I know I am not the first to make this observation but Bologna is a food haven. I arrived by bus on Friday evening and I was starving. As I hungrily made my way to the hotel, it seemed as though the sidewalks themselves were bursting with salumi. Every single storefront looked more delicious than the next, overflowing with cheeses, meats, chocolates, balsamics, wine, and brightly colored jars brimming with every imaginable type of pickle, jam, and spread.
I almost managed to restrain myself from eating as I walked to dinner, but when I reached the restaurant at 7 it didn't open until 7:30 (I suppose I should expect that by now…), I was forced to stop for a piece of chocolate from Roccati, a nearby “chocolateria” when I smelled it wafting onto the street.
Dinner was at the atmospheric Osteria de' Poeti, and I walked down a steep brick staircase to reach a cavernous whitewashed and wood paneled dining room decorated with evocative knick-knacks that seemed to illustrate how peasants might have cooked rustic Bolognese food over the last few hundred years. I ordered a traditional dish, tortellini fatti a mano en brodo di carne (handmade tortellini stuffed with a pork mixture in a light chicken broth), accompanied by Lambrusco, a regional sparkling red wine. I have to say that the food and the wine really didn't complement each other, but I guess that's what I get for trying to pack in as many local specialities as I could into a single meal.
I was woken early the following morning by the sounds of fish stalls setting up right outside my hotel window (amazing location by the way – Hotel Albergo delle Drapperie). I wandered down to witness two competing fish stalls that sold everything from giant octopus to full eels, tiny squid to massive crabs, and dozens of fish that I couldn't even begin to name. As I wandered down the street, I admired the beautifully arranged fruit and vegetable stalls, the fragrant flowers, and the early morning bustle of women trying to get through their weekly market run.
I wandered into one of the small and less busy stores and started asking a few questions to understand more about the different varieties of balsamic, dried porcini, sun dried tomatoes, and truffle spreads I saw on the shelves. Giovanni and his sister Violet, as well as their mother, were more than happy to help and I spent the next hour learning about their recipes for porcini and cream sauce and sundried tomato and walnut spread. Needless to say, I couldn't leave empty handed.
Next I dragged myself away from the Quadrilatero area with all the food shops and ventured a little further afield. This was where I discovered that Bologna has amazing shopping. Luckily for my wallet, I started getting hungry for lunch, so I didn't have time to do too much damage.
I went to the famous Tamburini deli for lunch, intending to finally try some of the iconic Bolognese mortadella. One of the owners, Gabrielle, took pity on me when he saw that I was alone, and sat me at a communal table with two other couples in their fourties. What proceeded was one of the most memorable lunches I've had. One couple was German, the other Italian, and at first we started hesitantly making small talk about the food and the city. Gabrielle would magically appear to refill our glasses of deep ruby Sangiovese and the conversation picked up in volume and geniality. Next came a round of digestif, a potent walnut liquor called Nociolo, and then another and another, until we made our way to espresso, the final punctuation of the epic meal. Three languages, four hours, and countless rounds of drinks later, we emerged laden with mortadella for the road and together wandered over to Piazza Maggiore for one last caffe before parting. Experiencing the city and its food by breaking bread with strangers and leaving as friends was such a special and wonderful experience.
I needed to walk off lunch (and it was already early evening by this point) so I wandered down the wide Via Indipendenza, home to many of the international brands and humming with the buzz of activity. It was here that I stumbled upon a Catholic Mass underway and I walked into a cavernous church filled with hundreds of people singing haunting and beautiful hymns. After absorbing some of the peacefulness of the service, I ventured back out, only to be caught in a massive thunder and lightning storm. I began to fully appreciate the city's hundreds of covered porticos, or walkways, as the streets emptied and everyone huddled together in an attempt to avoid the pounding rain and gushing streams of water that suddenly flooded the streets.
I woke up early on Sunday morning resolved to experience more of the city than its food, but my attempts were foiled when I learned that there was a railway strike and only a single bus back to Siena, leaving that morning. That should teach me to try to travel on Sundays, but I'm sure I'll make the same optimistic mistake next weekend. As I made my way to the station, the city was deserted, a quiet and damp fog hanging over the exuberance of the day before. I left too much unseen and untasted – my relationship with Bologna has only just begun.Additional information: Osteria de' Poeti
Via De' Poeti, 1/B
Via Caprarie 1
http://www.tamburini.com Twister (food shop)
Via Pescherie Vecchie 3/B
Tel. 051.231.843 Eataly
Via Degli Orefici N 19
http://www.bologna.eataly.it/ Roccati Chocolate
http://www.roccaticioccolato.com/ Hotel Albergo delle Drapperie
Via delle Drapperie, 5