In Italy, the city of Bologna is known as “la grassa” (“the fat one”) because of its fantastically fatty and flavorful cuisine. Although I’ve hardly seen anyone I’d actually consider to be fat in Bologna, I can attest to the fact that “la grassa” is indeed an appropriate nickname. Tell anyone who has lived in Bologna for a while that you had a “traditional Bolognese meal” the other night and they will smile and groan while reminiscing about the last time they had five courses of tagliatelle Bolognese, crescentina, salumi, frommagi… the rest is just a blurry haze from the onset of food coma. Food, good company, and the leisurely pace at which you eat, make each meal in Bologna memorable.
1) The food is simple, satisfying, and amazing.
Case in point, pepata di cozze from the Ristorante Pizzeria Il Saraceno. Via Calcavinazzi, 2, 40121 Bologna.
This dish is made with the freshest, most tender mussels, pepper, some wine, and lemons on the side for some acidity.
2) Ingredients are fresh and easily accessible at local markets. Via Pescherie Vecchie features beautiful specialty food shops with large cuts of prosciutto hanging in the window, fresh cheeses still submerged in water, fresh pasta lightly dusted with flour sitting in wooden trays, and a variety of dried spices on the shelves. There are market stalls with fresh produce and fresh fish every morning. The fishmongers sell all kinds of seafood from langoustines to mackerels to squid. Butcher shops offer cuts of meat, whole chickens, pigs, and beef. If you’re wondering what the white piece of paper on the pig’s head is in the photo, it is a sign telling all prospective buyers that they’re too late- it’s sold!
3) Fat is embraced as an integral and natural part of food. Italians strategically incorporate fat into a dish to enhance its flavor and texture. Which is part of the reason why everything is so good– they don’t sacrifice or substitute taste to meet specific numbers such as calorie or fat counts.
My recent group dinner at Osteria dei Facchini, Vicolo Dè Facchini 4/a, is proof. Please see the following:
Exhibit A (below, left) : Tortelloni stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese. Reminds me of Chinese wontons. The skin is very thin and delicate, and you really can’t stop eating them.
Exhibit B (below, right): Traditional bolognese lasagna. Green spinach lasagna pasta stuffed with thin layers of what I presume to be a delicious, smooth cheese/lard mixture, slathered with tomato meat ragu on top. Luckily I got the corner piece with crunchy bits.
Exhibit C (below, left) : Mixed salumi, or Italian cold cuts. The photo on the right is actually not from Osteria dei Facchini but further solidifies the point. Notice that the bresaola in particular (deeper red slices near the bottom of the photo) retains all of its natural marbling and fat content.
Exhibit D: Crescentina (rectangular, crispy, deep fried bread) and tigelle (smaller circular flatbread). Crescentina, or the most glorious fried food ever, can be stuffed with the salumi and other spreads. It is served seconds after it is fried so it’s hot, crispy, and flaky in the middle.
Exhibit F: (below, right): Straight lard mixed with spices, also used as a spread.
My personal theory on why the Bolognese manage to avoid obesity is that the food is natural and does not contain preservatives or high sugar content, nor does it provide empty calories. In my opinion, the un-processed food makes people instinctively feel as if they have received real nutrients and less apt to crave more food all the time. The Bolognese also lead very active lives that include plenty of walking and biking. Of course another possibility could be that they don’t eat multiple course meals involving lard spread all the time.
4) The wait-staff at the restaurants I’ve been to so far are very professional and helpful, which makes ordering and asking questions about food a positive experience. I would definitely learn some Italian phrases though.
5) The Bolognese are serious about their food and take pride in what they cook and produce.
Hmm… I wonder why the sign is in English…
Food is always on my mind in Italy. I am always examining it. Because food here does not have preservatives, it spoils quickly and requires that I go out to the market, think about, and examine produce, ingredients, and meat every other day. Going out to eat is often a three hour affair that involves examining menus, the different courses, the actual dishes, which then inspires discussions about food. From my forty plus days in Bologna so far, I must say that the last, secret sixth reason why Bologna is foodie paradise is because once you get here, food is no longer just an interest– it organically becomes a big part of your life.