Bologna food is famous in all the world, it is not by chance that this town is considered the food capital of Italy.
“Bologna: The Wise, the Red and the Fat”. If you do a guided tour of the city you will probably hear this sentence. Here we’re gonna explore why our city is called “the Fat“.
Follow us to learn more about the history and myth behind the famous dishes, the best traditional recipes and the best place where to eat them.
⚠️ Spoiler⚠️This guide is made by a True Italian Food-Lovers from Bologna! We’ve tasted it all… More than once. 😉
The Best Food to Eat in Bologna
During a simple walk in the city center you can find a lot of shops, markets and restaurants with typical Emilia-Romagna products as fresh egg pasta, cured meat, parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar just to name a few.
But there is much more to taste, so… Let see for what food Bologna is famous for!
1. Tagliatelle with Ragu sadly now as "Bolognaise" 🍝
You can’t visit the food capital of Italy without trying the queen of the traditional dishes. Tagliatelle with ragù it’s a special long fresh egg-pasta served with a traditional meat sauce. Later in our article will learn more about the myth behind this tasty plate.
You can also test your cooking skills by trying to make it at home following the original recipe or booking one of the cooking classes that we suggest.
If you prefer to try them in a local restaurant you should go to Osteria Dei Poeti, it is sure one of the best spots where you can enjoy the flavors of this iconic dish.
2. Tortellini in broth
The Tortellino is certainly the most famous of the typical dishes and can be found in all the restaurants. If you want to eat as a local, ask for a plate of Tortellini in broth. They are often served in other ways but the traditional one are with broth.
There are controversies about its origin that we’ll see more in detail later in the article.
According to the original recipe, Tortellino is prepared by making a fresh egg pasta with a filling of meat and parmesan, all strictly of Emilian origin.
There are lots of beautiful places where you can eat this famous meal, one that we suggest is Osteria Bottega, in the city center.
3. The Green Lasagna
Green Lasagna is a traditional dish of Emilia Romagna and in particular of the city of Bologna. Everyone knows Lasagna and probably every granny in the world makes it at home to delight her grandchildren. But the typical Bolognese one is different, first of all it is green. The pasta is made with flour, eggs and spinach.
Do not be fooled by the addition of spinach, this is not a vegetarian dish! Ragù and bechamel are essential to prepare this delicious dish.
If you have already tried Lasagna and enjoyed it (of course you do!) you should definitely try this regional version. The best place where to eat it? For us it is Sfogliarina, the realm of the Pasta, you’ll find this special spot just in the Quadrilatero area.
The salami most appetizing and characteristic of our town is the Mortadella. What in Italy is known as Mortadella in other countries is famous as Bologna sausage or baloney.
Many would describe Mortadella as a great sausage but for us Italians it is much more than that, it is something unique!
In Italy you can find different kinds of this special cooked cured meat but the real one is Mortadella Bologna. However, the very important thing is the rich and intense flavor of Mortadella, let’s remember that the IGP brand (protected geographical indication) protects its origin.
This salami is so tied to the image of the city that abroad has lost its original name. The name appears to be of ancient origin, even Roman. In fact, mortar was the tool with which pork’s parts were chopped before being mixed with lard, spiced and then made as sausages.
A good place to find and taste this special cooked cured meat is the already mentioned area of the Quadrilatero.
The best way to try the real Mortadella is to go to The Mercato di Mezzo or in one of the little restaurants in Pescherie Vecchie street and order a Tagliere of cured meat and cheese. The name Tagliere derives from the cutting board where the tasty mix is served.
5. Gramigna with Sausage
The Gramigna with sausage is a kind of pasta not so common in the other town and the Emilia Romagna Region, but if you’ll try it once you’ll surely not forget it.
The Gramigna is a short curled lengths of dried pasta. It is served with the sausages ragù. This sauce has a faster preparation and cooking time than the traditional ragù. The sausage is the only meat used in this sauce, but this certainly does not make it any less good.
Magnificent experiences are waiting for you, discover the unique itineraries and guided tours recommended by Bologna Guide!
Passatelli is the name of another special pasta typical of the tradition of Bologna cuisine.
The peculiarity of this pasta format is that breadcrumbs are one of its main ingredients together with eggs and parmesan cheese. Most restaurants served this local food in two ways: in meat broth or dry with ham and vegetables.
7. The Bologna Schnitzel or Cotoletta Petroniana
Continuing our culinary tour you can not miss the Bologna Schnitzel. It is also called Cotoletta Petroniana in honor of San Petronio, the patron saint of the town.
This is a real explosion of flavor, veal or chicken is breaded in the egg and fried. It follows the baking in the oven with a spoonful of meat broth, a slice of ham and Grana cheese shavings . Absolutely the favorite dish of those who love strong tastes.
You’ll find this deliciousness in lots of restaurants of the town but we suggest you to try the one of the Restaurant “Da Gianni” in Orefici street, unforgettable.
Is there any traditional recipe that does not include meat?
Well yes, whether you are looking for a vegetarian dish or not, the Friggione is absolutely worth savoring. It is commonly used as a side dish but it is definitely not a light meal.
The main ingredients are: white onions (a lot of onion, we like it that way! 😋), peeled tomatoes, lard, sugar, salt. Many local restaurants served it also as appetizer with toasted bread.
Balanzoni are a kind of green filled pasta and, while not as popular as Tortellino, it is enjoyed by locals.
The main ingredients of the filling are: spinach, ricotta cheese, Mortadella, parmesan cheese. Usually the Balanzoni are served with sage sauce and butter. This gastronomic specialty is characteristic of the carnival period, in fact the name is taken from “Balanzone” a character of the Carnival.
This is not a dish that you will find on all menus but you can certainly learn the recipe thanks to a cooking classes.
10. Pignoletto - White wine
Pignoletto is perhaps the wine that best represents our city. The vine from which it is produced is extremely versatile and this allows the production of still and sparkling versions.
Cultivation is characteristic of the Bologna countryside and in particular of the Valsamoggia areas.
This white wine has a straw yellow color. The nose reveals delicate and fresh notes, with hints of ripe fruit in the still version. On the palate it has a full and decisive flavor with a dry imprint that makes it pleasant with each new sip.
Given the different types available, Pignoletto goes well with any meal. We recommend the Frizzante version as an aperitif, with appetizers, preferably crescentine and salami. While the still version is fantastic in combination with fish, white meat and fresh cheeses.
Why not order it at the end of a good Aperitivo while looking at Piazza Maggiore?
Here we have illustrated only the best of our tradition but remember that Bolognese cuisine is full of delicacies.
In many restaurants you will find variations and customizations created by the chef’s experience and many other tasty foods to try.
That’s why we suggest you never stop, you are in a city that can give great surprises to those who love tasty food!
Best Emilia Romagna Food to eat in Bologna
So far we have explored the tastiest dishes of our city but our journey into taste and culinary tradition does not end there.
There is still a lot to savor so let’s take a look at the exquisite food that Emilia Romagna has to offer!
11. Parmesan Cheese or Parmigiano Reggiano
Parmigiano Reggiano for the italians is the King of italian cheese. It is the real parmesan cheese and it is the main hard cheese of the Emilia Romagna region. The aging time is from 12 to 48 months.
Between the Asinelli Towers and the main square of our Felsina city you’ll find a lot of stores and little markets that are selling it. The best way to taste this hard cheese is ordering a Tagliere or trying it with the Balsamic vinegar.
You can also book a food tour that brings you to the heart of the Reggio Emilia countryside where you can visit a dairy farm and see how it is made. Later in our article we’ll suggest you the best food tours and tastings of Emilia Romagna Region.
Squacquerone is a creamy soft cow’s milk cheese. The full name of this special cheese is” Squacquerone di Romagna Pdo “, Romagna identify the region and PDO means Protected Designation of Origin.
The name of this local product may seem strange to you and it is sure not easy to spell. Italians are creative also in choosing the name of food. You sure notice, while looking closer at this creamy food, that it seems to melt. Do you know the word to say “to melt” in Italian? It is “squagliarsi”, is it easier to understand the secret behind the word Squacquerone now?
If you want to use this cheese as a local try it as a key ingredient for the filling of a Piadina together with the ham.
For many Bolognese people, Piadina is the perfect meal for a quick lunch, and it is considered the best Italian street food. It is the typical meal par excellence of the Emilia Romagna Region and has very ancient origins. It is sure that middle ages people were used to eat it but probably its birth is due to the Etruscans and Romans.
We can describe the Romagna Piadina as a thin flat bread that contains all kinds of goodness. The ingredients to make this typical Emilia Romagna food are: flour, water, salt and lard. For those who prefer a more delicate taste, and a thinner piadina, it is very common the replacement of lard with oil, that make it also a vegetarian plate but its not from the tradition.
You can stuff the piadina with all the ingredients you prefer but the classic way to stuff it is: Squacquerone, raw ham and rucola (rocket leaves). In our town putting the Mortadella inside this flatbread is the best way to enjoy it.
If you go to the Quadrilatero area you’ll find a lot of places where you can discover the flavours of this authentic food. Our favorites are the Mercato di Mezzo and Simoni in Pescherie Vecchie street.
The Tigelle are widespread throughout the region, especially in the mountainous areas and the Apennines, they take their name from the old terracotta discs used to bake them. In modern times these discs are mostly replaced by aluminum molds. All molds used to make this particular meal have usually a symbol that resembles a flower.
The ingredients of these little tasty scones are the same used for the production of piadina except for the addition of yeast or baking soda.
They are served by dividing the mini disks in two and placing the ingredients chosen for the filling inside.
The name of this dish may be different according to the city where you are located. In Modena they are called “Crescentine” while in Bologna “Tigelle”, so pay attention when you order it if you don’t want to make mistakes. In our town the word “Crescentina” actually refers to a very different dish that you will discover soon.
If you want to eat a “Crescentina “ for the Bolognese people means you are ready to do a savory but certainly not light meal. The Crescentina is a puffy fried bread accompanied by different types of salami and others cured meats like Parma ham and Mortadella. The peculiarity of this specialty is that it is not fried in oil but in the lard.
This meal is really common in our region but it is known in all the area with different names. For example, if you are in Reggio Emilia or Modena and want to eat the dish just described, you should call it Gnocco Fritto.
The best spot to eat this delicious food for us is going to Osteria Del Nonno just in the hills nearby the city center.
16. Parma Ham
Parma ham is made with legs of the pork and is the best salt raw and cured meat of the Emilia Romagna Region. Parma is the city where it was born but is famous in all Italy, it is considered uninhabitable and it’s a Pdo product.
The Parma ham needs a lot of time and caution to be cured, it is not an easy process.
When you try this traditional product you can understand all the efforts it took to create it thanks to the really unique and strong flavor.
Eat like a local and try it in a Piadina or a Tigella.
17. Balsamic vinegar Of Modena
Around all Italy if you want to highlight the flavors of food products you use only one vinegar: the Balsamic vinegar of Modena. This kind of vinegar is the highly prized product of the city of Modena and it is considered the “Black Gold” thanks to its unforgettable savour. This IGP vinegar is made only with the best grapes must of the area of Modena and Reggio Emilia, as for example Lambrusco and Trebbiano.
The best way to discover all the secrets of this authentic product is doing a food tour. A guided tour in the countryside will allow you to visit a real vinegar factory and taste it with the best food combination.
18. Lambruso - Red Wine
Lambrusco is one of the best known red wines in our country and all over the world, it is not by chance that it is the best-selling wine in Italy. The cultivation of the vine is typical of the region and its grapes with the appearance of black berries give life to a great variety of sparkling wines.
The one that we prefer in the area of Modena is The Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Doc. It is considered a perfect match for the strong flavors of Emilian cuisine.
Bologna Food History
It is said that Bolognese cuisine has evolved at the same time as the university, the oldest in Europe, and has got the influences of those visitors who already populated the city in the Middle Ages.
Let’s explore the food history and myth of two of the most famous dishes of our town!
😱 Dispel a myth: Spaghetti Bolognese
The Tagliatelle al Ragù are a part of the cliché on Italian cuisine, before continuing it is necessary to dispel a myth about the Spaghetti Bolognese.
Sorry to disappoint you if you thought about coming to Bologna and try it, but the spaghetti bolognese do not exist. The Spaghetti Bolognese, often found in restaurants of other countries, is just a mystification of the Tagliatelle with ragù.
So, let’s see the differences starting with Tagliatelle:
- The Tagliatelle are made by cutting a fresh egg pasta in 8mm strips, this size corresponds to the 12,270th part of the height of the Asinelli Tower.
- Spaghetti are round, elongated and can have a variable size. Also the egg is not used in the dough.
- The Tagliatelle recipe is so important in the gastronomic culture of Emilia Romagna that the recipe is copyrighted and deposited at the city Chamber of Commerce. In 1972 the measure was reproduced in a gold standard, this sample was kept at the Palazzo della Mercanzia in the city center.
- The Ragù sauce is not just a sauce with meatballs, but its recipe is more complex than you might think. First of all you have to use a mixed ground of beef and pork that is cooked for about two hours. Among the ingredients we also find milk, butter, white wine, carrots, celery and onion.
So you understand that in Italy the cuisine is a serious matter! Controversy aside is to say that the Tagliatelle have left a mark on who has tried them.
Their origin is commonly attributed to the chef Zefirano who would model her to imitate the blond hair of Lucrezia d’Este in occasion of her marriage.
Where and how was Tortellino born?
It is impossible to think of Bologna without the image of the Tortellino in your mind. Nevertheless, there is a “war” going on for years between Bologna and Modena regarding the real place of origin of this delicious stuffed pasta.
The contest eventually sees a third winner: Castelfranco D’ Emila, a little town between the two cities. It is precisely here that is set a famous legend about the birth of Tortellino.
Tortellino and the navel of Venus
The legend tells that Venus, goddess of beauty, was staying in an inn at Castelfranco Emilia. Just on this occasion, the innkeeper saw the beautiful woman while she was asleep and he got her perfect shapes.
The innkeeper was so fascinated that he ran into the kitchen and laid the pasta. So he created the Tortellino inspired by the shape of the Venus navel.
Tasting a Tortellino one really thinks that the origin is truly supernatural, but the secret is in the ingredients!
Bologna Food Tours
Taking part in a food tour is certainly the best way to discover all the secrets and flavors of the local products.
There are many different types of food and wine tours available in the city. Many of which are walking tours that allow you to discover the history of the city through a tasting and the other.
If you have enough time to spend, all you need to do is to book a half or full day enogastronomic tour. There are several food and wine tours with a transfer service that will take you to the Emilian countryside.
This way you can admiring the beautiful landscape and visit the best production sites of your favorite foods. You ‘ll find yourself visiting dairies where you can discover and witness the creation of Parmigiano Reggiano, and taste it of course.
Usually the tours include with a visit to a ham factory or an acetaia. We strongly suggest that one that end with a hearty and idyllic lunch in the countryside.
If in addition, if you love luxury cars, you are in a good place, don’t forget that you are in the region where Ferrari and Lamborghini were born. Some tours combine the discovery of the cuisine with a visit to the best motor museums in the area.
For example, you can visit a balsamic vinegar production site and after exploring the Ferrari Museum, perhaps even booking a test drive!
Tips for a self-guided tour
If you prefer to move independently and want some ideas for your gastronomic stops, here we have collected some suggestions for you!
The Quadrilatero area is certainly the favorite spot for guided tours. Here you can find small open-air markets with seasonal vegetables and local delicacies.
A place not to be missed is the Mercato delle Erbe, an ancient covered market that has found its configuration in the modern urban environment.
If you want to find out more about Italian cuisine in general, FICO Eataly World is probably one of the most interesting places. Here you can find about 60 food experiences including restaurants, kiosks and shops! Furthermore, Luna Farm, the theme amusement park, is ideal for families with children.
Here you can get your access tickets to FICO
Another suggestion is to take part at a local market. There is a special food market called “Mercato Ritrovato” that takes place all Saturday mornings in the Area of the Cineteca (just behind the Cavaticcio park).
Here you can buy km 0 food, that means that all the producers come from the Bologna area, and you can taste a lot of local specialties. Is very hard to find a tourist here, a lot of local people go there for this reason you cannot miss this place if you want to eat like a real Bolognese.
Best cooking classes in Bologna
You are in the food capital of Italy, the right place to test your skills and book a cooking class. You sure have already been in one of the best traditional restaurants of the city so it is the moment to learn to make one of your favorite dishes.
You can find a lot of cooking classes in the town, the best ones start with a visit to the old markets of the city with your local chef. Together you’ll choose and buy the greatest ingredients, as a real Bolognese. After this special experience you’ll cook an authentic bolognese meal. Of course you’ll learn to make handmade pasta as tagliatelle, lasagne or tortellini: an opportunity not to be missed.
Food at home: Tagliatelle with Ragu recipe
Now it is time to challenge yourself with an authentic recipe from the tradition!
We choose for you “Tagliatelle with Ragù”, which for many Italians is the most famous and favorite Italian pasta. Every Italian has prepared it at least once in his life and almost all had an exceptional master that has taught them all their secrets: their Granny.
In Italy all the grandma are the guardians of the Italian culinary tradition. Anyway, in Bologna, people who prepare fresh pasta with great skill receive the title of “Sfoglina“.
The Sfogline knows all the secrets of pasta and of all the best sauces. Is for this reason that we asked Anna, a real Bolognese pasta lady, (she is the grandma of one of our best friends) to tell us the secrets of her special Tagliatelle with Ragù.
Below you’ll find her authentic recipe of the Ragu, that she learnt from her grandma as well:
First of all, it is important to find ingredients of the highest quality. If you are in Bologna, the best way is to buy them in a local market, such as the ones we have already mentioned.
Ingredients for Ragù (4 people):
- 1 onion
- 2 carrot
- 2 celery stalk
- 150 g of ground pork belly (pancetta)
- 300g of ground beef
- 300g of peeled tomatoes
- Butter, not much, about 50 grams
- 1/2 cup of milk
- 1/2 cup of dry white wine
- Salt & black pepper to taste
Now that you have the ingredients, remember that you also need the time, the perfect one needs to cook at least 2 hours, I cook it for 4 hours.
- Start cooking by putting 50 g butter in a terracotta pan or, if you don’t have it, in a heavy-bottomed pan. Mince the onion, the carrot and celery and add it in the pan.
- After a while add the ground pork and beef. Wait till all is browned and now you can add the wine. My secret is to drink half a glass of it and put the rest in the pan.
- The wine has completely evaporated and is time to add the tomatoes . If it seems too dry for you add one cup of water in the pan.
- At this moment add salt and pepper and simmer for at least 2 hours.
- I add 1/2 cup of milk the last 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile you can boil and salt the water for the tagliatelle and cook them, remember to save half a glass of the hot water.
- Drain the pasta and transfer it to the pan where the ragù is and, if necessary, add the amount of cooking water you have preserved.
Congratulations, your authentic and delicious Tagliatelle with ragù are ready!
Just another advice before I go, If you want to produce your own Tagliatelle too I suggest you to make them with 400g of flour and 4 eggs.