MARKET IN OUR BEDROOM
Our new location, Albergo delle Drapperie, is a comfortable, tasteful, recent restoration of a very old building, used for lodging since 1800. But a faulty heating system caused our room to swelter, and we were obliged to leave our windows open in the cold winter night. As the sun rose, the rattle and buzz of the market coming to life provided a gentle awakening. By 8AM the trading was in full swing.
Fish shops, green grocers, butchers and delicatessens are everywhere in our neighborhood. The competition keeps everyone at the top of their game, selling the best quality goods and displaying them like works of art. When we step out on the street, the scene is vibrant and brisk and colorful.
A VENERABLE TRADITION OF FINE FOOD
Food is a passion here. Bologna is the city that considers itself the culinary capital of Emilia-Romagna, which in turn is the culinary capital of Italy, which is a nation obsessed with good food.
Bologna invented mortadella – the pink sausage with polka dots of white fat that has been made here for over 500 years. True mortadella is a velvety smooth mixture of the finest pork with a delicate blend of spices and a heavenly scent, packed in a casing that can range from 4 inches to 16 inches in diameter. A greatly compromised and adulterated version is known throughout the world as bologna.
There is Sauce Bolognese, the age-old, rich, delicious meat sauce (more meat than sauce) made with pork and beef and cream that has graced pasta here since the Middle Ages. In this city the sauce is always paired with tagliatelle, but it is also essential to the very special lasagna found here. The world has adopted spaghetti with meat sauce and lasagna from these roots. This place also lays claim to many of the pastas familiar to us, such as tortelli, tortellini, and tagliatelle.
There is Cotoletta alla Bolognese, which is breaded veal with prosciutto, Parmigiano and mozzarella, sometimes served here with a slice of truffle. You’re likely to find a version at your favorite Italian restaurant anywhere, often called Veal Parmigiana.
Bologna shares in all the other bounties of Emilia-Romagna – the cheeses, salumi, the wines, pastries and breads, the fresh fruits and vegetables. They also share the customs that govern their proper preparation.
A RESTAURANT TRADITION
The waitstaff are patient with foreigners. Our first night in Bologna, after some hours with a phrasebook, Sally asked the waiter’s name with the words “Chiamo Sally, tiamo?” which translates as “My name is Sally, I love you.” With an indulgent smile, he responded “Thank you very much, Madam”.
At least 900 years ago, as home of a university and an important crossroad for wayfarers, inns were offering food and drink and lodging to travelers and students. A culinary tradition was born, as well as a custom of hospitality.
The descendants of those early hostelries are the osteria, ristorante, trattoria, pubs and wine bars of today. Each meal we had here was beautifully prepared and presented. Their customers demand it, and follow the ups and downs of a particular eatery the way they track their favorite football team.
Some of the early eateries are still in business. Osteria de Poeti has served food in the same location since about 1600, and you can take a virtual tour of the place on their website.
Osteria del Sole (no web site), around the corner from our hotel was established in 1468, and I doubt it has changed much since its beginnings. Outside this seasoned establishment is a tiny neon sign that simply says “Vino”. Inside are long, whitewashed, low-ceilinged vaults with long tables and straightbacked chairs. At a small counter the proprietor, a friendly woman with flowing red hair and a leopardskin top, sells wine by the glass – one red, one white, one sparkling. They don’t sell food or much of anything else. Since the old days, patrons buy food at the market and bring it here to eat with their wine. The crowd and the conversation was overwhelmingly loud, male and convivial. Men in suits played cards with men who labor. I managed to snap a surreptitious photo or two as I imagined myself in a bygone time.
SIGNORE TAMBURINI’S SHOP
Meat and specialty food shops number in the thousands in Italy, and they all radiate a sense of pride in their goods and concern for excellence. The shop known as A. F. Tamburini, however, is often recognized throughout Italy as special in this regard. This distinction stems from their commitment to selling the finest products made using the old ways and traditions, and the great variety of products available. The store was just steps from our hotel.
Food has been sold here since the 1600’s. The Tamburini family bought the shop in 1932. It is filled with meats, sausages, cheeses, and pastas of all kinds. In recent years a wood fired rosticceria was added to roast pork and chicken. The old abbatoir was made into a “tavola calda” or hot table, where you can buy some of their mouth watering delicacies and sit down for lunch. The old hooks for hanging carcasses are still in place around the room.
But I’ve already talked too long. The photos can tell the story from here…