Bologna in Northern Italy is an ancient city, but one that sometimes gets overlooked. Even though I didn’t spend a lot of time there, I grew to love it very quickly and can’t wait to return and explore more of the city. While there’s a lot to do there, there are also a few things not to do when exploring the great culinary capital of the north.
Order Spaghetti Bolognese – Arguably one of the most popular and easy to prepare dishes found anywhere in the world, spaghetti Bolognese has burrowed its way into the culinary hearts of millions. It stands to reason then that one of the first things a visitor to the great city of Bologna does is to order this famous dish. The only problem with that is that spaghetti Bolognese has nothing to do with Bologna. Bologna is well known for its food, but specific foods and the pseudo-Italian spagbol isn’t one of them. What probably happened is a bastardization of what is a regional specialty, tagliatelle with a ragu sauce. In truth it’s the sauce that is the true star, which is a time honored recipe made with a variety of secret ingredients including of course meat. The ragu is used with tagliatelle but also with lasagna or even a penne. What it is never made with in Bologna though is spaghetti.
Ask for American style bologna – American cuisine has been crafted over generations from a variety of ethnic influences, including Italian cuisine. Immigrants brought with them recipes and traditions and a taste for certain foods, many of which made their way into the American culinary lexicon. What can only be called a massive problem in translation is what Americans call bologna. Named presumably after the Italian city, American bologna is a thinly sliced meat made of cured beef, pork, or a mixture of the two. It’s a very basic meat that is usually found in the lunch bags of school kids instead of enjoying a feature role in meals. American style bologna was originally based, very badly, on what is a true Bologna specialty mortadella sausage. Mortadella is made of finely hashed or ground, heat-cured pork sausage, pork fat and a variety of other spices. It is usually served in cubes and when I first tried it in Bologna along with some other cold cuts I was shocked. Mortadella bears no resemblance to what Americans call bologna and is actually a delicious meat. So when you’re in bologna, don’t insult the butcher and be sure to ask for the mortadella and not the bologna.
Spend only a day there – Bologna lives in a pretty nice neighborhood. In less than two hours you can visit Milan, Venice and even Florence. That’s stiff competition for a city that doesn’t have the draw of a Da Vinci or the allure of the canals. But not spending enough time in this Northern Italian city is a mistake no one should make. The city itself is an amazing place to visit, the energy of thousands of students continuously on the go make it fun to walk through the town’s arcades and side streets. It’s also an ancient city with a proud and robust history. As you can tell from this post though, it’s also one of the most prominent culinary centers of Italy. The Emilia-Romagna region, in which Bologna is found, produces some of the best food in the world that makes every meal in Bologna a treat. Just outside of town are easy day trips to the gelato museum, Lamborghini factory and Modena just to name a few. Bologna is also a logical home base from which to explore the rest of Northern Italy; day trips made easy by the fast and convenient train system. So when you’re planning your trip to Italy, don’t just pencil in a mere day for Bologna. Instead be sure to spend as much time as possible in this truly remarkable city.