Bologna Foodie Guide: Pasta, Prosciutto, and Parmesan

Bologna is regarded by many as a foodie capital in Italy – pretty impressive given that practically every city in Italy is a foodie capital in my book. Bologna’s earned the nickname “La Grassa,” or “The Fat One,” so you know this is serious. Bologna’s location in the Emilia-Romagna region means it’s fortunately close to cities like Parma and Modena, who we can thank for wonders like parmigiano reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, and Modena balsamic vinegar. These delicacies figure prominently in bolognese food markets and cuisine. Here’s my Bologna foodie guide to these and other mouthwatering gastro-goodies – but first, a few pics of pretty Bologna. Enjoy!

bologna foodie guide
Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore and cathedral
bologna foodie guide
Bologna’s iconic Two Towers
bologna foodie guide
Charming streets of Bologna
bologna foodie guide
Bologna’s characteristic colonnades

Bologna Foodie Guide

Tagliatelle or Tortelloni al Ragù.

Forget spaghetti bolognese. Unlearn it, foodies. (Yes, I know it hurts.) It’s not the real deal. The spaghetti bolognese I’ve always known is meaty and tomatoe-y – shout out if you also called it “red sauce” as a kid – but Bologna’s historic tagliatelle al ragù recipe is more meat-based and way chiller on the tomatoes (i.e. it’s not red). And it’s delicious. Like to die for. The dish is traditionally made with tagliatelle, sort of like a fettucine, but I actually tried it with stuffed tortelloni, basically a tortellini’s big brother. I nearly wept.

bologna foodie guide
Pasta! Tagliatelle and tortelloni on the left
bologna foodie guide
Tortelloni al ragù at La Baita Vecchia Malga <3

Mortadella.

Man, the bolognese are ’bout their mortadella. On my first night in Bologna, I walked into a deli where I was carefully explained the importance of mortadella while handed a pamphlet on its history. Pamphlet and mortadella panini in hand, I proceeded to fortuitously stumble upon the picturesque Piazza Maggiore, sit down on the cathedral steps, and eat. Yum. This was one of my favorite memories from my trip to Bologna. So, what is mortadella? It’s essentially a large pork sausage, usually cut and served as cold cuts. The characteristic spots in the pink meat come from fat and other ingredients that may be added, like pistachios. Mortadella may not be as internationally popular as its counterpart prosciutto, but it has a special place on this Bologna foodie guide. Mortadella Bologna is officially protected by regulation, meaning it has to be produced according to certain processes and only in specific regions of Italy. Some say that mortadella is the predecessor to American bologna (baloney), which would explain the name and the similarities between the two meats – although mortadella is way better.

bologna foodie guide
My mortadella panini + important pamphlet

Prosciutto di Parma.

Broadly, prosciutto, which means “ham,” is made using a dry-curing process. In Parma, this process has become sacred over the centuries. The resulting uniquely flavorful Prosciutto di Parma is geographically protected and a great source of pride. Enjoy it on a platter with mortadella like I did!

bologna foodie guide
Hanging legs of Prosciutto di Parma and packaged mortadella at bottom right
bologna foodie guide
A platter of mortadella, prosciutto, and cheese at La Baita Vecchia Malga

Parmigiano Reggiano.

World-famous parmesan calls the region of Emilia-Romagna home:  regulation dictates that real parmigiano reggiano can only be produced in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and parts of the provinces of Bologna and Mantua (these first two provinces give the cheese its name). It’s your duty to indulge while in parm-country, people.

bologna foodie guide
Huge wheels of parmesan and Prosciutto di Parma hanging from the ceiling in one of the many food markets in Bologna’s historic center
bologna foodie guide
A lil pre-dinner snack of parm and prosciutto!

Lambrusco.

Lambrusco wine may conjure up some weird thoughts for my fellow Americans, but forget them just like you forgot about spaghetti bolognese. Lambrusco is a legit thing in Bologna. The Grasparossa version I tried, produced near Modena, is a deep red color and slightly sparkling. I enjoyed it and would recommend!

bologna foodie guide
Lambrusco at La Baita Vecchia Malga

Where to enjoy all of this glory?

La Baita Vecchia Malga

Confession: I ate here twice…Woops. This authentic eatery, which is both a market and a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, is an essential part of this Bologna foodie guide. The first time I ate here was for lunch. As I was walking down Via Pescherie Vecchie, my favorite street in Bologna’s historic Quadrilatero, I saw people sitting outside enjoying delicious-looking platters of mortadella and prosciutto. It seemed like the perfect place to enjoy the perfect meal, so I asked for a table. I waited a bit, but it was worth it: sitting outside on this bustling street put me right in the center of the action of the Quadrilatero. I could happily people-watch as I enjoyed my platter of mortadella, prosciutto, soft cheese, and bread while sipping Lambrusco. A couple from Milan sitting next to me ordered the tortelloni al ragù, which looked divine. They even offered me a taste, but I declined…and promptly regretted it. This regret led me to come back for dinner, haha. To mix things up this time around, I put my name down for a table upstairs, which felt like a whole different place. The interior of La Baita is snug and cozy, making it the ideal place to enjoy the comfort food of Italian pasta. Here is where I had my first taste of tortelloni al ragùand my life hasn’t been the same since.

bologna foodie guide
One of my favorite streets in Bologna, Via Pescherie Vecchie, home to La Baita Vecchia Malga
bologna foodie guide
Prosciutto di Parma hanging from the ceiling at La Baita

Osteria del Sole.

This no-frills wine bar, also located in the historic Quadrilatero, stays lit. Well, honestly, most of the Quadrilatero area stays lit, thanks to a bustling student population and a good ol’-fashioned love of food and drink. Some people bring food to eat inside, but I preferred to drink my Lambrusco outside on the bustling, narrow street while rubbing elbows with locals. It was a vibe.

Enjoy this Bologna foodie guide!