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"Where can I try traditional food in Bologna?" Is a question that, as a Bolognese, I hear repeatedly. And my first answer is always just one: at Al Cambio.
Not that there aren't other restaurants in the city that offer an excellent version of traditional recipes, it's just that Al Cambio takes it up an extra gear.
The environment is of a sober elegance, clearly different from the stereotype of the rustic and noisy tavern; the service, with a precise rhythm and warm kindness, is guided by the always impeccable Piero Pompili, and the kitchen respects tradition while adding some creative flair.
Here are five dishes from the Al Cambio restaurant to discover traditional Bolognese cuisine.
1. Caramelised Onion "Crostatina" on hot and cold Parmigiano Reggiano (pictured above)
A memorable starter for its effectiveness and, above all, for the extraordinary simplicity of its combination, enhanced by the temperature difference. On another note, equally brilliant is the panna cotta appetizer with squacquerone and pears. Not very Bolognese, at least in the tradiatioal sense of the term, but very fun non the less.
2. Tagliatelle alla bolognese and Traditional Lasagna
Last year Al Cambio took part in Alessandro Borghese's Quattro Ristoranti program (a TV program pitching similar restaurants against each other in a city or area) . He came second, but won the bonus for his knife-cut ragù, made as tradition should have it. Therefore, trying their tagliatelle or lasagna is essential. If you want to experiment, try the dry Passatello with white ragout, pine nuts and raisins on Parmigiano Reggiano cream.
3. Spaghetto with Friggione and Parmigiano Reggiano aged for 24 months
The Bolognese tradition offers little joy to vegetarian, but one joy it does offer is friggione, a long and very slow-fried tomato and onion dish, normally served as a side dish but here its suggested as a sauce to accompany spaghetti - a dry pasta, another heresy than the local cuisine - and dusted with abundant Parmigiano Reggiano ( not just any one, but that of Rosola di Zocca: the best).
4. Cotoletta Bolognese
The Bolognese cutlet is definitely different from its Italian "sisters". Fried in butter, it's then put in the oven with a ladleful of broth and covered with ham, cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano. The result? It is not crunchy, but with a moist and tasty breadcrumb. It's difficult to find such magnificent ones as those served at Al Cambio.
5. Zuppa Inglese
The common vulgate wants the Bolognese tradition not very rich in terms of desserts. At Al Cambio, don't miss the opportunity to rediscover traditional desserts, like the superb zuppa Inglese (layers of custard, alchermes-flavored sponge cake and chocolate).
For those who want to venture further afield, there's the cheesecake "bolognese" with squacquerone, saba (cooked grape must) and pears.
Also, check out the 10 best places to eat in Bologna.