Monday, May 02, 2005

Bologna: A Veritable Gastronomical Utopia

Finally made it to Bologna this weekend. For some reason I'd ignored it before because it didn't really seem like anything special. I found it pleasantly surprising though. Though certainly not as famous as other Italian cities such as Rome, Milan or Florence, Bologna has quite a bit to offer the wayward traveler, not the least of which are the culinary delights which have made the city famous, at least in Italy. In Italy, the city is so famous for it's good food that the Italians have honored it with a nickname "Bologna, la Grassa", which means simply "Bologna the Fat". And indeed, I probably saw more fat Italians in Bologna than anywhere else I've traveled to in Italy.

You can see why it's called Bologna "La Grassa" - "The Fat"

Most of the popular Italian dishes you are familiar with originated in Bologna; tortellini, Spaghetti, Lasagna, mortadella, etc. I'm a huge tortellini fan so I was desperate to try it in Bologna. I certainly wasn't disappointed. For dinner I had fresh tortellini prepared in balsamic vinegar. Balsamic vinegar is also the specialty of the Emilia-Romagna region of which Bologna is the capital, so the meal was just unbelievable. In fact, I ordered tomato and mozzarella with balsamic vinegar as an appetizer. The local wine is Lambrusco, drunk more for its ability to cut through the fat content of the food than its taste. Though not a Lambrusco fan, I figured "when in Rome" (or in this case, Bologna) and ordered a glass. Upon the first sip, I thought "this tastes more like a Tuscan wine." Sure enough, the waiter had accidently poured a Sangiovese Red (Good catch Rik, you're really learning your wines...). It didn't matter though, everything was just spectacular.

Enjoying a plate of tortellini al balsamico

My Italian friend Adele who lives nearby, met me in the city and told me she wanted to take me to the best gelateria in Bologna. It's called Gelateria Gianni, and after my first visit, I declared that it was the best gelato I'd ever had anywhere in Italy. And I've had a lot of gelato. It was so good that we went back after dinner for another one. By far the creamiest, smoothest, tastiest gelato I've ever had. And a multitude of flavors for any taste. If you go to Bologna, go to Gelateria Gianni. Accept no substitutes.

Gelateria Gianni - Best gelato I've ever had

The one thing left to sample were the pubs, and Bologna did well in this area as well. For those who don't know, Bologna's university is the oldest in all of Europe. Being a big university city means that there will invariably be a decent nightlife scene. We found 3 good pubs right in a row in one of the streets right off the main piazza. A couple of them even served a range of Tenants brews, not easy to find in this part of Europe. We met a British guy there named Bob - what is it with me and British people in Pubs?! I must have met half the Empire by now - who ended up hanging out with us the rest of the night, downing pints and watching football/calcio/soccer.

Bob, Me, and a couple pints of Tenants

There is plenty to see and do in Bologna for anyone. If you have a chance, I'd recommend at least a full day, including dinner in the city. Look for a ristorante that has "pasta fresco", fresh pasta. That means they make it right there. Adele's friends and cousins who go to the university in Bologna all recommended a place called Trattoria Gianni (This Gianni guy's got much game apparently), but we had no reservation (a sign that it must be good), so we settled on a place called Tinello's, which is just to the left of the "Due Touri" (Two Towers, you can't miss them). Hard to imagine getting a better meal than the on we had though.

Since Bologna is only two hours away by train, I can foresee Virginia and I going there again just to have some more of the best food in all of Italy. And that's saying a lot.



Adele said...

Ciao Rik,

I wanted to be the first one to post a comment on this!
First of all your knowledge really surprised me.
We met this english guy Bob at an irish pub and Rik started chatting with him of english soccer teams, cities,beers and not just that... i was impressed about how many things he knew. Then we met a guy of Palermo in the same pub and there he started again... Palermo soccer, cannoli... you are amazing!
Anyway, thanks for the company, i really appreciated it.
Can i finish?!? Can i finish… CAN I FINISH?!?


Rik said...

ADELE - Grazie, I always strive to know at least a little about most things. It helps, when you meet a lot of new people, to be able to talk about different things.

And what about my oral dissertation of the history of the Two Tours to those Brits we met in the street? The look on your face was priceless! I was on my game that day...


Adele said...

that's right... it was my job to be the Cicerone in my country(word taken from the name of Cicero, the Roman orator and statesman. Cicerone means 'a person who conducts sightseers; and was apparently first applied to learned antiquarians who would show people around the ancient monuments of Italy)-i got this from the net, to explain the word we use in Italy for guides-.
But you definately knew more than i did. I was speechless. Us Italians take italian monuments for granted most of the times so we don't really care of knowing the origin of them.
The funny part after you told that british guy the story of the towers is that he wanted to show off with his buddies; so he went:"Ok guys, let me tell you the story about the 2 towers: at first there was just one..."

Ed Abbey said...

Tuning into your blog is like tuning into Rick Steves on the PBS only your blog is for the younger crowd and not as gayish... not that there is anything wrong with that.

I'm going to have to start printing out your blogs on various cities and sticking them in a file for whenever I get a chance to go to Europe for a visit. Excellent.

Rik said...

ADELE - I like to learn as much as I can about any place I visit beforehand, what can I say. And yes, you can finish now!

ED - Thanks for the props dude, traveling is a passion I guess. And any information I can pass on is well worth it. What I don't like to do is the "tour" type things - spending all that time in line to see something that a million other people see is not my thing. I used to be a huge Rick Steves fan, but he's gotten so anti-American that I don't follow him as much anymore. I have gotten a lot of good info from him over the years though.


Dutched Pinay on Expatriation said...


My in laws are ready to leave this weekend for Italy. Their schedules are already mapped out for 2 months, and will extend for several weeks if they are still in the mood.

I also have "finally!" received a verbal confirmation with Dutchman that he will travel with me to Italy, at least ONCE, haha. He is anti-Mainland Europe when it comes to traveling especially with European cities. He only travels within Europe to the beaches and the islands. Still don't know when we will schedule Italy because right now we have Berlin, Germany and perhaps Portugal (of course where the beaches are) in our plans. Portugal is not sure yet, we may choose another beach or island destination. Aside form that, we also plan of doing some traveling within Holland itself... there is so much to see!

I love Gelato ice cream. They are my favorite. I always order the strawberry and lime mix. So fresh and not so heavy like the normal dairy ice cream.

Tomatoes and mozarella for starters... love them. I still have some Tortellini's in my cupboard, maybe I make them for dinner tonight. Your post inspired the culinary in me, hehe!

Hey, read my response to you in my blog regarding the weather this coming Staurday... not so nice, about 6°C/12°C. Ugh.

Rik said...

DP - Well, a verbal commitment for Italy is a start - but is it legally binding?! Ha ha, you'd better make sure...try to do
Venice so I can show you around a bit. The Dutchman will probably hate it, but he must do it for you. You'll love it, trust me.

If you go to Portugal, the big beach place is the Algarve, which is packed with tourists, but check Nazare. It's a lot smaller and has some good beaches, surrounded by cliffs and some beautiful scenery. I spent some time there last year during the Euro Championships.

Don't worry about the weather this weekend. Nothing will spoil it! We're gonna get crunk!


kitty said...

I posted on this on KittyLitter:

schatzli said...

Dang Chelsea just lost the match.
You know we ignored Bologna too great story maybe we should visit this gem soon.

we are planning a wine trip to Bordeaux this autumn...

i miss those italian gelato.. I have my favourite in san remo

Rik said...

Kitty - Thanks for the hook-up! Holla!

Scha - Doesn't matter, nobody is going to beat Milan. I was hoping for a Milan-Chelsea final though, so I'm a bit disappointed. It's going to be a very defensive minded final, the kind of match that makes Americans hate footie.

And you guys, of all people, would love Bologna. One taste of the gelato at Gianni's will make you forget all about the one in San Remo...

ADELE - Can I finish?! CAN I FINISH?!