From Palermo to Trieste, there’s almost too much to see in Italy, but I still somehow visit the same place over and over again. Each spring while traveling to the Birra dell’Anno beer festival in Rimini, I pass through the somewhat gritty northern city of Bologna, and stroll through its ancient market quarter, the Quadrilatero.
Located between the Piazza Maggiore and Via Castiglione, a couple of short blocks to the east, the neighborhood shows off the bounty of what has to be Italy’s culinary capital, the hometown of tortellini, tagliatelle, mortadella and ragù Bolognese. Numerous cheeses, hams, oils and vinegars originated in the surrounding region of Emilia-Romagna.
Shopping in the Quadrilatero is an almost overwhelming sensory experience. When you walk through the creaky doors of one of the district’s great delis, like Tamburini, the rich aromas of hanging hams and the giant, aged blocks of Parmigiano-Reggiano and other cheeses hit you square in the nose. Despite the narrowness of the streets, the creak and scrape of rusty old bicycles cuts through the crowds in front of places like the Gilberto enoteca, which stocks great wine, spirits and chocolates and its own limoncello.
The greatest impressions, however, are visual: hundred-year-old shop interiors, filled with dark wood and gleaming brass fittings, multicolored variations on pastas, and foods with confusing names, like “ravioline arancia-mostarda,” that you’ll want to look up later (in this case, a soft, sugar-dusted cookie with a bittersweet orange-mustard filling).
Despite its age, the Quadrilatero now has several new arrivals, including a bookstore-meets-trattoria branch of Eataly, the Italian culinary powerhouse. Eataly has branches all over the world, from Chicago to Tokyo. But in the old shops of the Quadrilatero, you get the impression that you’re seeing — and hearing, smelling and tasting — something with a very real sense of place.
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