stuffed homemade pasta with mortadella, parmesan, prosciutto, nutmeg (the ingredients vary, but these are generally core), served in a clear meat broth. I also had the stinco al forno, another local dish, oven cooked pork shank. which was so tender, with the texture of confit duck, or similar.
Trattoria Anna Maria, Via delle Belle Arti, 17, 40126 Bologna, Italy
Trattoria da Leonida
Trattoria da Leonida is one that I just happened on while very hungry. I spotted the bright sign and followed it down a small sunlight alley to find a lovely local restaurant. Ragu with tagliatelle, again (I was still early in the trip!) and a lovely starter of bresaola (air dried beef) and artichoke salad. A lovely terrace outside, and Lambrusco by the half bottle completed it. Good food and a very enjoyable place.
Trattoria Leonida, Vicolo Alemagna, 2, 40125 Bologna, Italy
Montanara is another local trattoria, favoured by locals too. There is a terrace outside (although be warned, people will probably try to sell you stuff as they go past). The food is very good here, and I had an excellent tagliatelle with ragu, but there is lots more on offer. Half bottles of lambrusco are on offer too, which are perfect for solo diners (or dare I say, light drinkers!), which I was on this occasion. Solo dining is very much underrated.
Trattoria Montanara, Via Augusto Righi 15/a, 40126 Bologna, Italy
Tucked down a side street, Serghei came highly recommended. Favoured by locals, and local businessmen at lunch time, the room is very traditional and relaxed. The tortellini in brodo was delicate and tender, and it was time to try a new pasta shape, gramigna alla salsiccia (gramigna with sausages) which was excellent too. Sausage ragus (and ragus with some sausage in, along with beef and pork) were an eye opener and will become part of my repertoire, for sure.
Serghei, Via Piella, 12, 40126 Bologna, Italy
Drogheria della Rosa
The most characterful of all the restaurants that I visited, Drogheria della Rosa doesn’t have a menu, well they do, but it doesn’t have everything on and they don’t really want to give you it anyway. When we sat down we had a glass of prosecco poured and had a plate of small bites, including mozzarella and a little bruschetta, then we were told what was on offer and asked to choose. I went for a tortelloni stuffed with stracciatela and squaquerone (two local cheeses, one soft and sharp, and one stretchy), with sautéed courgette flowers served on top. There was no lambrusco on the list (!), but we did have a lovely sangiovese. We didn’t have the appetite for a whole secondi, but they did give us small plates of some lovely fresh wild Adriatic fish, dentice, with greens, which they had brought out to show us before it went in the oven. A plate of fresh fruit followed and chocolate biscuits were passed around after (there were desserts if you had room but this was my last night after two solid weeks of eating). The bill came to a very reasonable €80 for 3 with one bottle of wine. Heartily recommended, for the food and experience.
Drogheria della Rosa, Via Cartoleria, 10, 40124 Bologna, Italy
Osteria dell’ Orsa
Osteria dell’ Orsa – restaurant of the bear – is cheap and cheerful, and serves really good food. Popular with Bologna’s many students, it is very atmospheric and always busy. With very good homemade tagliatelle with ragu for €6, you can see why. They also do nice versions of the local bread, tigelle, which you can get with a selection of salumi, Banco del Vino next door is perfect for an aperitivo before, if going in the evening. They also serve salumi and pizza, which I will try on my next visit.
Osteria dell’ Orsa, Via Mentana, 1, 40126 Bologna, Italy
Bologna is not just about pasta and ragu, Bologna is also about cured meats, particularly mortadella. There are many places to indulge, Tamburini is one of the best (even if they can sometimes be a little sharp to tourists). Next to the the shop is a bar / restaurant with a large terrace on the street. The options are varied, on my two visits I focussed on the lambruscos and salumi and cheese boards. I also had a terrific platter of (cold sliced) porchetta with pickles. They also make a great aperol spritz. Which you really must have for aperitivo at least once, in Italy.
Tamburini, Via Caprarie, 1, 40124 Bologna, Italy
Italians pride themselves on their coffee, and as much as I love an espresso to kickstart my day, Italian coffee blends can have too much of the harsh robusta bean for my taste. Enter Caffè Terzi, who roast and blend traditional Italian style coffee, they also have pure Arabica coffee and interesting small batches, like a wild Ethiopian coffee that I tasted on my visit. The room is charming too.
Caffè Terzi, Via Oberdan, 10, 40126 Bologna, Italy
La Sorbetteria Castiglione
The best gelateria that I tried in Bologna (and around the corner from Drogheria della Rossa too), La Sorbetteria Castiglione serves a large and creative range of gelato, granita, gelato cakes and brioche that you can get your gelato in, Sicilian style, too. A must visit.
La Sorbetteria Castiglione, Via Castiglione, 44, Bologna, Italy
Camera a Sud
Camera a Sud is a great little bar, and even better for the fact that they expand into the open square opposite for the summer. Perfect for balmy Bologna evenings, I went a few times. Again: lambrusco! But also local craft beers etc. too.
Camera a Sud, Via Valdonica, 5, 40126 Bologna, Italy
Another great bar for aperitivo, Le Stanze is an old converted church with an outdoor terrace, and very near most of the restaurants listed above (except Drogheria della Rossa).
Le Stanze, Via del Borgo di San Pietro, 1, 40126 Bologna, Italy
I travelled to Emilia Romagna as part of the Blogville campaign, created and sponsored by the Emilia Romagna Tourist Board in partnership with iambassador. I maintain full editorial control of the content published, as always.