Trip to Bologna, Italy - July 2010
Eating out in Bologna

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As I have mentioned in previous trip reports...finding good places to eat, when you travel, can be tricky. Do you just stick around the main tourist areas? Do you try a place based on how it looks from the outside and the menu? Or do you listen to others recommendations? Do you trust the guidebook? Do you trust the feedback on TripAdvisor? Before going to Bologna I tried to note down various options based on feedback from travel forums, guidebooks etc. I put everything into Google MyMaps. Here is a summary of some of the meals we had in Bologna. Note that you can see the location of the various places marked on this interactive Bologna Google map. The restaurants are marked with red markers.

Italy is known for having great food and the cuisine varies from district to district. And when Bologna is called La grassa (the fat one) the expectations are raised of course. The cuisine of Bologna and the area around includes ingredients and dishes such as Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Balsamic vinegar, Parma ham (Prosciutto), mortadella, ragu, various forms of fresh pasta (tortellini, tortelloni) etc. Each evening we would head out with a specific restaurant in mind (plan A) and a plan B and hence we did not make any reservations.

Note: The Italian menu and meal is split into several sections. On the menu you will find words like Antipasti (appetizer), primi piatti (sort of a starter), secondi (sort of a main meal). I often feel that ordering all three is a bit much but I tried it to start with. But in the end we had to go over to sharing food in order to try various dishes. Also note that you may have to order side dishes separately (this is know as contorni).

It is easy to discover the Italians passion for food...just walk around the streets of Bologna (e.g. around Piazza Maggiore) and you will see hams (or prosciutto) hanging everywhere, fresh handmade pasta is for sale in the stores, there are fresh fruits and vegetables etc. And when we talked to Alessandro from Italian Days food tour there was no stopping him when we got to the topic of food and hearing him describe how to boil pasta was funny. He would tell us how you have to boil the pasta with the heart and not by following the instructions on the packet.

Note: Most restaurants have a cover charge (called pane e coperto). This can vary from 1€ to 4€ per person and it is added to the bill. It is normally stated on the menu.

We started out by going to 7 Arches as we got it recommended from a tour guide. We came there quite late (at least by Norwegian standards) and the restaurant was more or less empty. But it filled up as the it got later and it just shows that Italians like to take their dinner late. The menu at 7 Arches was only in English which was a bit disappointing – it is always good to see the Italian names too. One dish was just referred to as “potato dumplings” and I asked the waiter if that was the same as gnocchi and he confirmed this. But I started out with a cheese and ham starter and it was slightly larger than expected – lots of parma, mortadella, coppa, cream cheese and so on. I love a platter like this – so simple and yet so tasty. I think this was the best platter of ham and cheese I had during my stay in Bologna. Nikki decided to be more adventurous and went for the risotto with cuttlefish ink. I guess she was inspired when we had a great small dish with cuttlefish ink at an Italian restaurant in in Bangkok last year. I did go for the dumplings that I asked the waiter about to start with and they were tasty but I have never seen gnocchi like that ;-). They were filled with a bit of beef, sprinkled with some sort of truffle oil and parmesan. The main dish was a bit disappointing – I went for the meat Bologna style which meant a slab of meat with ham and cheese on top served with a bit of potatoes and vegetables on the side. The meat was not that great and our experience was that they do meat better in Florence. All in all 7 Arches was not bad at all but not a very memorable experience either. We paid 100 € for the meal including a bottle of wine (costing 14 €).

Tip: On this page you can find more details about the secrets of eating out in Italy.

It seems like aperetivo is a big thing in Bologna (and maybe in other places in Italy too?). But basically they go out for a pre-dinner drink and one of the favourites is something called spritz. We had to try this of course and we walked into a small bar in our neighbourhood and I asked if they had spritz (not knowing what it really was). They bartender was like “Of course. Do you want it with Campari or Aperol?” Again, I had no idea that it came in different versions so I just went for the Aperol and I found this to be better than the Campari version. The drink is a mix of prosecco (Italian white sparkling wine), some soda water and Aperol/Campari. But the deal is that most places that serves Aperitivo also have food to go along with the drinks. So you buy a drink and you can help yourself to small dishes (small sandwiches, olives, ham etc). In other words...you don’t have to spend that much on food if you don’t want to ;-)

The second night in Bologna we went for a meal at a small trattoria called Da Cesari - well, it looked small on the outside but it was actually larger than expected inside. Decorations inside made the place quite cosy – lots of photos, old wine bottles and tables with white covers. We went for a bottle of Sangiovese di Romagna (I guess a local bottle of red wine made with the Sangiovese grape). So how can it be that the Sangiovese wine in this area is so much cheaper than the Sangiovese wines of Tuscany (e.g. Chianti)? I started out with one of my favouries – pancetta. This time it was served lightly fried on bread. And of course, when you go to Bologna you also have to try the pasta served with a meat sauce known as ragu. There is in fact nothing called “spaghetti Bolognese” in Bologna as they don’t serve the meat sauce on spaghetti. But you normally get the ragu sauce on top of thicker pasta. The ragu was maybe a bit drier than I had expected – I was hoping for more of tomato/red wine taste. But the dish that I had was very tasty. For the main course I had calf cheeks that was quite tender and Nikki had a rabbit with a sweet/sour sauce (not Chinese style if you are thinking that). On the table next to us there was an Italian couple that were tasting lots of stuff – they must have been either food critics or someone really important as they were served by what seemed to be the owner of the restaurant. The owner was actually picking up quite a bit of sweat from running back and forth from the kitchen and there were new bottles of wine coming to the table several times and they only had like a glass each of each bottle. Our meal was 100€ including a 14€ bottle of red wine.

Did you know: Cappuccino is normally only consumed in the mornings. So some people might frown a bit if you ask for cappuccino in the evening :-) But hey, why not go for a macchiato? Check out this coffee drinks illustrated.

We went for lunch one day at Via dei Musei as the street looked rather cosy totally covered by porticoes and with various restaurants. We went for the pizza option but that turned out to be a mistake. The staff seemed really, really laidback so it took forever to just get the menu – I guess we should have seen where it was heading when just ordering took forever. We did get to order eventually but when our pizza was done the waiter actually served it to another couple and we had to point this out to him to get our pizza sent to our table. We also had to ask for the wine we had ordered several times. In other words...slow food got a new meaning that day ;-) All in all the pizza was not bad but not worth the price and time it took to order/get it served. I think we paid about 30€ for two pizzas and a glass of wine.

Note: decifering an italian menu.

I’m not sure I understand how people can eat anti-pasti, primi, secondi and dolce every night (if that is what they do)– it is just too much food for one person. So eventually Nikki and I had to throw in the towel and we went over to sharing one or several dishes during dinner. One night we went for dinner at Trattoria da Gianni located in a dark alley (see the Google map for location). The place was actually quite crowded when we got there but they did have a table for us. A woman was eating dinner by herself while she was scribbling in a notebook. I always get a bit curious when I see someone travelling alone and I get tempted to ask them over – but she was basically finished when we came in. We had a mixed antipasti to start with but it was not as great as some of the other cheese and ham platters that we had in other places. I also had to try out the gnocchi in ragu and that was actually a great dish. I love gnocchi and I have tried to make it from scratch at home but I think I prefer to buy it but it is not very easy to get it fresh in Norway. For secondi we both went for meat and it was certainly a huge slab of meat that we got. I went for the pork meat and it was almost like the Norwegian traditional Christmas meal (what we refer to as ribbe). I did not manage to eat all of the main dish but there always seems to be room for some dessert for a guy with a sweet tooth and I ordered the Tiramisu but I think I got the semifreddo instead. We also had some espresso after the meal and as I’m hunting for the perfect espresso cups to have at home, I have made a habit of looking at what brand they use at restaurants. I was very surprised to see that at Gianni the espresso cups were provided by Figgjo , a brand produced just outside of Stavanger where I live in Norway. Our meal that night was 85€.

Tip: The trick to checking if the gelateria is a serious place or not is noting the colour of the pistachio gelato. If it is neon green (not to be confused with the mint) chances are they are using artificial colourants to brighten it up.

We went to try out ristorante Teresina one night. They did not have a table in the alley outside the restaurant and we had to settle for a table inside the restaurant instead. The menu was only in Italian which can be a bit tricky when my Italian vocabulary is rather (ok, very) limited. Nikki went for the steamed mussels while I ordered something that I thought I recognized from the menu. But I guess my Italian is even more limited than I thought as I got grilled eggplant with tomato and parmesan. Eggplant is not my favorite but with the filling it was not that bad. Another classical Bologna dish is the tortellini filled with a bit of meat and served in beef broth. Again, quite a simple dish but quite tasty if you use a good broth. The secondi was rabbit served with fried vegetables and that was pretty good and I finally got tiramisu for dessert – I think this Italian creamy dessert must be one of my favorites and it is not that difficult to make at home either. Our meal was once again 100€ including the wine - I guess that shows the price level if you go for a full dinner with wine on the side.

Did you know: Many gelaterias and coffee shops require that you pay for your goods at the cashier first. Then you bring your receipt over to the gelato/food counter to get your order.

In the middle of our Bologna stay, we moved hotel from Touring to Savhotel (see the trip report) and we tried to find restaurants that were closer to Savhotel. One night we went to Trattoria da Pietro and we got a table outside the restaurant and it was great to sit outside and enjoy the meal in this pretty quiet side street (even though I think a couple of mosquitoes nailed me that night). I had venison with balsamico to start with and the venison was a bit too dark for me. Once again I had to try out the local ragu this time served on top of tagiatelle. I also tried the risotto with zucchini flowers and that was great but then again, I love my risotto. I was getting quite full so I went for veal carpaccio as secondi and that was rather boring as it was only served with parmesan on top while Nikki went for a mixed grill platter. There was no room for dessert that night but I did have a glass of limoncello after the meal. The limoncello is made from vodka, sugar and lemon and it is served ice cold- At da Pietro it seems like their gimmick is leaving the bottle of limoncello at the table – I love the stuff so I did help myself to a couple of glasses before we paid the billed and biked back to the hotel ;-). The bill at Trattoria da Pietro was 89€ including a bottle of wine costing 16€.

Note: a spritz is typically 5-6€ per glass.

If you are looking for lunch in Bologna there are a couple of places in the city center that seems to be popular: Tamburini and La Vecchia Malga. Both of these places are shops that sells local produce such as fresh pasta, hams, cheese, mushroom, sausages etc. but they also serve food. Our guide on the walking tour recommended La Vecchia Malga over Tamburini as she felt that Tamburini was just floating along on the good reviews that they are getting in guidebooks. We tried both places and I think La Vecchia Malga is more cosy - we sat on the second floor (over the shop itself) and we had a selection of their hams and cheese and it was a great meal. They have a nice selection of wine by the bottle but only house wine on glass.

When we arrived in Bologna we talked to the taxi driver about food and restaurants and he was clear in his recommendation: go to Ristorante Da Nello (he basically spelled it for us). We figured that it was probably a tourist trap but over the days it was recommended by others so as we came home late one day from a road trip, we decided to check it out. We biked over to Via Montegrappa where it is located and bolted our bikes down and went in. The full name of the place is Ristorante Da Nello Al Montegrappa and it seems to be an institution as it has been around since the 1940s and there were photos of lots of celebrities that had visited the restaurant. It was larger than expected and we were led down in the basement for a table. The first thing that you will notice is the enormous menu which is normally not a good sign. I started out with prosciutto di San Daniele which is similar to Parma ham and that was very tasty. Nikki went for risotto with porcini mushroom as primi and the portion was waaay to big in my opinion. The taste of porcini was excellent but it was less creamy than expected and a bit too salty. I had a piece of lasagna (served with green pasta plates) and the portion was excellent and it was also very good but once again I found it to be a bit too salty. As Nikki’s primi were so huge, she just went for fish with no extras on the side and I went for the caprese salad as I was getting full too. The caprese salad was OK but where was all the basil? It seemed like they had replaced it with rocket leaves instead. We rounded off with some lemon ice cream for Nikki and a chocolate charlotte cake drowned in chocolate sauce for Gard….a rather strange dessert I think. I think I prefer the simple desserts like panna cotta, Tiramisu etc. Our meal at Da Nello was 90€ including a 12€ bottle of wine.

We did use several sources to find out where to go in Bologna: blogs, guidebook and TripAdvisor. We looked into going to a restaurant called Drogheria della Rosa but when looking at TripAdvisor there were quite a few “women beware” comments so Nikki got pretty reluctant. I guess that shows the power of the internet and that restaurants and hotels must be careful in order to not get negative publicity as news travel fast on the net.

On our last night in Bologna we decided to go to Rodrigo – we biked into town once again and arrived at like 8.30 PM and the place was basically empty. But we got a great reception and they even told us that we could park the bikes inside (in a door in the back). The restaurant interior is quite amazing with bottles everywhere, lamps made out of magnum Champagne bottles etc. Our waiter was friendly and took time to explain stuff on the menu as I think it was only in Italian. Nikki started with a seafood platter while I stayed local and went for Parma ham with melon. My primi was torteloni with butter and tomato that was excellent while Nikki went for tortellini with ragu – but she was still a bit disappointed that the ragu is more dry compared to what we are used to. We both vent for veal as our main dish...I got it with porcini and Nikki went for a lemon version and they were both tasty. To round it of semifreddo, espresso and limoncello. The restaurant did not stay empty very long of course - all of a sudden a big local group came in the door and it seemed to be a big family thing – there were even nuns in the group. I guess they had some influence in the restaurant because they lit up cigarettes and this is normally not allowed in restaurants. I asked the waiter about this and he seemed a bit embarrassed about this and said that this was normally not allowed but this group was special and he apologized. All in all a very good meal and the bill came to 150 €. But guys...seriously...6€ per person for pane e coperto!!!

Eating out in Bologna was great – we never booked a table but there was always room for the two of us - I guess another proof that there are not that many tourist coming to this region compared to e.g. Rome, Florence and Venice. There is a lot of focus on the pasta and ragu but as you have seen from this summary, you can also have lots of other stuff if you want to. If you do go to Bologna (an Italy in general) make sure to take notes of which days the restaurants are closed ;-) If you want to see more photos from eating out in Bologna, please check out the Bologna photos page. If you have any questions please get in touch on gardkarlsen@hotmail.com .

Note: If you want to read a funny and informative blog about eating out in Bologna you should also visit Greedy Diva's blog.
 
 

 

Click here to get back to the Bologna trip reportBack to index pageGet in touch if you have any questionsClick here to check out the Bologna Google map