Yesterday afternoon I was passing by Via Pescherie Vecchie. With its little bars with open air tables, serving lunch and dinner at any hour, it became the main hub for tourists and (improvised) foodies. I distinctly remember walking through it two summers ago, when tourism in Bologna was just starting to take off, the whole area had half the amount of bars and cafes and the happy few were clearly satisfied with this little surprise of a city. It was lovely and I remember rejoicing at the happy atmosphere, feeding from the enthusiasm and relaxation I saw in the visitors’ eyes.
This time though I admit I was a little annoyed at the view of overcrowded tables where tourists with no space for breathing were eating tortelloni alla panna or tagliatelle al ragu at 5 o’ clock. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for eating whatever you want whenever and wherever you feel like. What does feel wrong to me is the neat perception that that scene could be set anywhere, from Melbourne to London. And yet it was set in a city that is being marketed and promoted – with some reason – as one of Italy’s food capitals, famous for its cosy charm and severe food tradition.
Now, if it is tradition and genuine food you appreciate, you’ll agree with me that turning Bologna’s restaurants and food markets into yet another tourists’ trap isn’t convenient for anyone. See, Bologna is living a special moment, a transition: up until yesterday it was super popular among Italians in general and almost unknown anywhere else, but all of a sudden it became a travel destination and it would be smart to preserve its uniqueness.
A few tips? Never, ever order the notoriously non existent “Spaghetti bolognese” even if some smarty pants are adding them to the menu to “meet the visitors’ needs” (i.e. the same visitors who came on a “food experience”). Have a little look around you: are all the people in your restaurant non Italian? Chances are you’re in a classic tourists’ trap: go somewhere else. A piping hot plate of tortelloni at 5 in the afternoon? No. Please, no.
You cannot expect the restaurant’s owner to deny you that (but you’ll be judged for having pasta in the afternoon, I can assure you that). However, you can be in charge. Be a smart tourist and wait a little longer, ’till it’s dinnertime. What did you say? «But I’m hungry now»? Ok, time for you to learn a new term: merenda. Suck it up, have a snack, then wait for the sun to set and finally sit in a restaurant. A real one. One without “spaghetti bolognaise” on the menu. I can assure you your tortelloni will be so much better.