from Sandy Needham

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Bologna Dispatch

Our trusted travel guide in Italy, Fred Plotkin, author of Italy for the Gourmet Traveler, waxes particularly passionate in the Emilia-Romagna section of his book. He was initiated into his field of Italy's regional cuisines here, the region considered the most delicious by all of Italy!

We always love re-reading Fred's descriptions of the various regions because he provides so much more rich information than just their best dishes. Regarding Emilia-Romagna and more specifically, Bologna, I think it best to begin by sharing Fred's loving impressions.

In contrast with Tuscany, whose bucolic scenery belies centuries of conflict and rivalries..where even to this day there are tensions between the citizens of Florence and Siena, the prevailing debate among the cities of Emilia-Romagna tends towards which has the best food! The region is mostly overlooked by tourists, other than the Riviera di Romagna beach stretching along the Adriatic. Like most of the region, the hard-working, productive, open-hearted and fun-loving citizens of Bologna welcome tourists with friendly enthusiasm without catering to tourist tastes in any way. The city offers a civic wholeness that demonstrates life in Italy more purely than the popular tourist destinations.

Locals out on a fall Saturday afternoon
Hanging out in the Piazza Maggiore in front of the Palazzo d'Accursio - Town Hall
We can certainly attest to the citizens exuding ease and contentment while parading down the avenue or gathering in the piazzas for animated interchanges. We found not a waiter/waitress/store clerk one who wasn't friendly and sweet. No attitude here. 

Emilia-Romagna produced Pavarotti and Fellini, but also Mussolini, despite which fact the region has a strong anti-fascist history. While Bologna was the center of the Italian Communist Party - later the Democratic Party of the Left - the post WWII leaders wisely blended the best from socialist thought and the highest ideals of democracy..."to produce a society where every citizen was cared for, but was free to do and say whatever he pleased." The live-and-let-live attitude here would never tolerate totalitarianism. The populace values a high bourgeois standard of living - fine clothes, fine homes, fine food. 

We observed this Communist protest in the Piazza Maggiore against moves towards privatization. "The PD wants to sell this city," the banner says. The event included a festive, beer-on-tap conviviality and went far into the evening with live music and dancing! We observed it over the hours as we passed through.

The worldly, well-educated populace of Emilia-Romagna lead low stress, happy lives, where pleasure and enlightenment are equally valued, and incredible food and excellent medical care contribute to lengthy life-spans. The University of Bologna is the oldest in Europe, founded in 1088 and considered the best in the country. "Italians also acknowledge that the people of this region, especially those from Bologna, are the best lovers in this very passionate country." As Fred says, this is la dolce vita!

Newton and I caught a train to Bologna from Florence to revisit for a weekend after some years. We stayed in a well-located Airbnb. All of our time was spent walking for miles and eating! Our favorite meal was lunch at Fred's recommended Trattoria Caminetto d'Oro. He says that it would be the best restaurant in many cities, though the standard is higher here. I have not eaten much pasta for fourteen years of a low-carb diet, but I was determined to try the region's famous Tortellini in Brodo (in broth). In Bologna, the small tortellinis are stuffed with turkey, veal, ground pork, mortadella, prosciutto crudo, nutmeg, and Parmigiano-Reggiano (the real thing, no sawdust extenders, as has been reported in the US!). The broth is sublime. They also had a lovely rosé, my current favorite, which was not commonly found on this trip. We had the chance to taste the fine aged Balsamic vinegar on ice cream for dessert!

The porticoes were later handy on our rainy Sunday
We whiled away the afternoon exploring. Most of the streets have covered porticoes along both sides, a hallmark of the city. 

Bologna is associated with the color red for both the hues of its medieval buildings and porticoes and its Communist tradition!

Basilica di San Petronio
The gothic Basilica di San Petronio occupies the other end of the massive Piazza Maggiore. As you can see, the marble facade was never completed.

The high-flying nave

We shopped for my birthday request: bright red boots. I exhausted all possibilities in Florence and found only dark red or flat boots. Alas, I found the pair waiting for me along the Via Ugo Bassi: bright red suede with fuchsia rubber soul and heel. Oh...they were made in Spain!

We wandered to a Saturday market just closing up in a piazza, so joined the droves of locals settling along the portico bars for aperitifs and free hors d'oeuvres.  

The Garisenda Tower
Of the many towers in Bologna, this one is noteworthy because it is also leaning, though this does not compel tourists in this case.

We strolled out of the hub along the "spoke" of Via Zamboni towards the University District to dine at the Cantina Bentivoglio. This was not a recommendation from Fred, but a place that offered jazz and dinner, and we were hungry for jazz. Alas, even with a reservation, we were seated in a dining room away from the area with the music, which we could not hear. I made a comparative study of their Tortellini in Brodo with the exquisite version I had had for lunch! Theirs was also delicious, if not as delicate. After dinner we passed by the music area and discovered the evening's act was a female Brazilian singer. At least we were not starved for musica Brasileira.

On our way back we caught this magical light in a corner portico of the Piazza di Porta Ravegnana. Timeless.

Mercato di Mezzo
A rainy Sunday put a damper on the whole city after that effulgent Saturday. We made our damp way to the Mercato di Mezzo for lunch: an indoor market with stalls offering everything of note to eat in Bologna, plus wines and beers. The shared tables stay filled with locals and the atmosphere is jovial. I had octopus and prosecco.

We marched pretty far to reach Fred's recommended gelato: La Sorbetteria. I had the dark chocolate, Newton the milk chocolate.

The incomparable Tamburini shop

Our last stop was the food purveyor that Fred considers the finest in Italy: Tamburini. The old family-run shop prides itself on following the ancient traditions of farmers, "closer to the rhythms and dictates of nature...without short-cuts, without additives, and with love." We bought my revered finocchiona - salami made with fennel - and some impeccable cheese.

On the chilly way home we picked up bread, fruit and wine for a cozy dinner of perfect salami and cheese!

We were off in a rental car the next morning back to Tuscany, to the lovely hilltop town of Montalcino.



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Had to redo comment: Made me want good pasta in broth. Thanks for keeping us country folk informed.

  3. That made me hungry!! Seems like a very interesting place :)


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