Bologna: Completely Immersed in 2.5 acres of Italian Cuisine
By Christopher Ludgate
GoNOMAD Senior Writer
The tall shadows of the porticos stretched across sun-drenched Via dell’Indipendenza.
This historic bustling hub of the famed medieval metropolitan city of Bologna becomes a pedestrian-only playground on weekends which granted our introduction to be a lively and mutually embracing one.
Corner cafés brimming with university students here, and wafts of street food there – delicacies, fashion, art, and history abound – while the musical language and the organ pipes of the Cathedral Metropolitana di San Pietro resonated all around us in this epicenter of Italian culture.
Katarina and I weaved our way through to nearby Metropolitan Hotel following our express rail from Rome. I wanted to immediately explore this ballyhooed hotel that boasts staccato rooftop views for days from its private balconies, contrasting its modern monochrome interiors.
But there would be time later to enjoy its unique ambiance, so we opted for a quick check-in before drifting back into the streets to continue soaking up that scene …And some pocket pizza.
Pilgrimage to Eataly World
After a brief taxi just outside the city center one morning, Katarina and I were soon rolling out a couple of the Bianchi bikes by the entrance of Bologna’s FICO Eataly World. Something about being completely immersed in 2.5 acres of Italian gastronomy was irresistible. In actuality, it is an exploration, a celebration of regional biodiversity, tradition, agriculture, wine, and food.
With large markets throughout this upper echelon of Italian food fare, we explored each area devoted exclusively to food groups like ‘Grains’ and ‘Cheese’ and ‘Fruits’ while learning, watching, and sampling the gelato, cheese, pasta, oil, beer, and sweets factories, and also checking out the multimedia carousels. There are 40+ restaurants making for an overwhelming task of decision making. A map and a plan are a good idea, as are the free Bianchi bikes. We allotted the whole day.
Our guide, Silvia, led us through some of the massive onsite farms and a couple of the educational carousels dedicated to the elements human beings rely on for sustenance, such as ‘Man and Fire’, a 360-degree theatrical experience.
Katarina planted basil inside the Hydroponic carousel. Sylvia informed: “Numbers are on each host sponge to enable monitoring of the progress of those seeds from any device.” How savvy!
“One of our main goals is to educate and explore Italy’s relationship to agriculture and food. We look at all of Italy’s 20 regions because they are all distinctive. The term FICO comes from ‘Fabbrica Italiana Contadina’ the Italian Farming Factory. It is a farm to fork philosophy and there is a story behind every recipe,” Silvia explained.
The behomoth idea of FICO has the government’s full support. Considering this location itself provides over 900 jobs to the area with more than 150 companies as contributors, that support makes sense.
“We don’t want to take away from Italy’s great restaurants and independent shops. We just want people to learn about it and experience. Then go explore,” Sylvia also revealed.
The hands-on classes and events are of extensive variety encouraging all to get their hands dirty in the kitchen and learn something about the food traditions and sustainability, too.
Having become a destination in itself, thousands have desended as students, to date.
Before I knew it, I had my apron on and was refining my pizza dough skills with my teacher, Vincenzo. I was in heaven, in Italy, taking a cooking class. Fantastico!
Wondering how much a vegetarian could indulge in the local cuisine, we allowed plenty of time to explore the food scene in this forward-thinking city and discovered cultural preservation and sustainability.
We sampled street foods like arancini. We employed a few of the counters and the wine section inside an old exposed stone church that houses the more modest Eataly in the historic district. We ate late-night while people-watching by Piazza della Mercanzia.
Botanica Lab at Piazza Maggiore is among the first plant-based establishments in Italy, implementing more conscious choices with in-depth exploration and an aim of rediscovering and proposing ancient customs while still having our trangioli and piccolo pasticceria and other nutritious takes on traditional dishes.
In the heart of once abandoned Giardini Margarita inside the once forsaken greenhouse is Vetro restaurant, part of a public space cooperative called Kilowatt focused on urban regeneration and community inclusiveness which involves education and volunteerism.
Partner Letizia Melchiorre described that, in essence, “Vetro translates into ‘glass’ in English, so, you see, it is about transparency. It describes the past and the present of this space. We are concerned with sharing and quality of life …and diversity in the city.”
Sitting inside the ambient-lit greenhouse among hanging herbs and plants, amiable Melchiorre imparts that “We are very much supported by the city’s arts community. The public is the soul of this place. This is our passion and our home. All are welcome, even if it’s just to relax.”
From purely sustainable ingredients – some grown on site – plant-based breakfast and lunch menus are offered; while things get even more creative in the evening.
As Katarina and I sampled the savory olive tapenade with frise and a bold Montepulciano, Melchiorre describes that “dinner tends to be a bit more sophisticated, and we feature specials that depend on the fantasy of the chef, which makes a special experience.”