HOME > Chowhound > Italy >


Bologna: the best food in the world?

So I've read multiple times that some of the best food in the world is to be found in Bologna. We are making a stop in Bologna in our tour of Northern Italy specifically to eat. Now normally we are very very low budget travelers subsisting on street food and grocery store picnics, but really, if something is to be called the best food in the world...well I'll have to be the judge of that!

So please recommend a place (hopefully not to pricey) for us to try this fabulous food. Extra points for character and not fancy.

Oh, and we'll also be visiting Venice, Padua, Ferrera, Mantua and Milan, so if you know of cheapo eats there or street food finds please advise as well.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. keep your expectations in check, bologna is not all that imho

    1. Personally, I think the food in the Piemonte region of Italy, especially around Alba, is at least as good as what you will find in and around Bologna.

      That being said, do "Search this board" searches here for Bologna, Parma, Padua and any other cities you are thinking of visiting. You will find many helpful recommendations already available to you.

      Look here for discussion of the special lunch served at the Guisti food shop in Modena. It could be the one place for a special meal on your trip.

      2 Replies
      1. re: DavidT

        i totally agree, i dont think it exists any longer, but in alba, was a wonderful small trattoria called vicoletto, food was fantastic

        1. re: DavidT

          Oh yes, Peidmonte. I was an exchange student there and the food turned me into the raging Chowhound I am today.

        2. The region has some great food. It's not necessarily about where you eat but what you eat - the regional specialties are:

          Tortelli de Zucca: a type of tortellini filled with pumpkin and amaretti
          Fettuccini Bolognese: obviously !
          Pretty much any pasta is great.
          Also, make sure to have some Lambrusco wine.

          Find a small street cafe on a side street in Mantua (great little town) or Ferrara. Bologna is much bigger and more touristy but you can still find great food.
          Expensive isn't necessary; just find a small non touristy place (without an English translation on the menu) and you should be good.

          3 Replies
          1. re: ifl1

            I may be odd man out on the topic of Tortelli de Zucca, but I'm not a great fan of sweet fillings for pasta. The versions we encountered throughout Emilia Romagna ranged from the sweet to the obscenely sweet. Twice, I let the waiter's praise of Tortelli de Zucca ("It is one of the great dishes of Emilia Romagna.") bulldoze me into ordering something I knew I was not likely to enjoy.

            That said, I'll add to the above list of dishes:
            Parmesan cheese drizzled with Balsamic vinegar
            Prosciutto and culatello
            Tortellini in broth (brodo)

            1. re: ifl1

              After coming from Florence and Venice, we found Bologna to be delightfully untouristy. Leah in Bologna hit the nail on the head -- Sorbetteria Castiglione is fantastic. Also, we had perhaps the best meal we ate in Italy at Drogheria della Rosa, very close to Sorbetteria and recommended in the NY Times "36 Hours in Bologna" piece.

              1. re: chompchomp

                We plan on eating at Drogheria della Rosa, thanks for the tip.

            2. Oooops, wrong place.
              Thought this was a discussion about "bologna" like in Oscar Meyer.

              But, bologna is originated from Bologna, right:?

              3 Replies
              1. re: monku

                What is made and commonly referred to in the U.S. as "bologna" is, in most cases, a poor imitation of what is made and known in Italy as mortadella, which did originate in the area in and around the city of Bologna. Try a taste of Italian-made mortadella some time and you will never go back to Oscar Meyer again!

                1. re: DavidT

                  Of course I've had imported Italian mortadella, Italian bologna in my book.
                  Italian deli I get it from has a pretty good one that's made in Canada and the price is right.

                  Bologna and mortadella do taste similar.

                  1. re: DavidT

                    David T, once again you are so right. We got some mortadella in Bolonga at the other deli across the street from then more famous Tamburini deli. The young man had to heft the huge hunk to the slicer and we bought enough for several days. We always had run short before and we didn’t want to repeat that mistake. American bolonga doesn’t even compare; that Italian stuff is heavenly and addictive. We first started getting it from a lady at a little market Montalcino in Tuscany.

                    At Tamburini, we got a rather long lecture on the different styles of cooked chicken from an Italian gentleman. He finally realized that we didn’t understand Italian, which he made known with hand gestures and a shrug of the shoulders. The funny thing is that I think we did understand him: both styles of Tamburini’s wood-fired, cooked chicken, spit and brick roasted, are special and the best.

                2. In Ferrara, Oca Giuliva, via Boccacanale di Santo Stefano 38 http://www.ristorantelocagiuliva.it/
                  In Mantova, La Porta Accanto, which is the offshoot of the restaurant Aquila Nigra.

                  Both places will meet your requirements very very well

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: allende

                    Oh man you people are making me seriously hungry. Thanks for the great tips!

                  2. I've lived in Bologna for the past 5 years and I'm married to a Bolognese (and have a master's in food studies from the university of bologna!). Bologna has a well deserved reputation for fantastic cuisine but there's something you must know: which region/city has the best food depends on your taste buds. Bologna is famous for it's fairly decadent and refined cuisine, which is a rarity in Italy as most of the cuisines are based on the local, rustic, poor man's food. Which Bologna's is as well, but just happens to be more decadent. And you must be a fan of pork. If you want beef, go to Tuscany.

                    A tip: The best Bolognese food that you'll eat isn't in Bologna. It's in the countryside. If you have a car, you have lots of options. In the city there are some hidden gems:

                    If you want to stay in the center of the city: Il caminetto d'oro is (so I've been told by friends) very very good, but pricey.

                    For traditional food: Trattoria Trebbi (in the center). I think I've taken every visitor here because as I was telling my husband yesterday, it's one of the few places that is able to make Bolognese food using high quality ingredients, even dressing it up a bit with some funky specials, yet allow it to keep the real meaning of a trattoria: Bolognese soul food. And the Tortelloni alla Zucca (squash tortelloni/tortellacci, which really is a specialty from Ferrara--by the way GO TO FERRARA You won't be dissapointed) with balsamic vinegar and guanciale (like pancetta) are literally to die for. Also fantastic: the vegetable bar. They have a fill your own plate appetizer bar with seasonal vegetables cooked up a variety of ways. It often fills up so make sure to call (or have your hotel call) and reserve a table!!! Reasonable prices. I'd say that if you want to try bolognese food, this is where you want to go!

                    Via Solferino, 19 40124 Bologna (BO) - 051 583713

                    If you happen to be in Bologna during the day and want to go to the place where students go for the best price/quality ratio in the city: Osteria Dell'Orsa. The portions are big, the tagliatelle con ragu is very good, and the atmosphere is very old school Bolognese. Cheap wine, cheap food, no frills, long dark wooden tables that you sometimes have to share. It's right in the center, if you ask any bolognese they can tell you where it is because the street is really small. Google map it. Osteria dell'Orsa: via Mentana, 1. Città, provincia e CAP: Bologna (BO) - 40125. Telefono: 051 231576

                    Have fun!

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: LeahinBologna

                      great post, and lucky you to live in bologna!
                      wondering what you recommend out in the country???

                      1. re: jen kalb

                        There are lots of good "agriturisimo", farms and the like with little restaurants. One that we really like is called Agriturismo Soldati (www.agriturismosoldati.com), in a little town called San Lorenzo in Collina, which has a fixed menù: during the summer they do pizza (not naples style). It's a pizza that is their own invention made with whole wheat flower and local farm products and they grind the wheat daily so it's really fresh. It won't be the best, traditional pizza you eat in Italy, but it's really fun because you don't order, they just bring out pizzas, one after the other and you share. All the wine, beer, pizza, coffee, dessert nutella and mascarpone pizza and grappa you can eat and drink for 15 euros flat. Not bad! They have another menu that they do on other nights with Tagliatelle con ragù (the bolognese classic), ravioli, crescentine (a bolognese specialty of fried dough) and Tigelle (a modenese specialty of little flat breads cooked in an iron or stone press) that you can fill with prosciutto, salame, cheeses, and other good stuff plus drinks for 25 euro.

                        There are so many good places, it's hard to choose!

                      2. re: LeahinBologna

                        Thanks Leah, you are fabulous and I will check out the places you recommend. Oh, and yes, we've already planned a stop in Ferrara.

                        1. re: Henrietta Stackpole

                          If you need any other tips, just let me know!

                          1. re: Henrietta Stackpole

                            oh dear! How could I forget!!! Bologna is known for the egg pasta, the rich foods, blah blah blah but there is one thing it isn't known for but the surprising blows EVERY ITALIAN CITY I'VE BEEN TO out of the water: gelato. It is really, really difficult to get a mediocre gelato in Bologna. It has exceptional gelato and the best gelateria is always a topic that will get the bolognesi arguing. My top gelaterias:

                            1. Sorbetteria Castiglione. The uncontested queen of gelato. The chocolate will blow your mind. It's almost black. The pistachio tastes like they've been fresh ground (cause I think they are). They have a list of classics and a list of creative flavors. It's impossible to go wrong. And it's so famous, which considering the fact that bologna isn't a turistic town is notable, that the list is even in english! If you want to be really decadent, get the foccacia. Yes, literally an ice cream sandwich. If you haven't tried it, you don't know what your missing. Via Castiglione , 44(historic center) www.lasorbetteria.it

                            2. Stefino. Stefino has really good ice cream and sorbet (for the lactose intollerant folk) made with fair trade and organic ingredients. But that's not why I go there, no sir. I go for the granita. The granita from Stefino has been approved by my Sicilian friends as authentic and damn good even by sicilian standards (which is where it comes from). You've never tasted an Italian ice until you've gone down to sicily or at least stopped off at Stefino. If you're lucky enough to go there on a day when they have pistachio, get it. Otherwise, for newbies, I recommend the classic: coffee and whipped cream. You won't regret it. It's right near the massive piazza 8 Agosto off of Via Indipendenza. Turn down Via San Guiseppe and it's at Via Galliera 49/b www.stefino.com/

                            3. Gelatauro. Gelatauro deserves a mention because they have a) really really good ice cream and b) they have the craziest flavors I've ever seen. It's run by a calabrese man married to an american (which probably explains the untraditional flavors). You can find squash, ginger, fennel (obviously not all mixed together!)...Via San Vitale, 98

                            There are plenty of others, but these are all in the center and you can't go wrong!

                            1. re: LeahinBologna

                              we are really enjoying and appreciating your posts, Leah - hope you keep going on this!

                              1. re: LeahinBologna

                                Oh my, I'm afraid I'll have to try all three gelaterias! You are so great LeahinBologna. I can't wait to start eating!

                                1. re: LeahinBologna

                                  Hello Leah,

                                  I am actually in bologna right now on vacation and am very excited to try some of your recommendations.

                                  1. re: LeahinBologna

                                    More GREAT GELATO IN BOLOGNA

                                    *Grom* in via d'Azeglio near Hotel Roma - love their Mint and Fior di Latte, their Caramel and Salt, their almiond granita

                                    *La Cremeria* in Piazza Cavour - love the Cavour ricotta, lemon and cookie bits gelato!

                                    I like Stefini and Gelatauro but no longer frequent La Sorbetteria

                                2. re: LeahinBologna

                                  This is kind of amazing. These two places were my absolute favorite on a trip to Bologna several years back. Plus you described my favorite dish, the Tortelloni di Zucca to a "T". It was like reading exactly what I thought about two places, but written by someone I never met. If you have any more food recs in Bologna or elsewhere I'd like to hear them since it seems we're on the same page!

                                  1. re: LeahinBologna

                                    My family and I will be in Bologna over Christmas. do you have any recomendations for Christmas dinner?

                                  2. Hi, sorry, have not visited Bologna, just wanted to say I love your screen name and will be very interested to read the Jamesian (or, more precisely, the Stackpolean) food report I hope will follow your return.

                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: Leely2

                                      Hi Leely2, I think you are the first person ever to catch the name reference.

                                      Yes, I will give a food report when I return!

                                      1. re: Henrietta Stackpole

                                        I'm back from the land of fantastic food and ready to give my food report.

                                        We were mighty lean with the budget on this trip, so we didn't experience the more sophisticated fine dining side of Bologna, but my my did we eat well.

                                        I'll get right to the point ( controversy? ) and say the best food we had was in Ferrara. I recommend all foodies go to Al Brindisi Via Guglielmo degli Adelardi, 11
                                        44100 Ferrara . They claim to be the oldest wine bar in the world. We ate Cappellacci di zucca al burro e salvia (tortellin stuffed w/ squash with butter and sage) Ferranese macaroni pie and salama da sugo (a pork dish with a wine taste.) This was our most expensive meal on our trip at 38 euros for two, with wine. We ate outdoors and watched all the bicycles go by. Mmmmmm!

                                        Bologna is delightful and practically a museum of food. There was a neat food/cookbook shop called Eataly we enjoyed browsing and the food markets were divine (near Piazza Maggiore).

                                        We checked out Drogheria della Rosa, which looked wonderful but was out of our budget range. We ate instead at Osteria dell'Orsa: via Mentana, 1. This place was totally fun--even rowdy--full of students and about 8 million people came in trying to get us to buy roses. We had the tagliatelle con ragu, a special of gnocchi and crostini with wine. The bill was a rocking 20 euros and we were fat and happy. This is good eating people!

                                        We also had so great pizza slices at Pizzeria Altero on Via Ugo Bassi 10, and fab gelato (liquorice!) but I failed to record which of the recommended places it was.

                                        Also, foodies, get yourself to Mantova! We had a place picked out to eat, but when we got there they said they were full. A couple who lived next door saw our sad faces and actually walked us to a nearby ristorante they liked so we could try Mantovian food. We ate: Salame Mantova con Polenta, Risotta alla Mantovana, Agnoli Mantovani, scaloppina aglo asparagas and arrosto di vitello. Very good! People were ordering some tasty looking pizzas.

                                        Other than this, I'm not ashamed to say we had cured meat for breakfast every day, and lots of tasty bar food. Seriously, you can dive in any old bar in this part of the world and have a delish lasagna or sandwich. And the coffee......yes!

                                        I thank you all agian for your fine advice and apologize for my spelling errors. We will be back ASAP for more of this great eating!

                                        1. re: Henrietta Stackpole

                                          We liked Mantova too! What was the NAME of the restaurant you enjoyed? I hope you visit was not as hot as our trip to the area last year - it was really to warm for all the wonderful pork specialties. Did you get down to see Palazzo Te?

                                          1. re: jen kalb

                                            The name of the restaurant was Pizzeria Ristorante Annette, Pizza dei Mille 17/18.

                                            Yes, we went to Palazzo Te, and if this wasn't a food chat board, I could go into extasies about the art we saw....

                                            1. re: Henrietta Stackpole

                                              do they still have that show of greek sculpture there collected from all over italy? We were blown away by the opportunity to see all that stuff. in one place and such a lovely setting.

                                              Were you trying to go to Osteria Due Cavalli? It was closed the night we were in Mantova last year. Next time you are in that area, try some of the fresh water fish specialties from the "lake" We had a very enjoyable sweet and sour dish at Ochina Bianco.

                                              Was the rice dish you had risotto alla pilotta, a dry dish wth glistening rice grains and lovely pork sausage, or was it a true risotto?

                                              1. re: jen kalb

                                                We did look at Osteria Due Cavalli and it was open, but I admit I was totally skeeved out that it served horsemeat (after looking in the window of the horsemeat butcher next door...)

                                                1. re: Henrietta Stackpole

                                                  horse, donkey, pony are all particular specialties in that part of italy. I had a braised horsemeat dish in Verona a couple years ago that was absolutely delicious, beefier than beef (think stewed oxtail ir short ribs in a tomatoey sauce with some spice) but its just a cultural difference I guess. My husband who is not particularly sentimental was not interested in tasting it.

                                                  What restaurant was closed then, that you were looking to go to??

                                          2. re: Henrietta Stackpole

                                            Curd meat for breakfast every day sounds pretty decadent (and not very like Henrietta Stackpole, tut tut!). Everything sounds delicious. Glad you had a good time and thanks so much for coming back to report about your experience. I will have to make the pilgrimage.

                                      2. Hi Don't know if you've already made the trip, but please refer to my Eating in Bologna Italy part one post. I think it is a brilliant place to eat in Italy and book Gianni down the alley way in central old Bologna for a real treat, and if you can splurge Meloncello. I'd be happy to go and eat there again any time.

                                        1. Bologna has excellent food, food shops and rsetaurants. Many Italians think it is the best cuisine in Italy, primarily because it is rich in meats, becuase it has a very specila non durum wheat pasta, and many filled pasta, and because the region has centuries old fine products like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Mortadella di Bologna and the Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, the real thing not the modern day commecrial imitation Modena Balsamic Vinegar .

                                          Is it the best in the world? I doubt there is any single city cuisine we'd all agree on as having the best food in the world.

                                          Bologna's specialities are 1) cured pork products and pasta of all kinds BUT NOT Spaghetti a la Bolognese ( the thought creates shudders of horror in a true local) or Fettucine even - Fettucine is what they call Bologna's Tagliatelle in Rome, it is not a term that is ever used in the city or in the region.

                                          Pasta include Tortellini in Brodo, Tortelloni, Tagliatelle, Tagliolini, Rosette, Garmigna, Garganelli, Lasagne Verdi. Many other non past items ot serve "in Brodo" like Passatelli, Zuppa Imperiale and more
                                          2) Parmigiano-Reggiano
                                          3) Beef, veal, rabbit, poultry, ie meats in general NB There are hardly any cattle breeders in Tuscany: Tuscan butchers buy their meat from Romagna, Emilia and Umbria depending which is nearest geographically. Traditional Tuscan cuisine is bread, bean, olive oil and offal based - just visit the butchers at San Lorenzo market in Florence! It was the beef eating British on their Grand Tours that started the demand for beef steaks in Florence.

                                          4) a wide range of fresh produce from Bologna province some nationally famous: asparagus, potatoes, shallots, walnuts, apricots, peaches, melons, cherries, pears, chestnuts, white truffles

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Carmelita Caruana

                                            Great info, but what about the great Chianina beef cattle? That is a tuscan/central italian bee cattle breed and famous around the world. Id say they must have had good beef in tuscany before the brits though its not as wealthy a province so maybe average folks didnt eat as much.

                                          2. Ate memorable food in Bologna at Diana (twice), Trattoria Anna Maria, Franco Rossi, Grassilli Ristorante, and Trattoria da Gianni.

                                            In Ferrara, - La Romantica

                                            In Ravenna - Bella Venezie