Food Journalist Giorgia Cannarella's Guide To Bologna (2022)

One of the Best Food Cities in Italy

Bologna is known as one of the best food cities in Italy, praised for its gastronomy along with the entire surrounding region of Emilia-Romagna. It has always been a well-connected and wealthy city as it is home to the world’s oldest university and sizeable trade. It hence developed a rich cuisine with enduring traditions that persist today. Every Italian is proud of their food culture, the Bolognese are no exception. Bologna is celebrated for its traditional cuisine, particularly its pasta, and could easily be the Italian capital of pasta fresca (fresh pasta, handmade using eggs and flour). It is also recognised for the ragú, or “Bolognese sauce” as it’s called worldwide, and products such as Parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar. Clearly, a few staples of Bolognese cuisine are world-renowned. But until a few years ago, there were only traditional restaurants in Bologna. The city evolved and now has a new food movement worth discovering. It almost seems like a new city where young chefs and entrepreneurs are brave enough to take risks.

Leaders of the Bolognese Culinary Revolution

Lorenzo Costa is one of the change-makers in the dining out scene in Bologna, a young entrepreneur that opened Oltre outside the medieval zone in 2016. It’s the only place in Bologna where you feel transported, unsure whether you’ve entered a cocktail bar or a restaurant. Costa serves traditional food with a few twists, natural wines and cocktails in a contemporary environment. From the ABC of Bolognese cuisine, try the tagliatelle with ragù or cotoletta alla bolognese, a specialty of Bologna. It’s a sort of schnitzel cooked with prosciutto and cheese on top, not meant to be crunchy because they pour a broth over it while it cooks. It’s quite peculiar: soggy, full of cheese and of prosciutto. Oltre became proof to the people of Bologna that you could open something different here and be successful. It’s not like Costa started a revolution – a new movement was already simmering – he was just the first to show it. The group behind Forno Brisa are another example of change-makers. They’re young, bold and talented bakers of bread, pastries and pizza. They even started roasting their own coffee and have opened four or five shops around the town.

Foreign Cuisines in Bologna

Recently, we became more open to different cuisines from the world. Apart from opening Oltre and casual, modern bistro Ahimé, Lorenzo Costa introduced new cuisines to the city through places such as the Nasty Burger Cluband the city’s first ramen barSentaku, although he is no longer owner. He’s now focused on his most recent venture, a Palestinian place that was once Antica Caffetteria Al Salam, the oldest Palestinian restaurant in Italy (in Bologna). It was one of my favourite addresses – so iconic that it received a commemorative plate – but it closed last year after the owner passed away. The owner’s son, also a chef and restaurateur, partnered with Costa to create a new place with a continued legacy.It’s now Ciao Kebab and makes terrific shawarma with great respect for Palestinian heritage. Naga Thai Kitchen opened a month ago,serving good Thai cuisine. There are only a few dishes on the menu, but all are made well. I’ve only stayed for a few days in Bangkok, but from what I recall, the classics taste the same.

The Second Oldest Osteria in Italy

The concept of osterie is very Bolognese. They’re places that open day and night where you can stop for a glass of wine. Everything inside the old walls in Bologna is considered “the centre”. Tourists only stop in the medieval centre usually, but there is much more to see beyond the historic perimeter. Any tour in the medieval centre should start in the second oldest osteria in Italy, Osteria del Sole, opened in 1465 and has remained the same since. Stop by for a glass of good, cheap lambrusco (sparkling red wine) or fizzy, white pignoletto, both typical choices of light wines from the region. The place is open most days from midday until 9:30pm. The crowd represents the city well: a mix of old and young folks share big communal tables. It doesn’t serve food but you can bring your own to enjoy an aperitivo. The osteria is in Quadrilatero, an area with narrow, beautiful, medieval streets lined with botteghe (food shops), and you can find plenty that sell good bread, salumi and cheese.

Favourite Bread in Bologna

Tamburini and Paolo Atti e Figli are two shops in front of Osteria del Sole. The former is perfect for antipasti, like salumi and cheese, the latter for pasta fresca. You’ll also find fresh pasta at Sfoglia Rina and Le Sfogline on Via Belvedere. The team at Il Forno di Calzolari make my favourite bread in Bologna, simply incredible and of amazing quality. Hailing from the hills, their first shop in the centre of town opened only recently, a tiny bread shop secreted in a narrow street. I love everything they do, whether it’s pizza, focaccia, cookies or cakes. Artigian Quality make salumi and undoubtedly the best mortadella in Bologna. I’m not a fan of mortadella, but this one is something. All of these shops are in the city centre.

Delightful Host and Natural Wines

Lortica in the university area is the best place for natural wines in Bologna. You may walk in front of it and think it’s just another university space. It’s not. Inside you’ll find the most amazing selection of wines and beers, and the host-slash-owner Andrea Rubbi is a delightful human being.

The Locals’ Hidden Gem

My favourite place in Bologna is Trattoria dell’ Autotreno, a very scruffy osteria outside the city walls. The name suggests it’s a restaurant for truck drivers. You look at it from the outside and you’re like “I’m not going to enter that.” The interior isn’t any better. They don’t try to make up the place in any way, but I love it for the food: so good, super cheap, authentic, sincere and substantial plates of fresh pasta. It’s not well known, the kind of hidden gem only locals know. I go for the tagliatelle with prosciutto ragù.

Italian Highland Cuisine

Tortelloni di ricotta are a childhood memory: giant tortellini filled with ricotta cooked with butter and sage. It is not a dish from Bologna but from the Apennine Mountains where I was born. Traditional highland cuisine is interesting to discover. Trattoria di Via Serra outside the city walls in the Bolognina district makes the best tortelloni di ricotta in town and offers a full dining experience from the Apennines.

Sicilian Food and a Beautiful Garden

I know it could be said for many places, but the fine dining scene here isn’t big and after a while, traditional dishes start to repeat themselves. Going out for me has become more about the atmosphere and how the place makes me feel. At Trattoria Pane e Panelle I always feel at home. It’s another restaurant that is far from traditional with good wines and food. It hides a beautiful garden in the city centre and carries Bologna’s charm of mixing people of different heritages, making everyone feel welcome. The fish-slash-vegetarian menu reflects the chef’s Sicilian origins. Even the name suggests Sicilian food: pane (bread) and panelle (chickpea fritters). Complimentary chickpea fritters keep refilling at your table.

Two Restaurants You Can Never Go Wrong with

All’Osteria Bottega never fails. The name says it all: it’s a place for everyone. Even though it’s a restaurant, they call themselves an osteria to remind us that they offer good wines in good company. The food is superb and the atmosphere is lively. It’s nothing new for locals like me, but tourists will have a great experience dining under the UNESCO heritage portici (arches) the city is laden with. What also makes the place is its host Daniele Minarelli, a living symbol of being Bolognese, meaning chatty and broad (he takes a lot of space). Al Cambio outside the city centre is a journey back to the 70s. The atmosphere is a little more bourgeois, but I’ve never had a bad experience there, not even slightly.The service is perfect, perhaps the best in Bologna. The food is classic but so well-made and faultless every time I go back.

Seven Churches and Some Gelato

I like to take visitors out for gelato. The city offers a lot of ice cream shops and one of my much-loved city tours leads to Piazza Santo Stefano, which is maybe the most beautiful square in Bologna. There you can visit the seven churches, one inside the other, and then go to Cremeria Santo Stefano which has some of the best ice creams in town (that’s your tour!) It’s simply enjoyable. The ice cream is just delectable. Try their two flavours, namely salty pistachio and cream.There are many other good places for ice cream, among which are Bottega Gelateria Galliera 49 and Stefino. It’s just that Cremeria Santo Stefano happens to be very close to a beautiful square.

The Best Cheese and Sweets

To reach L’Angolo della Freschezza outside Bologna, you require a car, taxi or a bus. The shop sells incredible Parmesan, fresh burrata and cheeses from all over the world. Sharing the same building with Gino Fabbri (probably the most famous pastry chef in Bologna) makes it a win-win tour for cheese and sweets. The pasticceria (shop selling pastries and cakes) is often crowded with people queuing for his traditional (and non-traditional) bakes, one of which is torta di riso. It’s a cake made from rice cooked with milk, some amaretto liqueur and candied fruits, usually prepared for Bolognese weddings. Gino’s version is a small masterpiece.

High-Quality Pasta Bar

I always take tourists to Sfoglia Rina, close to the monumental Two Towers. We could define it as the “fast food” of pasta but with high-class quality, although it’s not really fast food, just an unusual concept for Italy. No reservations here so there’s usually a long line of people waiting outside. Surprisingly for Italy, it is open all day from 11 in the morning till 10 at night. They offer classic pasta fresca but also creative, vegan options uncommon in Bologna. You can even get combos of pasta with some vegetables and free water. The pasta is good, the service is fast and you can buy pasta to cook at home.

A Bolognese Sunday Tradition

Bar Billi 1883 is one of the oldest pasticcerie (pastry bars) in Bologna located near Santuario Madonna di San Luca, a sanctuary on top of a hill that summons people from all over the city. It’s a 30-minute steep walk to reach, but a very picturesque one, and is usually followed by a stop at the bar for a three-euro breakfast or aperitivo. This combo experience of San Luca and Bar Billi is a Sunday tradition for many Bolognese families, including mine. At the bar, we’ll have a small Crodino (a non-alcoholic, bitter drink) with some fried pasta or pizzette. The early 70s interior is not particularly attractive, but they make good pastries for breakfast and it is perhaps the only place in Bologna to offer a kind of croissant soaked in Alchermes (ruby-coloured liqueur). Imagine a giant pink pastry sealed with cream and dotted with dried fruits. It sounds like a lot, and it is a lot.

Late Night Snacking

It’s not easy to find a proper restaurant in Bologna that’s open after midnight, but Babilonia does and makes delicious kebab and falafel. It is conveniently located in Via Del Pratello, one of the most crowded streets in the city full of bars and pubs.

Panettone From a Prison

Giotto bakery is a special place inside the Due Palazzi Detention Centre in Padua very close to Bologna, where the inmates bake one of Italy’s best panettone, as well as chocolate pralines, biscuits and colombe (Italian dove-shaped cake) for Easter. I had just found out I was pregnant when I visited the prison – a story to tell my son one day.

The Best Cocktails in the Most Unexpected Place

Smöll cocktail bar is a place for curious travellers. It neighbours a supermarket in front of a parking lot, the last place you would expect to serve great cocktails and a good selection of beers too. It’s a weird place – small and not charming at all – however the cocktails are exemplary and the whole experience is simply unexpected. Two to three young mixologists work their magic behind the bar, all of them up to par. On the other side of the parking lot is Giardini Margherita, probably the most beautiful park in Bologna. You can have your cocktails to-go and head to the park or sit at the small tables right before the bar.

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