With just 24 hours to spare in Bologna, there was only one thing on my mind. Can you guess?
Known to Italians as La Grassa, or The Fat One, Bologna has earned a solid reputation as a foodie paradise. In a country that takes its food very, very seriously, such a nickname can only be a compliment of the highest order.
Walking through Mercato di Mezzo, a cluster of narrow market streets off Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore, it becomes apparent that La Grassa isn’t just a nickname for the city. It’s a warning: La Grassa, The Fat One, is what you may very well become by the end of your visit.
It’s hard to avert such a fate with such tempting delights on display, both indoors…
… and out.
Located in the oldest part of this ancient city, the Mercato di Mezzo is where locals have shopped for their meals for centuries. Marlon, who loves to cook, was dying to do just that. Even I found some ingredients that I would love to cook with: octopus, which I love in salads, and fiori di zucca or zucchini flowers, which in Italy are typically stuffed with cheese and deep-fried to a light crisp.
But we simply didn’t have the time to shop. So we made a pact to return to Italy and rent a self-catering apartment, so we can shop at markets like these and cook at home. I can only imagine what tantalizing dishes Marlon could whip up with such abundant inspiration. I nearly had to scoop him off the ground a few times—especially in front of the meats and seafood stalls.
This is how you know the locals are serious about food: at the market, seafood is labeled with the body of water it comes from. You can choose, for example, to have sardines from the Adriatic Sea or the Mediterranean Ocean. I wouldn’t know the difference, but you can bet the Bolognese do!
Bologna is known as the birthplace of spaghetti Bolognese. Here, the world-famous meat and tomato sauce is known as ragu, and it is spooned over tagliatelle, not spaghetti. However, when it comes to pasta, the real beauties of Bologna (as this market sign says) are tortellini and its bigger sibling, tortelloni.
The other food named after this city is, of course, bologna—or baloney, as the Americans say. Here, it goes by the name mortadella.
The Mercato di Mezzo has everything one could need for a complete Bolognese feast, right down to dessert. Filled with ice cream, fruit salad or strawberries, these pretty pastel meringue shells would make a sweet ending to any meal.
The bits of Italian I picked up from reading menus and eating came in handy in a city like Bologna. I also came to recognize the important phrases such as “fatti in casa” (made in-house) or “fatti a mano” (made by hand), which are like neon signs for good food. (I learned the corresponding description for gelati in Rome.) If a shop or restaurant advertises something as such, it means they are proud of its quality… so you should go in and try it!
This is what we looked like in Bologna: a 24-hour cycle of eat, savor, repeat. If I had my way, I would just repeat. And repeat. And repeat!