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Any time we travel, paying a visit to local food markets is always on the top of our list. And in a food-focused region like Emilia-Romagna, indulging in the Bologna markets was a necessity. The culinary reputation of this Northern Italian city is strong, and it’s easy to see why. Fresh produce, perfect cheeses, and handmade pastas are available just about everywhere you look. And then there’s the meat. Oh, the meat.
Food markets in Bologna, Italy, are utterly enticing. The local products are carefully grown, hand-crafted based on centuries of tradition, and passionately delivered to customers when they’re at their peak. A walk through the Bologna markets is a party for all the senses…but mostly for the taste buds. Here’s a look at the four markets we visited in Bologna.
Just off Piazza Maggiore in the heart of the old city is the Quadrilatero market. This bustling area has been home to all types of merchants since Roman times. The streets of the Quadrilatero reflect the area’s heritage and are named for the shops that used line the streets – Via Pescherie Vecchie housed the fishmongers while Via degli Orefici was home to the goldsmiths and jewelers and Via Drapperie belonged to the upholsterers.
Today, the narrow streets of the Quadrilatero are packed with all the things that make Bologna such an amazing food destination. There are wine shops, cafes, and specialty food stores selling all types of cured meats, cheeses, pastas, and local delicacies. Throughout the day, food stalls sell the best fruits and vegetables you’ll find pretty much anywhere.
Like many places in Italy, the market opens in the morning but closes mid-afternoon. In the evening, everything comes alive again when the stalls reopen. As shoppers arrive in search of dinner ingredients and friends meet for aperitivo (the glorious Italian happy hour) at the cafes that line the streets, you can truly feel the lively spirit of Bologna.
We stayed only a couple of blocks away and loved wandering through the colorful stalls and people watching. The Quadrilatero food market is worth a visit even if you’re not hungry, but with the temptations of Bologna, that’s probably unlikely.
Mercato di Mezzo
Our love of European food halls knows no bounds. From the Market Hall in Rotterdam to Torvehallerne in Copenhagen, we always try to prioritize visiting these dens of gluttony when we travel. And Bologna’s Mercato di Mezzo was at the top of our list for our trip to Emilia-Romagna. In a lot of ways, this Bologna market echoes the best of what’s available in the Quadrilatero, just in a more compact space.
The city’s first indoor market, Mercato di Mezzo originally opened in the three-story building in the 1870s. Just before the outbreak of World War II, the historic market closed its doors temporarily before partially reopening in 1946. The renovated space reopened in its current incarnation in spring 2014.
The idea behind Mercato di Mezzo is simple—bring together the best local sellers all in one place. The ground floor hosts a variety of stalls where you can get food made to order or a few prepared options (along with wine and beer, of course) to enjoy at the tables nearby. There is also a traditional pizzeria and an artisan beer pub, so there is way more than enough to choose from. Our favorite experience was pulling up to one of the outdoor tables on an early summer night with fresh pasta and a glass of the local white sparkling pignoletto wine.
Mercato di Mezzo is open seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. until midnight, although we found some of the merchants close earlier, depending on demand.
Mercato delle Erbe
About a 10-minute walk from Piazza Maggiore, Mercato delle Erbe offers a local alternative to the more touristy Quadrilatero and Mercato di Mezzo food markets. The indoor market occupies a space just set back from Via Ugo Bassi, which you would probably miss if you didn’t know if was there (I did). Once inside, though, there’s no mistaking the popularity of the place.
Entering from the main street, we immediately found ourselves in a sea of fruit and vegetable stalls similar to what we’ve experienced in the indoor markets in Provence, France. As you would expect in Italy, the stalls boast some of the freshest fruits and vegetables around since so many of the products sold here are grown locally. As we continued exploring to the further reaches of the food market, we found pasta, cheeses, cured and fresh meats, and other Bolognese and Italian specialties. One piece of advice: don’t try to do any shopping on an empty stomach. It’s torture.
During the evening, part of Mercato delle Erbe becomes a series of food court spots for aperitivo or a heartier dinner. Everything from pizza to seafood is available. Check the hours before you head to the food market as it is generally open in the early morning and early evening and is closed Sundays, although the schedule seems to vary.
Mercato della Terra
Even further off the tourist track is Bologna’s Slow Food market, Mercato della Terra. On Saturday mornings (or Monday evenings during the summer), the courtyard of Cinema Lumière comes alive with dozens of farmers, winemakers, and brewers selling seasonal products from within about 25 miles of Bologna. Each stall has a sign explaining the origin of the products and the ways they were made or grown consistent with the Slow Food movement.
A 25-minute walk from the city center found us in the heart of this charming Bologna market on an otherwise quiet Monday night. But Mercato della Terra was full of lively music and friends gathering for a bite to eat from one (or more) of the vendors. As couples and groups met to enjoy a bottle of wine or fresh fish from the extremely popular seafood stand, we felt like we were likely the only tourists in attendance. And that is absolutely awesome.
The Mercato della Terra food market takes place every Saturday morning from 9am to 2pm. From May through August, the market is also open Monday evenings from 5:30-11:00pm.