During our anniversary trip to Italy in May 2018, my husband and I took a day trip to Bologna from Florence. The high-speed train gets you there in under half an hour and cost about $80 CAD for the 2 of us, return. Bologna and its environs are well known as the birthplace of many foods and wines – particularly for tagliatelle al ragù, lasagna, tortellini, creme caramel, Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar, and two sparkling wines Lambrusco (red) and Pignoletto (white). We came to explore the city, but primarily to experience the food. And we did! Read on for details.
Art, Architecture, and Atmosphere
Bologna is starkly different from the cities of Venice and Florence in terms of art, architecture, and vibe. Granted, it does have its historic architecture, such as the Piazza Maggiore and two leaning towers that appear to be reaching towards each other for an embrace or un bacio (a kiss). However, Bologna is a much more modern-looking city, with clean lines and pastel colours, crisper pieces of public art, a sophisticated train station, porticoed street upon porticoed street of designer fashion shops, and a more youthful and vibrant feel; a city on the edge of adulthood trying to break away from its elders. The two worlds, newer and older seem to live in relative peace. One possible indication of the coming of age of the younger city is the proliferation of graffiti everywhere in the city.
Food Stops Along the Route
We roamed the streets of Bologna and paused at markets to marvel at massive collections of candy and magnificent displays of meats, stopped at the highly-recommended Caffe Terzi for their famous espresso with chocolate (rich and delicious!), and tried on several pieces of handwear at a glove shop where a resident puppy shared in presiding over all transactions. After lunch (which I’ll get to in a minute), we stopped at several shops, including the well-known and very busy Paolo Atto e Figli and Tamburini shops, to drool over and purchase some local products, handmade tagliatelle pasta, culatello (a cured meat from Bologna that’s similar to prosciutto), cheese, and another local favourite, pere mostarda (which is not pear mustard, but rather like a dark, thick pear jam that you serve with cheese and crackers, or in pastries like cornetti [croissants], or on toast for breakfast, as we were told). There are many other local products in these shops, such as dried pastas, spice mixes, honey, wines, liqueurs, cured meats, Parmesan cheeses of various ages with very different tastes, and rich, thick real aged balsamic vinegar (which comes from Modena, about 45 km from Bologna, and is FAR better than any grocery store stuff). Bologna is a foodie’s nirvana.
Speaking of food heaven, our main purpose for visiting Bologna was not just the food in general, but for a specific restaurant, the small Osteria Broccaindosso, hidden on an unassuming street a fair distance away from the bustle of the downtown. Unless you were looking for it, you’d probably not find it, especially if you spend your time in the core. Based on recommendations from other bloggers and further research on travel websites, I selected this place well in advance of our trip, so we had it mapped out, made the trek, and found it with no problem. We arrived about 20 minutes before they open for lunch, but had a chance to peruse the (smallish) menu while we waited. We were definitely hungry.
Once we were in, we decided to go with a two-pasta platter for two, wanting to try two of the local pastas in their natural environment. We started with tagliatelle al ragù, which was rich and thick, with wonderful fresh pasta. Next up was lasagna, rich with bechamel and meat sauces. We had ordered glasses of the local sparkling wines Lambrusco and Pignoletto to accompany our meal. Our server, a man in his late 50s/early 60s, decided that neither was appropriate to pair with the lasagna, so he brought us complimentary glasses of the rich house red. He was right. And not for the last time.
What we *really* came to this restaurant for, however, was dessert. For €5 you can get a single dessert, but for €15, you can get a seemingly endless parade of one amazing dessert after another. We told our server/torturer we wanted the “big dessert.” He asked if we were certain, and we assured him we could handle it. He nodded his head gracefully but with a distinct air of doubt and returned to the kitchen.
Before long, our server returned with a huge bowl of cut strawberries, at least 2.5 to 3 pounds of them for the two of us (1 to 1.5 kg). We tucked into the luscious fresh fruit.
A few minutes later, he returned with a tray of five large desserts, held in place on the tray by five soup ladles. There was a tasty zuppa inglese (the Bolognese version of English trifle), the best tiramisu we had in all of Italy, a light creme fraiche with berries, a delicious chocolate mousse, and a creamy vanilla pudding with caramel sauce. Each was stunning!
We assumed that this was the end of the parade. We were wrong.
While we were still eating, our server delicately lifted slices of creme caramel with plenty of sauce onto our plates. So rich and creamy. Mmmm.
Still not all.
Within minutes, he was back with the final round, the eighth in this parade of desserts: the most decadent dark chocolate brownies I’ve ever had! Wow! Our server insisted we have two each.
In the end, our server/torturer was right yet again: we couldn’t finish it all, but we certainly made a valiant effort and, in truth, we didn’t leave much behind. After espresso (always served after the meal, to drink while it’s hot) and some handshakes and hugs and kisses with our server, we waddled away very gingerly, so as not to slosh around the food and beverages in our very full bellies. Bliss!
Intentions and Recommendations
We would happily return to Bologna again, specifically for the dessert platter at Osteria Broccaindosso. If you’re a dessert aficionado, you MUST eat here when in Bologna.
Before we visited the city, I had plans of so many other places to stop, to munch on an antipasti platter filled with meats and cheeses and pere mostarda, another couple of cafes, and at least one or two gelaterie, but we were so full after leaving the restaurant, that we couldn’t even think or speak of more food. Maybe next time, we’ll spend a couple of days and try a few other recommended restaurants for some other traditional foods (for example, I didn’t get to try the local specialty tortellini in brodo), maybe even do a food tour to sample snackies at a number of restaurants.
We walked almost 18 km that day and sat only while at the restaurant and on the train. We (and our poor feet) were completely exhausted by the time we got back to our rented apartment in Florence, after a 100-minute train delay (seriously) and a 25 minute train ride.
If you plan to visit Bologna, make sure to bring your appetite, and especially your sweet tooth. And your camera. You’ll have a fun, food-filled time.