Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My Bologna has a first name...

Let's talk bologna - and I do not mean the lunch meat. That was the destination of our adventure on Saturday; once I heard that it is the gastronomic capital of Italy, it got priority on my must-see list!

We got up waaay too early to catch a specific train because the only trains to Bologna are the super-fast [read: super-expensive] trains, but we being the wily, financially clever college students that we are found the one cheaper train at 8:35 AM and planned accordingly...only to arrive at the station to discover that it was already sold out. 'Sall good, we at least got the cheaper one on the way back...but we had a mourn a little the sleep time we sacrificed in vain. 

We got to Bologna and had no idea where to go, so started wandering in hopes of eventually running into the center. We found this sweet used book fair:
We bought a little present for Sam and I got a restaurant guide for Northern Italy for ONE EURO!! Sure, it's the 2002 edition, but it has a glossary of terms for the typical dishes of the areas and we found lots of restaurants we had already been to in the Florence section, so I would say it was well worth the price!

On our way towards the center (we hoped!), we came upon a park:

There was a huuuuge flea market too! Bologna is home to the oldest university in Europe, so it is a major city for students. Even if I hadn't known that before, I could have guessed judging from the vast amounts of bongs being sold.
Next stop: coffeeeeeee. After obtaining a horribly overpriced map, we sat down and planned out our route for the day. I came prepared with, as always, a list of good restaurants/gelaterias to hit, and Bologna being the gastronomic capital and all, good food was the main mission for our day.

We wanted to check out the Mercato delle Erbe, Bologna's food market, and compare it to our beloved Mercato Centrale a Firenze!
Tuscany does bread, Bologna does fresh-made tortellini. (Not gonna lie, bread wins in my book...but it's definitely a hard decision.)

Note the large inflatable banana hanging from the ceiling.
Rose-like lettuce!
Easter in Italy = Chocolate eggs GALORE!

It was nice and all, but Mercato Centrale is still #1 in my book. Nicer atmosphere and less rushed, I think.

I'm really loving these trips specifically geared towards food. This really is the way to live.

We started getting a little hungry, so we decided to wander in the general direction of one of the restaurants.

The restaurant I had written down was, of course, closed for lunch :( Because of our train schedule, we planned to go big for lunch and then have a light dinner, but unfortunately this restaurant was not cooperating. No matter, we found another little trattoria nearby. We saw a hand-written menu on the outside, which we have learned is usually a very good omen.

We split 2 pasta dishes:
Tagliatelle alla bolognese (of course!)

Tortellini con panna (cream) e prosciutto

The bolognese was alright; certainly authentic, but I think I am just not much for meat sauce. The tortellini were incredible. I didn't think I would like it; I connect the cream-and-ham combo to dishes that have peas (my mom & brother adore mac & cheese with ham and peas)...and my abhorrence of peas knows no bounds. ICK. BUT, this was perfectly pealess! The cream wasn't too heavy, either - just light enough to add the rich taste without being goopy or overwhelming. And as I have mentioned, prosciutto is just wonderful. The little tortellini were filled with a kind of sharp cheese, probably parmeggiano (it originates in this region of Italy) and a meat which we both were guessing was also a pig-product. We were happy girls!

But, just in case we weren't happy enough, we stopped at a chocolate store we had passed for some amazing-looking gelato. However, you can't judge a book by its cover - this was even better than it looked. And let me tell you, it looked absolutely drool-worthy.
(Post-1st lick)
"Cuor di cacao" e frutti di bosco
The "cuor di cacao" (heart of cacao) was 75% dark chocolate dotted through with teeny chips of dark chocolate. Might be the best chocolate ice cream I've ever tasted. And it was perfect with the sorbetto, which is also probably some of the best I've ever had - the texture was not too icey or too sherbert-like, it was just smooth enough to please the palate.[Frutti di bosco, literally fruits of the forest, is basically mixed berry.] It was so fresh and fruity and...oy. If I was happy before, this was just pure uninhibited joy.

We continued to stroll/windowshop for a bit. I really like the architecture here, pretty brightly colored buildings and lots of archways.

And I like any city that colors the buildings with turquoise!

Ran into some nice piazzas too...

Spring is trying to come...just not quick enough!

Italy really likes their leaning towers.

It also likes its ruins. Seriously, give me a building and I promise I have seen it thousands of years later.

 We eventually felt the need to sit and chill, so we found a caffe and people-watched for a bit. People are just...interesting. Particularly the ones who feel that cutting slits in the back of their jeans juuust below their butt cheeks is a necessary fashion statement. No picture - you're welcome.

We got up and did some more aimless wandering before eventually deciding to try and find a place for a glass of wine and a snack. We found a place that I had heard about and it looked perfect. Very nice red wine. I also got two crostini:
Vegetarian (eggplant-zucchini-onions-peppers) and another with mortadella, a deli-type meat that is a speciality of Bologna, and some kind of very creamy cheese, almost like cottage cheese. It wasn't mind-blowing, but fit the bill. And we really liked the chill, local feel of this place :)

All in all, Bologna was fun - a nice mix of a big city feel and the Italian culture. As a "gastronomic capital" I was a little underwhelmed, but it's probably something to discover with the help of a guide. I really like day trips - at the end, I'm always ready to come back to Florence. Home sweet home.


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