Personal Journey: In Bologna, Italy's gastronomic center

A salumeria offers an irresistible assortment of cheeses, cured meats, pastas, and a collection of balsamic vinegars.
A salumeria offers an irresistible assortment of cheeses, cured meats, pastas, and a collection of balsamic vinegars. (BILL FANTINI)
Posted: June 30, 2014

Originally, we decided to visit Bologna because we had never been there, we love medieval cities, and it is a train hub that would facilitate easy transport to other destinations in Italy.

Then, we learned that Bologna was the birthplace of tortellini, mortadella, and, of course, ragĂș alla bolognese.

The city actually is nicknamed Bologna the Fat. Every guidebook we read referred to it as the gastronomic center of Italy - which pretty much makes Bologna the gastronomic center of the universe, si?

Our choice was cemented by the way one travel guide opened its section on food shopping in the city.

"You are in paradise."

In fact, one multi-block area, known as the quadrilatera, is dedicated entirely to food shops of every specialty - meat, cheese, bread, pastry, wine, candy, etc. And each boasts a storefront and interior that is a work of art. The displays are absolutely dazzling and incredibly inviting.

Keep in mind, too, that in this culture the mozzarella and the breads are not fresh if they were not made this morning. That, plus the Italian devotion to using only the finest ingredients, are the reasons the cuisine is so exquisite - and why the same recipes made back home rarely rival the quality and flavors of the foods tasted here.

Indeed, every culinary experience we had in Bologna was heavenly.

Consulting with hotel clerks and shopkeepers, we were directed to wonderful eateries that were patronized almost exclusively by Bolognese. An added bonus, the wines produced locally in the province of Emilia-Romagna proved the perfect accompaniment to our meals, and usually were the least expensive on the menu.

And what treats those meals were! Tortellini en brodo - veal-stuffed pasta served in veal stock. An assortment of pasta shapes in the namesake sauce. Smoked goose breast. Battered, cheese-stuffed, fried zucchini flowers that were light and delicious beyond description. A lovely, clean and buttery fettuccini pomodoro. Tiny clams that a food allergy prevented me from having, but that a companion described as the best he ever tasted. And smoked salmon with olive oil, a touch of lemon juice, and a little black pepper that left me asking, "How can something so simple be so delicious?"

I since have spoken with several other visitors to Bologna. We all returned home posing that very same question.

Bill Fantini writes from Bala Cynwyd.

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