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The One Thing You Should Never Order In Bologna


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Marcella Rosado



Bologna, Italy, often referred to as the gastronomic capital of the country, is renowned for its rich culinary traditions and mouthwatering delicacies. With its vibrant marketplaces, cozy trattorias, and charming food stalls, Bologna is a food lover’s paradise. From the iconic Bolognese sauce to the exquisite Mortadella sausage, the city offers a plethora of culinary delights that cater to every palate.


However, amidst the smorgasbord of delectable dishes, there is one particular item that locals advise against ordering: the famous spaghetti Bolognese. While it may come as a surprise to many, this beloved Italian dish, often found on menus worldwide, is not a common sight in Bologna itself. In fact, it is considered a misrepresentation of the city’s true gastronomic heritage.


In this article, we will delve into the reasons behind Bologna’s aversion to spaghetti Bolognese, explore the fascinating culinary culture of the city, and offer alternative dishes that truly exemplify the essence of Bologna’s food scene.


So, if you are planning a visit to Bologna and want to experience the authentic flavors of the city, read on to discover the one thing you should never order and the delicious alternatives that will satisfy your taste buds.


Background on Bologna cuisine

Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy, has a culinary legacy that spans centuries. The city’s food culture is deeply rooted in tradition and showcases the finest ingredients sourced from the surrounding countryside.


One of the highlights of Bologna cuisine is its emphasis on quality and authenticity. Traditional recipes are meticulously preserved and passed down through generations, ensuring that the city’s gastronomic heritage remains intact. Bolognese cuisine reflects the simplicity and elegance of Italian cooking, with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients.


When it comes to Bologna’s gastronomic specialties, the star of the show is undeniably the iconic Bolognese sauce, known locally as ragù alla Bolognese. Made with a combination of finely minced beef or pork, aromatic vegetables, tomato paste, and a splash of wine, this hearty sauce is slow-cooked for hours, resulting in a rich and velvety texture. Traditionally served with tagliatelle or lasagna, the Bolognese sauce is a staple in Bologna households and a must-try for any visitor.


Another culinary gem of Bologna is the renowned Mortadella sausage. This flavorful cold cut, made from finely ground pork, is delicately seasoned with spices and chunks of pork fat. It is then slowly cooked and aged to achieve its distinctive taste. Served in thin slices, Mortadella is often enjoyed on its own or as a filling in sandwiches.


Aside from these signature dishes, Bologna is also famous for its fresh handmade pasta. From tortellini to cappelletti, the city showcases an exquisite array of stuffed pastas that are a testament to the region’s culinary artistry.


Exploring the food markets in Bologna is a sensory experience in itself. The Mercato di Mezzo, for example, is a bustling marketplace where locals and visitors alike can find a vast array of local produce, cured meats, cheeses, and other delicacies. It’s the perfect place to sample traditional ingredients and indulge in the flavors that define Bologna’s cuisine.


With this captivating blend of tradition, passion, and exceptional ingredients, it’s no wonder that Bologna has earned its well-deserved reputation as a food lover’s haven.


The one dish to avoid in Bologna

When exploring the culinary offerings of Bologna, there is one dish that locals caution against ordering: spaghetti Bolognese. Contrary to popular belief, this internationally recognized dish is not a staple of Bologna’s traditional cuisine. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find it on the menus of authentic Bolognese restaurants.


So, why is spaghetti Bolognese shunned in its supposed birthplace? The answer lies in the dish’s origins and its deviation from Bologna’s traditional culinary heritage.


Spaghetti Bolognese, as it is commonly known, is the result of an adaptation of Italian cuisine to suit foreign palates. While it may be delicious in its own right, the dish has evolved to appeal to global tastes, often becoming a distant cousin of its original inspiration.


In Bologna, the dish that comes closest to what is commonly referred to as spaghetti Bolognese is actually called tagliatelle al ragù. This pasta dish features the same rich and flavorful meat sauce, but it is traditionally paired with tagliatelle, a wider and flatter pasta noodle. The wide surface area of tagliatelle helps to hold the robust sauce, allowing the flavors to meld together beautifully.


So, while you may be tempted to order spaghetti Bolognese in Bologna, locals encourage you to embrace the authenticity of the city’s cuisine and opt for the traditional tagliatelle al ragù instead.


By doing so, you are not only immersing yourself in the true flavors of Bologna but also paying homage to the centuries-old culinary traditions that make this city a gastronomic delight.


Reasons to avoid this dish

While spaghetti Bolognese may be a beloved staple in many parts of the world, there are several reasons why locals in Bologna advise against ordering this dish when visiting the city. Understanding these reasons can help you appreciate the unique culinary heritage of Bologna and make more informed choices when dining out.

  1. Inauthenticity: One of the main reasons to avoid spaghetti Bolognese in Bologna is its lack of authenticity. The dish has been adapted and modified to suit tastes outside of Italy, leading to a deviation from the original Bolognese cuisine. By opting for more traditional dishes, you have the opportunity to savor the true flavors that have been passed down through generations.
  2. Misrepresentation of Bolognese cuisine: Spaghetti Bolognese, as it is commonly known, has become synonymous with Italian cuisine and is often associated with Bologna. However, the reality is that the dish as it is known today is quite different from what you would find in Bologna. By exploring the local culinary offerings, you can discover the diverse range of dishes that truly represent the essence of Bolognese cuisine.
  3. The wrong pairing: Another reason to avoid spaghetti Bolognese in Bologna is that it is traditionally paired with the wrong type of pasta. While spaghetti is a popular choice for many pasta dishes, Bolognese sauce is traditionally served with tagliatelle or other flat and wider pasta varieties. The texture and width of these noodles lend themselves better to the rich and hearty Bolognese sauce, allowing you to fully enjoy the harmonious combination of flavors.
  4. Missing out on local specialties: Bologna is home to a plethora of delectable dishes that showcase the city’s unique culinary heritage. By limiting yourself to spaghetti Bolognese, you are missing out on the opportunity to indulge in traditional treats such as tortellini in brodo (stuffed pasta in a flavorful broth), cotoletta alla Bolognese (Bolognese-style breaded veal cutlet), or the iconic Mortadella sausage. Opting for these local specialties allows you to fully immerse yourself in Bologna’s gastronomic scene and discover new and exciting flavors.

By avoiding the dish known as spaghetti Bolognese in Bologna, you can embrace the authentic flavors of the city and experience the rich culinary heritage that has made Bologna a renowned destination for food lovers around the world.


Alternative dishes to try in Bologna

Fortunately, Bologna offers a plethora of alternative dishes that truly embody the city’s culinary traditions and will leave you craving for more. Here are some must-try alternatives to spaghetti Bolognese when visiting this gastronomic capital:

  1. Tagliatelle al ragù: As mentioned earlier, tagliatelle al ragù is the quintessential Bolognese pasta dish. The wide, flat pasta noodles perfectly complement the rich and hearty Bolognese sauce. Each bite is a symphony of flavors, with the tender meat and aromatic ragù coating the pasta strands. It’s a true delight for pasta lovers.
  2. Tortellini in brodo: This classic Bolognese dish features small, stuffed pasta rings served in a delicate and flavorful meat broth. The tortellini are typically filled with a mixture of finely ground meat, Parmesan cheese, and nutmeg, resulting in a succulent and comforting dish. It’s the perfect choice for those seeking a lighter option and a true taste of Bologna’s homemade pasta tradition.
  3. Cotoletta alla Bolognese: For meat lovers, cotoletta alla Bolognese is a must-try. This dish features a breaded veal cutlet, cooked to perfection and served with a side of crispy, golden potatoes. With its crunchy exterior and tender meat, the cotoletta alla Bolognese showcases the expertise of Bologna’s butchers and offers a delightful combination of flavors and textures.
  4. Mortadella: No visit to Bologna would be complete without sampling the city’s pride and joy – Mortadella. This famous Italian cold cut is made from finely ground pork, seasoned with spices, and studded with small pieces of pork fat. Sliced thinly, Mortadella is a true delicacy and an essential component of any antipasto platter or sandwich.
  5. Gelato: Bologna is also home to some of the best gelato in Italy. Indulge in creamy, artisanal gelato made with high-quality ingredients and a variety of mouthwatering flavors. From rich chocolate to refreshing fruit sorbets, the gelaterias in Bologna are sure to satisfy your sweet tooth and provide a perfect ending to a delicious meal.

By trying these alternative dishes, you’ll be able to fully immerse yourself in Bologna’s culinary scene and experience the authentic flavors that have made the city a haven for food enthusiasts.



When it comes to exploring the vibrant food scene of Bologna, it’s essential to embrace the authentic flavors and traditions that define the city’s cuisine. While spaghetti Bolognese may be a beloved dish worldwide, its absence from the menus of traditional Bolognese restaurants is a testament to the rich and diverse culinary heritage of the city. By avoiding this dish and opting for the local specialties, you’ll have the opportunity to savor the true flavors of Bologna and experience the depth of its gastronomic traditions.


Bologna is a culinary paradise, where time-honored recipes and the finest ingredients come together to create extraordinary dishes that capture the essence of Italian cuisine. From the iconic Bolognese sauce served with tagliatelle to the delicate tortellini in brodo, every bite is a celebration of the city’s culinary artistry.


So, the next time you find yourself in Bologna, venture beyond the confines of spaghetti Bolognese and explore the vibrant tapestry of flavors that the city has to offer. Indulge in the richness of tagliatelle al ragù, savor the comforting warmth of tortellini in brodo, or delight in the savory delight of cotoletta alla Bolognese. And of course, don’t forget to treat yourself to the heavenly creaminess of authentic Bologna gelato.


By immersing yourself in Bologna’s culinary delights, you’ll not only satisfy your taste buds but also gain a deeper appreciation for the city’s rich gastronomic heritage. Bologna is a place where food is not just sustenance—it’s a way of life, a source of pride, and a delight to be shared with others.


So, set aside the notion of spaghetti Bolognese when dining in Bologna, and let the city’s authentic flavors welcome you into a world of culinary wonder. Your taste buds will thank you for it.