Bologna Inside - Second Edition

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Bologna La Grassa’s (Bologna the Fat) reputation as Italy’s gastronomic capital is well deserved. Most Bolognese start off their day with a visit to the bar for a caffè, a pastry and some chit-chat with the barista (bartender). The local bar is a social center and most Italians have their favorite, which can say a lot about them. There are posh ones with marble counters and goldplated sugar bowls or ones with blaring soccer matches. There are bars where elderly men play cards, bars with internet and bars where the barista will draw a heart into the foam of your cappuccino. In the evenings, the bar becomes the place where friends meet for an aperitivo to map out plans and debate about where to eat. One of the first decisions is what type of establishment to frequent: osteria, trattoria, pizzeria or ristorante. Price and quality are not necessarily linked. One can eat poorly at an expensive restaurant and very well at a simple trattoria.

Fun historical fact: Bologna’s osterie multiplied in the late 1200s when the university experienced a major influx of students. Copious amounts of wine accompanied by sausage, mortadella and lively conversation were consumed in these establishments. One of them, Osteria della Scimmia, was frequented by students looking for lessons in love, but in 1490 it was closed down due to its nefarious reputation.

Pizzerie, which usually serve other dishes alongside the famous pie, are often the other most economic choice. Trattorie, small, frequently family-run restaurants, feature a wide selection of typical dishes. Then there’s Bologna’s elegant and renowned ristoranti. You’ll pay more, but aren’t you worth it?

Gambero Rosso, the equivalent of the French Guide Michelin, publishes a restaurant guide for Bologna, available at major bookstores or online at

If you are in the mood for so-called ethnic food, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how immigration has diversified the choices of cuisine available in Bologna. In addition to Indian restaurants, there are many bars, self-service and take-away places from the Middle East and Asia at affordable prices, especially in the university quarter. Even sushi is catching on. A hearty breakfast and an authentic burrito remain illusive.


Tipping is not customary in Italy and it is not expected in bars and cafès. In trattorie, you might leave a few euro in spare change. In the better restaurants, consider rounding up. Leaving a mancia (tip) is really reserved for excellent service.