My love affair with Italy started in high school, when my family traveled there for a week. We stayed in Siena and Vernazza in the Cinque Terre, and I was immediately hooked. After that trip, I vowed to learn Italian and go back for a longer stay–and I did. I studied abroad in Bologna during college, and grew to love the language and the culture even more. Ari studied abroad there as well (we actually met when we were both TA’s for an intro Italian class when I came back), so it’s a very special place for both of us–and we were really excited to go back together.
When I lived there, we lived in pretty basic dorm-style apartments with other Italian students–not exactly the fresco-filled palazzos of your dreams. This time, we decided to stay in an Airbnb on the other side of town to explore a new neighborhood (it was fantastic! Paola was so gracious and lovely, and the place was very comfortable.) Bologna is a very walkable city–you can get from one end to the other in about an hour and a half, and there are electric buses that go all over as well. It’s still very much a university town, and you can feel the energy of the students all over the city. It was pretty amazing to be back in the familiar streets, seeing the same restaurants and stores (and bars) that we had been to as students. Of course, now with jobs and a little more spending money, we could also eat out more–though I remember eating very well there on a minimal budget too. Here’s where we ate:
Just down the street from our Airbnb, this trattoria felt like the quintessential Italian neighborhood spot. We ordered two of the Bolognese specialties: tagliatelle al ragu and tortelloni al brodo, both delicious. I love that you could order ragu from 100 different restaurants in the city, and they would all be slightly different. They also had a great selection of inexpensive, local wines–we had a lovely sangiovese from Emilia-Romagna that went perfectly with the pasta.
This place was a recommendation from a former professor, and it didn’t disappoint. I had gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce and Ari had the tortelloni al brodo (are you seeing a pattern?) and we shared the pork loin. If you’re looking for a perfect example of Bolognese cuisine, this is an excellent choice.
This tiny restaurant is in the neighboring town of Modena (about 20 minutes away by train) and is absolutely worth the trip. Housed in the back of a salumeria, it’s only open for lunch and the curated menu is perfectly executed by the Morandi family. Be sure to order the salumi plate with fried gnocchi–the prosciutto, salami and lardo is the best I have ever had, and the light-as-air pillows of dough were incredible. You can also order half portions (as to be able to try more things, of course) which left us feeling pleasantly full but not over-stuffed. Note: you need to make a reservation about a month in advance, so plan ahead.
Don’t miss: in addition to the incredible pasta, Bologna is also known for a few other specialties: piadine and aperitivo. I ate a piadina almost every day for lunch while studying abroad–it’s a kind of flatbread sandwich, typically filled with prosciutto or coppa and cheese. Aperitivo happens every day before dinner–remember, Italians eat dinner around 9 pm or later, so their “happy hour” is anywhere from 6 pm to 10 pm. Around this time, you’ll see restaurants and bars set out little plates of food, ranging from a bowl of potato chips to full plates of pasta. If you buy a drink (an Aperol or Campari spritz if you want to feel very Bolognese), then you can snack on the food as you like.