Yesterday I went it Bologna for the day, which is a bit over an hour away on the fast train and a bit under two hours away on the regional train. I took the latter because it was one third of the price. Bologna is a beautiful city — one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe. It is home to the oldest university in the world, and, while there are no “superstar” basilicas or pieces of architecture that draw tourists like some other cities in Italy, Bologna is home to miles of beautiful arcades and twenty medieval defensive towers (two major ones in particular), some of which stand at very precarious angles. Unfortunately, the weather was not ideal yesterday, so my photos aren’t so great, but Bologna is certainly worth a visit, even just to walk around for the day as I did yesterday.
Ok, now onto the good stuff. Bologna is also home to the ubiquitous pasta sauce ragù alla bolognese. While much of the world does it, traditional bolognese ragù should not be paired with spaghetti; instead, tagliatelle pasta should be used. Also, many non-Italian recipes portray bolognese ragù as a tomato based sauce, but really the sauce is primarily meat, with just a small amount of tomato paste mixed in.
I arrived in Bologna at lunch time and immediately set off in search of an authentic looking restaurant. I found one in a little alleyway deep in the city. It was very crowded with what seemed to be all Italians. When I asked for a table for one, the young waiter gave me a funny look — I am not sure if it was because I was eating alone or because I was a foreigner. Anyway, after a very small confusion with my order, my tagliatelle al ragù alla bolognese arrived and it was exactly as I expected. Delicious.
This was not going to be a particularly cheap lunch on my budget — with the pasta, drink, and service/cover charge, it would have been somewhere around 23-25 USD. After I finished eating, I went to the counter to pay. That’s when the real magic happened. The owner of the restaurant, a friendly older man who was referred to in broken English by my waiter as the “master” spoke to me happily in Italian, which of course, I did not understand. The waiter standing nearby translated, saying “today, it is on the house.” As I thanked him profusely, the owner kissed my hand and bid me farewell. I am not sure exactly what prompted this generosity — probably a combination of the confusion with the order and the fact that I was there by myself. Regardless, who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch?