Fall in Love with Bologna: Step-by-Step Guide to Visiting the City's Old Market - Alex Smookler Travel (2022)

When I was 12 years old, I traveled to Italy for the first time, and it was Bologna’s Antico Mercato del Quadrilatero, the old market in the Quadrilatero neighborhood, that made me fall in love with the country.

The outdoor market was like a dream come true for this budding foodie. I still remember the smell of the cheese, the vibrant colors of the produce, the beautiful handmade pasta, and the leg after leg after leg of prosciutto.

The sights, smells, and sounds were wonderfully overwhelming and intoxicating, and I was enchanted that such a place existed.

The market has changed since my first visit over 20 years ago. There are still many of the same historic vendors and incredible products to taste and buy. Bolognese, especially those who live in the center and have the means to pay the prices that come with this market’s quality and location, still come here to do their shopping.

More recently, however, as the city has become more frequently visited by tourists, the market has become a destination for visitors to Bologna. Many of the vendors have ventured into restauranteur territory. They now have tables for you to sit and enjoy an aperitif or meal surrounded by the veggies and legs of prosciutto and the hustle and bustle of the market.

Despite these changes, I would still argue that a trip to Bologna is not complete without a visit to the Old Market and that is why I have created a step-by-step guide to visiting the market.

Guide to Visiting Bologna’s Old Market

Stop 1: But first, coffee

Everything in Italy starts with coffee.

I’ll never forget being at a trade show with an Italian colleague, we were late for the show, and I started at a quick clip from our hotel towards the venue, my colleague trailing. I remember thinking, with relief, that if we hurried, we’d only be slightly late. The moment that thought crossed my mind, my colleague called out, “caffè?” and veered towards the nearest bar. Anxiety spiking, I followed and was horrified to see her take a seat at an outside table versus going inside to have a quick caffè at the bar. We sat, ordered, drank our coffee. She had a cigarette. All very civilized and completely unrushed. We arrived at the trade show late, my colleague calm and happy, me frazzled and worried. In the end, my worry was for naught, as the trade show started late as well, because we are in Italy.

I share this story to illustrate that the day has not truly started in Italy until you have had at least your first coffee, but really, often not until after the second. So do like the Italians and start with a coffee.

Stop at Caffè degli Orefici, where you can enjoy a quick caffè standing at the bar, or you can follow my colleague’s lead and sit either inside in the cafè’s loft space or at one of their outdoor tables.

Now that you have had your coffee, you can start visiting the market.

Head into the market on Via Drapperie.

Stop 2: La Drogheria

Stop into Drogheria Gilberto for an unbelievable array of goodies.

They have an excellent selection of traditional balsamic vinegar. If you ask, they will let you try the precious product known as black gold.

Don’t miss the chocolates. The chocolate tortellini is a favorite and makes for a great gift to take home.

A superb selection of olive oil includes oil from one of Emilia Romagna’s only olive oil producing areas, Brisighella. The oil is a deep green, has a distinct artichoke taste and is best used raw.

Pasta, cookies, spices, sauces, including regional specialties like Bolognese Ragù and Pesto Genovese (both with and without garlic depending on whether you will be kissing anyone later), are available.

A large selection of spirits and digestifs cover one wall. A local Bolognese digestif to try is Nocino, made with young, green walnuts. It is thick, almost black, tastes of warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and packs a punch, but is the perfect thing after a hearty Bolognese meal.

Lastly, if you are a wine fan, it is easy to miss, but there is a whole wine cave under the store. Before you reach the bar at the back of the store, turn right, and there is a set of stairs that will lead you down to the wine cellar. There is a nice collection of wines from all over Italy.

This shop has tons to discover, so make sure to give yourself time. Once you have picked up whatever goodies you’d like, it is time to move on to stop 3.

Stop 3: The Bakery

Across the street is Paolo Atti & Figli for all things bread and fresh pasta!

Admire the selection of freshly made pasta.

Notice the difference in size between the tortellini (the suffix ini means small), the small stuffed pasta filled with pork and typically served in broth, and the tortelloni (the suffix oni means big). The bigger stuffed pasta can be filled with lots of different things, but most traditionally is stuffed with ricotta.

Notice the rich, yellow color of the pasta. This comes from the eggs that are used to make the pasta. The chickens are fed a diet rich in beta carotene, and it makes the egg yolks a rich orange color which translates to beautifully yellow pasta. As you go south in Italy, you’ll notice the color of the pasta changes to white, that is because in the south the tradition is to use water, not eggs, to make the pasta.

You might also see the torta di riso (rice cake) typical of Bologna in the shop. I recommend getting a piece to try. It is made with milk, eggs, rice, sugar, candied fruit, and a healthy dose of alcohol. It is dense and satisfying.

This shop also has some of the best bread in Bologna. They make many different styles of bread from all over Italy. You may see dark, rye-style bread from the far north of Italy and unsalted bread, typical of Emilia Romagna and Tuscany. Still, my favorite bread is Altamura from the southern region of Puglia. It has a crunchy crust and a soft center, and a pleasant yeasty smell thanks to the lievito madre, natural yeast it is typically made with.

  • Buy some bread for your “picnic”. Ask nicely, and they will cut the bread into slices for you.

Stop 4: The Fish

Next admire the incredible selection of fish at Pescheria Brunelli & Pescheria L’Adriatica.

These shops have an awe-inspiring selection of fresh fish. They sell through their entire stock each day, and the new shipments arrive early each morning before the market opens. The first thing you are likely to notice is that it is typical to buy whole fish in Italy. When you select your fish, the fishmongers will clean it for you, and if you want, they will also fillet it, but you come to learn that the best flavor is in the bones, and one of the best parts of a fish is its cheeks, so you want to hang on to the whole fish.

When you read the tags that tell you the name of the fish, you will also see where it comes from and if the fish is allevato (raised) or pescato (caught).

You will also undoubtedly notice the excellent selection of squid ranging from small to colossal squid. If you were to buy the squid and take it home, if you open it carefully, you will find the ink sack still intact, which can be used to make black, squid ink pasta or put in risotto to give it a distinct salty flavor.

Stop 5: The Prettiest Fruits & Vegetables

Continue to the end of Via Drapperie. Antica Aguzzeria del Cavallo is a gorgeous home goods store on the left. If you are looking to buy espresso cups or kitchen gadgets, especially pasta-making tools, this is the place.

On the right, on the corner, is Melega, the most beautiful of the fruit and vegetable vendors. This shop is like art! Their fruit and vegetables are gorgeous. Admire the variety of their selection. If it is summer, you will see many different kinds of eggplants, a magnificent array of tomatoes in different sizes and colors, and beautiful peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, and figs. There are artichokes and strawberries in spring, and if you are lucky, even wild strawberries from the forest, they are the tiny ones. In fall, check out the mushrooms and the greens, oranges, and crazy-long cardoons in winter.

  • Buy fruit here

Stop 6: Salumi

Did you know that the word salumi refers to the entire category of cured meats? In Italian, salumi includes prosciutto, mortadella, salami, capocollo, bresaola, coppa, etc. Salami, instead, is just one specific kind of cured meat.

Backtracking on Via Drapperie, on the corner with Via Pescherie Vecchie you will find the temple of Salumi – Salumeria Simoni.

Walk into the shop, inhale. Enjoy the incredible smell.

Next, grab a number from the red dispenser by the door. Make sure to pay attention because when they call your number, it will also be displayed on a small screen; it will be your turn to order.

While you wait your turn, look around the small but packed shop. This is where you will find the best salumi.

You need to try the often misunderstood but wonderfully delicious Mortadella. Sadly mimicked and called Bologna or Baloney in the States, this is a noble salume from Bologna made with the best selection of pork. It has a silky texture and a rich taste.

Also, to try is the Prosciutto di Parma. Another noble meat that can be produced in different areas but is most famously linked with the Emiliano city of Parma, it’s made from the pig’s back leg and has to be aged for at least 12 months.

In addition to salumi, the shop also has an impressive array of cheeses, pasta, and ready-to-eat dishes.

  • Buy 100g of Prosciutto Crudo di Parma & 100g of Mortadella + anything else that suits your fancy

Stop 7: Cheese

Then continue up Via Pescherie Vecchie, admiring the various fruit and veg shops.

Stop into La Baita Vecchia Malga on your left.

This shop has gorgeous fresh pasta that is usually displayed in their front window. It has a wide selection of jarred products, including exciting jams to pair with cheeses, salumi, and cheese.

It is the latter that you are here for. On top of the display case, there is the aged cheese. Pecorino, sheep’s milk cheese, will make up most of the selection. There are different ages; the younger is smoother and milder, whereas the older is drier, firmer, and more robust in flavor and various treatments. The cheese is sometimes aged in caves, or the round of cheese is wrapped in grape leaves or rubbed with tomato paste. All of these different treatments lend a different flavor to the cheese. Parmigiano cheese is also available here, although if you fancy a taste of Parm, I would recommend holding out until Stop 9. In the display case, you will find fresh cheeses ranging from mozzarella made from cow’s milk or water buffalo’s milk, creamy burrata, pungent gorgonzola, and ricotta.

  • Buy 1-2 cheese that call out to you

Stop 8: Sweets

Then backtrack on Via Pescherie Vecchie to the corner with Viccolo Ranocchi.

Stop into Panificio Dante Zanetti and buy a few Raviole – a typical cookie from Bologna. The cookies are shaped like a half-moon and traditionally filled with Mostarda Bolognese, a jam made with quince, orange, pears, and a few drops of mustard oil – trust me, they are good, especially dipped in red wine!

  • Buy a few Raviole cookies

Stop 9: The Picnic

Then head down Viccolo Ranocchi. Admire Bottega Ranocchi, a distinguished butcher shop with a wide selection on your right. You’ll notice on the right side of the shop is the butcher shop and on the left side is a cheese shop. This is where I would recommend you get Parmigiano if you are interested. They usually have an excellent selection of ages. Like Prosciutto, Parmigiano must also be aged for at least 12 months. The older the cheese gets, the drier it gets and the more complex the flavor. I prefer at least 24 months old or older for snacking purposes.

Out of Bottega Ranocchi, head across the street to Osteria del Sole. It is easy to miss as there is only a tiny sign above the door that says, VINO. This is the oldest osteria in Bologna and dates back to the 1400s.

  • Order wine. I suggest trying a Pignoletto Frizzante – a local white sparkling wine

Take your wine to one of the tables inside or in the courtyard.

One of the unique things about Osteria del Sole is that you are allowed to eat food that you’ve brought from the outside, so spread out your goods from the market and enjoy your picnic!

Sharing is Caring

Spending a morning at the market, collecting goodies, and then sitting down for a tasting lunch paired with a glass of wine is one of my ideal ways to start a day in Bologna! If you feel the same and know your friends would love this, please share this article on social.

Upgrade & do it with a Guide

While it is possible to do this visit to the market on your own, it is even more enjoyable with a guide. Visiting the market with a guide will ensure that you get the local treatment. They will make sure you taste the best of what’s available and will be there to answer all your questions and give extra context and richness to your visit. Plus, you get to meet an awesome local Bolognese and spend the morning with them chatting, laughing and tasting. Contact me for more details about the guided visit to the market or assistance with any other part of your trip to Italy.

Top Articles

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Carmelo Roob

Last Updated: 12/29/2022

Views: 5471

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (65 voted)

Reviews: 88% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Carmelo Roob

Birthday: 1995-01-09

Address: Apt. 915 481 Sipes Cliff, New Gonzalobury, CO 80176

Phone: +6773780339780

Job: Sales Executive

Hobby: Gaming, Jogging, Rugby, Video gaming, Handball, Ice skating, Web surfing

Introduction: My name is Carmelo Roob, I am a modern, handsome, delightful, comfortable, attractive, vast, good person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.