143. The Taste of Bologna

It quite a feat to be known as the best food town in a country world famous for its cuisine. But Bologna, a city of 400,000 in the heart of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, would give some of its better-known competitors a run for their money.

So we decided to investigate this for ourselves. I normally consider myself too cool to do an organized tour, but sometimes, there’s no better way to get the lay of the land, fast, and we would only be there one full day. So we signed up for a “Taste of Bologna” food tour and found ourselves early one morning meeting a family from Texas, a couple from London and our guide, Sara, in the main square of Bologna.

Bologna, site of the first university in the western world, is a lively prosperous city, famous for its two distinctive architectural features — its medieval towers, of which there are twenty remaining, and its twenty-four miles of porticos, for which it was named a 2021 UNESCO World Heritage Site. We learned from Sara that the porticos, first in the historical record in 1040 AD, were originally a tax evasion ploy by wealthy homeowners to increase their living space by expanding the upper floors of their houses without increasing the street-level footprint, on which property taxes were based. The city expanded their use after realizing they came in handy in inclement weather.

Characteristic Bolognese portico

After coffee, our first stop was the marcelleria equina, or horse butcher. Rationally, there is no reason to feel worse about eating one sort of meat over another; nonetheless, the very idea of it made me queasy. But it seemed to be something that should be experienced, so I took a little bit of horse carpaccio and forced it down. It was actually quite good, but I am sure I will never, ever eat horse meat again.

Horse meat, anyone?

Bologna actually does seem to feature meat in its cuisine, more than other regions in Italy. It is famous for its Bolognese meat sauce.

Our food tour included a sampling of Bolognese ragu.

More famous even than that, especially in America, is what we call bologna (pronounced “baloney”) — our much-less-good variation of the Bolognese specialty mortadella.

Yes, I know it’s globs of fat, but it’s so good.
Thousands of dollars worth of prosciutto, from nearby Parma, hanging from the ceiling.

But the high point for me was a stop at a tortellini factory. Watching the half dozen employees go about their tasks, weaving around each other with choreographed efficiency grown from decades of working together in limited space, was to be in the presence of ballet at its highest form.

After rolling out the pasta dough, she uses this tool to cut it into a grid.
The tortellini are filled with mortadella, prosciutto and Parmigiano cheese.
Each individual tortellini is wrapped around the maker’s finger tip. This woman has been doing this job for thirty years, and does this maneuver in the blink of an eye.
The final product: Bologna’s famous tortellini in brodo soup.

I probably ate more meat in more one day in Bologna than I do in a month in my normal life. And it was all really, really good, free from all the additives and shortcuts that we just accept here in the States. Thankfully, the lower quality here makes it easier to avoid, allowing me to do the right thing with regards to environmental impact, animal ethics, and my cholesterol level. But if I lived in Bologna, I’m not so sure.

Bologna is bustling with shops where locals make their daily purchases. I would find them hard to resist.

4 thoughts on “143. The Taste of Bologna

  1. Another awesome post, Gigi. When we were in Verona about 10 years ago, we took our B&B host to dinner at a ‘locals’ restaurant that she recommended. She also suggested I try any of several horse meat entrees.

    I selected a braised horse meat pasta option, but asked the waiter how long the meat would be braised. Unsure, he said he would ask the chef.

    When he later returned with our entrees (mine featured strands of braised horse meat that looked like it had been extruded) he explained that he was a little unsure about my question. So, he said, the chef told him that “The meat was braised for 7 minutes … and the horse was 8-and-a-half years old.”

    “Where,” I asked, “did it finish?”

    Sorry, Secretariat, but it was quite good.

    Liked by 1 person

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