As much as all of Italy is known for some of the best food in the world, there is one region specifically that is a must-visit for any food lover: Emilia Romagna. Why should you travel to Emilia Romagna? It’s home to some of the most quintessential Italian foods.
There are nine distinct geographic areas, or provinces, within Emilia Romagna, with Bologna at the core. The nine areas from west to east include the five of Emilia: Piacenza, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and Bologna. Along the Adriatic Sea, from north to south, the remaining areas within Romagna include: Ferrara, Ravenna, Forli-Cesena, and Rimini. Although each of these provinces has its own unique foods and travel experiences, three cities can be considered the holy trinity of food meccas in Italy: Bologna, Modena, and Parma.
What to Eat in Bologna
Bologna is the capital of Emilia Romagna. A larger city with the most connected international airport and largest train station, it could be considered the center of Emilia Romagna. From Bologna it’s possible to head north to Modena and beyond, or east into Romagna. But, more than a transportation hub, Bologna is known for its food.
Pellegrino Artusi, the father of the national cuisine of Italy supposedly said “When you hear speak of Bologna cuisine make a bow, for it deserves it.” The food of Bologna is known throughout the world—from tagliatelle, to ragù, to mortadella.
In addition to its food history, Bologna is also known for its culture and tradition. Characteristic porticos cover the sidewalks and walkways of much of the city. Bologna is home to over 25 miles of covered walkways, and the longest single arcade in the world, which stretches approximately two miles. There are numerous medieval towers that continue to stand throughout the city, some of which appear to defy gravity. Two of the most famous are the Asinelli and Garisenda, the latter of which was mentioned in Dante’s “Inferno.”
As for food, Bologna is all about meat sauce, with the most famous dish being tagliatelle al ragù. The pasta in Emilia Romagna is pretty unique as well, because it is made with egg. This means the pasta is incredibly fresh, and must be eaten that day. No dried pastas here! A meal that starts with a platter of mortadella rounds out the typical Bolognese dinner. Just outside of Bologna is the small town of Savigno. It’s known as the city of truffles, so it’s easy to find loads of great truffle dishes in Bologna as well.
What to Eat in Modena
Modena is the second of the holy trinity of Emilia Romagna cities. Though Bologna lies at the center of Emilia Romagna, Modena is its heart. It’s home to some of the most recognizable of the DOP and IGP products, the European classification system that ensures foods are of the highest quality.
Modena is smaller, and therefore more manageable, than Bologna. It’s easy to walk around and it seems that all roads lead to the Duomo and the Piazza Grande at the center. There are plenty of cafes and outdoor dining opportunities, and the city goes crazy for gelato.
One thing you must know about Modena: everything great is outside of the town.
Yes, there are fabulous restaurants and the Modena food market, but in order to delve deep into the wines and DOP and IGP products that make Modena famous, it is necessary to escape the city. This is the best way to learn about the key products of Modena, including Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Prosciutto di Modena, and traditional balsamic vinegar.
So, what are the best dishes to eat in Modena? Where to start? Try aceto balsamico, an aged balsamic vinegar, drizzled over tortelloni. In the winter months try tortellini in brodo, a smaller pasta served in a warm broth. And everyday you should eat luscious platters of Prosciutto di Modena and chunks of aged Parmigiano Reggiano served with gnocco fritto, a deep fried bread puff.
What to Eat in Parma
A trip to explore Parma should be less focused on the geographical differences between the towns that surround the city, and more focused on where to find food experiences. Perhaps they have their priorities right. After all, UNESCO recently named Parma a Creative City for Gastronomy.
Parma lies along the Parma River, offering riverside walks or lazy afternoons spent lounging in the Parco Ducale, or window shopping along Strada Luigi Carlo Farini. There are also churches, monasteries, and theaters to keep culture hounds busy. There is a cathedral, several beautiful piazze, and a famous pink-hued baptistery.
The city itself offers a plethora of restaurants and food shops offering up the meats and cheeses that make Parma famous. But, similar to Modena, Parma is really all about the food, and to learn about the food it is necessary to retreat to the countryside.
If time allows for only one day trip from Parma, it’s usually to Langhirano, in the Parma River valley. Langhirano is saturated with producers of Prosciutto di Parma, and is home to the Prosciutto di Parma Museum. This is just one of the Musei dei Cibo, or Museums of Food, that guide travelers to explore the towns that surround Parma. The museum’s tagline is, “The history of the men and the products that have made a territory unique.” Other museums highlight pasta, tomatoes, Parmigiano Reggiano, wine, and other cured meats.
The must-eat list in Parma includes almost all of these products! Almost every meal should include torta fritta, a deep-fried bread similar to gnocco fritto in Modena. The fried bread is almost always served warm, with Prosciutto di Parma and aged Parmigiano Reggiano. The Prosciutto will melt onto the bread! As for pasta, try a plate of cappelletti, a stuffed pasta dish.
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Author bio: Amber Hoffman is a recovering attorney, professional eater, and the host of the food travel blog With Husband In Tow. She recently published The Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna: How to taste the history and tradition of Italy, which is available on Amazon now! The Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna can help you plan the perfect trip through the breadbasket of Italy. In a full 250 pages of culinary guide book yumminess, the guide walks through the key products of the region, and how to taste them.