Unless you are one of the lucky (and frowned upon) people who left Red Zone Bologna to hop on a plane and enjoy an Easter break abroad, chances are it’s been a while since you enjoyed your latest trip. And you are probably feeling nostalgic of the view, the air and the flavours of your favourite escape.
I, for instance, have just found myself smiling while ordering online “fava from Santorini” from a Greek Restaurant. I had completely forgotten the very existence of this simple dish, but as soon as I read its name on the menu a memory of me and a friend enjoying this hearty purée of wild peas on a little patio overlooking the Aegean, on our first visit to Santorini, came to mind.
This made me feel good and gave me the idea for this article. Because I cannot send you to your favourite holiday destination, but I can indeed point you to the local restaurant where you can retrace that exotic spice mix that instantly takes you to your special island, re-discover the genuine flavour of Salento’s street food or remind you of that short break in Venice. Ok, you got the idea. So here we go: fasten your seatbelts and bon appetit!
RUSTICO FROM SALENTO
I have been on holiday to Salento many times in my childhood and youth. It wasn’t cool yet, but it was already so beautiful, with its pristine water, its reddish soil punctuated by olive trees and whitewashed fences… and its food. In particular, I could, and still can, kill for an authentic rustico. Quite difficult to make at home, rustico is savoury snack made of two disks of puff pastry filled with a heavenly mix of tomato sauce, besciamelle and mozzarella. If you’re lucky, you can also clearly perceive a pinch of pepper. It’s filling, soft, creamy on the inside and overall delicious. In Bologna you can find it on various places (thank you, former university students from Apulia, for staying here and opening your own restaurants), the best of whose is Pasticceria dell’Arte on Via Belle Arti.
BACCALA MANTECATO FROM VENICE
As it tuns out, wonderful Venezia doesn’t only stand out in terms of beauty and uniqueness, but it is also one of the very few Italian cities where you can find something similar to tapas. Here the little mini-portions of food – or amuse bouche if you like – to go with wine are called cicchetti and are usually served on “bacari”, iconic little havens of the social and food scene of La Serenissima.
Venetian places are quite rare in Bologna, but you can find a few, the nicest being El Saor on Via Cesare Battisti. Here, among traditional delicacies from Veneto such as Sarde in saor (deep-fried sardines served cold and marinated with onions and a vinegar solution), you can find my beloved baccalà mantecato, a rich, creamy, delicious spread of stockfish that seems to be soaked in milk but actually is not (at least, not in its original version). Again, you can either order it in loco, or have it delivered.
FAVA FROM SANTORINI
Like I mentioned before, beautiful Santorini’s iconic food is this yellow peas’ purée that you will find among the appetizers on every taverna. Such beans are called fava but must not be confused with fava beans. They come from the plant lathurus clymenum, a local variety of yellow pea that has been growing on the island for thousands of years and is also a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin).
Despite its apparent simplicity, this dish is the result of quite an elaborate process: squashed on stone mills, matured in kanaves (underground storerooms inside the volcanic rock) and dried in the sun, the beans are then boiled and served with a dressing of olive oil, lemon and chopped onion. In Bologna, you can find fava, among many other Greek delicacies, at Delogo. You can also have it delivered.
BAI CAI FROM CHINA
For this one I was helped from a friend who has lived in China for a while and that now resides in the most Chinese area of Bologna, vibrant Bolognina. According to her, when it comes to home-made, vegetarian dishes from the Beijing area that you can taste in Bologna, there’s nothing like La cucina di Peng‘s bai cai, with the latter being a very typical, very simple Chines cabbage stir-fry. La cucina di Peng is also located in the Bolognina area, on Via Ferrarese, but you can also order online.
PAD THAI FROM THAILAND
If you like the magical (and heavily fat-saturated I’m sad to announce) harmony of bean sprouts, tamarind, cashews, rice noodles and a lot more that is known as Pad Thai, chances are you’re already aware of Bologna’s painful scarcity of Thailandese restaurants. And if you’ve just finished binging The Serpent like I have, you’re probably craving everything Thai more than ever. But fear not: even little, food-conservative Bologna has its Thai gem up its sleeve, in the shape of Kinkhao Thai Food and Drinks. You can personally pick up a respectable Pad Thai from the little botega on Via Collegio di Spagna, or have it delivered at your place.
ALOO PARATHA FROM… OXFORD!
Globalization alert: I admit it, I am one of those people who think “England!” as soon as they smell the scent of an Indian dish. I wish I could say that it’s because I used to live round the corner from Brick Lane back in the days, which is actually true, but the real truth is that I learnt English in my late teens, doing study vacations in Oxford. That was my very first taste of the Uk but it was also the very first place where I tasted and smelled (and then tasted and smelled so many other times, so happily) Indian food in my provincial life.
So yes, some specific Indian flavours scream “Oxford! England! Rainy summers and gothic architecture!” to me, and it’s a sweet memory, a spicy madeleine I am very fond of. When I miss Indian food and I need some warm soft aloo paratha, I know I can count on India restaurant, quite a local institution now: it opened in the mid Nineties and has been a steady presence on Via Nazario Sauro ever since. You can also order online either from the website or on My Menu.
I hope that you enjoyed this little journey around the world via Bologna’s kitchens. I know that this city isn’t the most cosmopolitan or diverse, but if you have your secret address where you can be transported to another place just by ordering on the menu, please do add it up to this list.