Last year, BBC published an article about Bologna and Emilia-Romagna titled “Where vegetarianism is an exotic illness.” In it, author Dany Mitzman notes that in Bologna “pig is king” and “the local diet is about as Mediterranean as chicken tikka masala.” This is undoubtedly true. Bologna’s most beloved dishes are tagliatelle al ragù, tortellini in brodo, lasagna al forno, and an antipasto with prosciutto di Parma — all of which contain pork. Dany says that she’s not a huge fan of ricotta-filled tortelloni (another popular dish that happens to be vegetarian), and so she usually defaults to eating tagliatelle with mushrooms and a plate of grilled veggies when she dines in traditional restaurants in the region. As someone who eats mostly vegetarian, I completely empathize with Dany’s pain. I distinctly remember when a local proudly took me to one of their favorite lunch spots for affettati (mixed cold cuts) and appeared both disappointed and confused when I ordered a green salad instead.
Before moving to Bologna, I was living in Los Angeles and doing a yoga teacher training program, as part of which I experimented with eating vegan. I completed a 21-day vegan challenge just weeks before our departure. So when I first arrived in Bologna, it was bit of a shock to the system when I started bombarding my belly with eggy pasta such as tagliatelle al ragù, lard-filled piadine, tiramisù, and daily gelato; not to mention, I couldn’t find my usual almond milk at the corner grocer and didn’t know how to say “skim” yet, so I was drinking whole milk with my cereal in the mornings.
After the initial binge on all things Bolognese, I sought to return to my normal eating habits: that is, lighter fare and lots of vegetables, grains, and beans. I began searching for alternative eateries and health food stores. Lucky for me, Bologna’s a big enough city (and a progressive one at that) that there are plenty of vegetarians living here and a good number of vegetarian-friendly eateries and grocery stores. With the University of Bologna at the heart of the city, Bologna has a youthful spirit and a penchant for activism, and it’s home to many environmentalists and food reformists. Because of this there’s options for buying food for both the health conscious and the eco-minded. There’s vegetarian/vegan restaurants, sandwich shops, and catering options. There’s also a number of CSA-like groups for purchasing organic and fair-trade products and Farmers’ Markets, where you can buy direct from producers, almost every night of the week.
I admit, despite the available options, I still struggle with dining out and eating vegetarian in Bologna. On a regular basis, we cook at home. I do take advantage of the vegetarian spots in town when I go out for lunch with friends. But, for the most part, when we do eat out, it’s because we have visitors. As I’m sure you’d guess, our visitors don’t travel all the way to Italy to eat lentils or a tofu salad; and so, we usually take our guests to traditional Bolognese trattorie where ordering vegetarian can still be tricky.
For all you vegetarians out there, or people looking for a bite lighter than Bolognese… here is a list of my favorite vegetarian restaurants and grocers in Bologna:
My Top 3
Centro Natura via degli Albari, 4A – Tel. 051 223331 – Open Mon-Sat 12:00pm-3pm 7:15pm-10pm Sun 12:30pm-2:30pm
A vegetarian’s paradise, this restaurant is cafeteria-style with all vegetarian and vegan offerings. It’s located inside Centro Natura, a center that offers yoga and other fitness classes, massages and other wellness treatments, and a variety of workshops.
Zenzero via Fratelli Rosselli, 18 – Tel. 051.5877026 – Open Mon-Fri 12:30pm-2:30pm Tues-Sat 7:30pm-10:30pm Closed Sunday
This restaurant serves vegetarian and vegan dishes, but also has options for carnivores. They are passionate about using organic and seasonal produce and the menu changes daily.
Estravagario via Mascarella, 81H – Tel. 051 4210582 Open Mon-Fri 7:30am-4pm Sat 11am-3pm and Wed 7pm-10:30pm Fri-Sat 7:30pm-12am Closed Sunday
A warm and comfortable cafe which was founded on the principal that what we consume on a daily basis can change the world. All of their dishes use organic and fair-trade products and the menu is all-vegetarian.
Ca’ Pelletti via Altabella 15D – Tel. 051 266629 – Open Mon-Thu 8am-10pm Fri 8-11pm Sat 9am-11pm Sun 9am-10pm
A casual eatery with dishes from Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany offering a number of vegetarian options. I’m always happy to go here when I’m craving a veggie soup for lunch.
Alce Nero Berberé via Petroni 9c – Tel. 051-2759196 – Open Mon-Sat 12.30pm-2:30pm and 7pm-10:30pm Closed Sunday
Alce Nero was renovated this summer and reopened as a pizzeria. I haven’t been to the new restaurant yet, but am excited to try it and have heard good reviews. The pizza dough is said to be light and easily digestible, made using pasta madre (natural starter) and stone-ground flours including rye , spelt, and kamut. They also offer a selection of non-pizza dishes. Fare is vegetarian and carnivore-friendly. The original Berberé is located in Castel Maggiore.
Prima della Pioggia via de’ Falegnami, 14 – Tel. 051 271296 – Open Tues-Sat 12.30pm-3.30pm and 6pm-11:30pm Sunday 11.30am-4pm
A small bistro in Centro with light and seasonal fare. Its dishes are influenced by both traditional and international cuisine and are, above all, a breath of fresh air. The bright and modern space contrasts nicely with the surrounding medieval streets.
Fram Café via Rialto, 22 – Tel. 333 435 5545 Open Mon-Fri 8am–9pm Closed Sat-Sun
One of my favorite cafes in Bologna owned by a mother-daughter duo. It is such a cozy space, clearly decorated with love, with a mismatched collection of used tables and chairs. They offer a selection of vegetarian sandwiches including a veggie burger as well as salads, granola, and fresh smoothies.
Molino Bio via Augusto Murri 207 – Tel. 051 99 16 281 – Open Tues-Fri lunch & dinner Sat dinner Sun lunch Closed Monday
An organic restaurant at the site of an old mill (molino) a little ways outside Centro. There’s dishes for vegetarians, vegans, and carnivores. At lunch they offer dishes marked with 300/400/500 calories.
Cà Shin via Cavaioni, 1, 40136 – Tel. 051 589419, Open everyday for lunch and dinner, in the winter reservations are required on Tue and Wed for groups of 10 or more.
I admittedly haven’t eaten here yet, but it’s on my list. It’s a restaurant/space for workshops/theatre/organic shop which was started by a group of people including architects, entrepreneurs, doctors, and an art director. The renovated villa is surrounded by nature in Parco Cavaioni, 10 minutes outside Centro. Every Monday an all-vegetarian menu is offered.
Cento3cento Veg via Centotrecento 12/A – Tel. 3429819151 – Open Mon-Sat lunch & dinner Closed Sunday
Take-away window offering vegetarian sandwiches.
Paninoteca Il Diavolo al Pontelungo via Mascarella, 5/b Bologna, closed Sunday
Another panini take-away stand offering both vegetarian and carnivore-friendly sandwiches.
La Tua Piadina via Borgonuovo, 17 – Tel. 051 270959 – Open Mon-Fri 12pm-3:30pm and 6:30pm-10:30pm Sat 11:30am-6pm Sun 6:30pm-10:30pm – Second location at via del Pratello, 51
A piadina is a flat-bread sandwich typical in the Emilia-Romagna region. La tua piadina offers vegetarian toppings and a selection of piadne made without lard (senza strutto).
Piadineria Al Vecchio Mulino via Rialto, 13 – Tel. 051 220204
This piadineria also offers vegetarian toppings and piadine, including piadine made with organic flour (farro, kamut, corn, and wholewheat).
Babilonia via del Pratello, 17 – Tel. 051 296 0096 – Open Mon-Thu 6pm-3am Fri-Sat 6pm-5am Sun 6pm-3am
This take-away kebab joint serves a tasty falafel sandwich.
Cibo Sano via Nicolo dall’Arca 44/d/e – Tel. 051371381 – Mon-Fri 10am-2:30pm and 5pm-7:30pm
Organic & vegetarian food, both savory and sweet. There isn’t an option to eat at the store, but they offer take-away, delivery, and catering services.
Gelateria Stefino – via Petroni, 1c – Tel. 051 587 4331 Open Everyday 12:30–11:00 pm
Gelateria offering vegan gelato made with rice. There are a few non-vegan, milk-based flavors as well.
Natura Sì 3 locations: via Po 3, Via Montefiorino 2/d, and Viale Repubblica 23/II
Italy’s largest retailer of natural and organic foods. The Via Po location has an organic pizzeria and the Montefiorino location has an organic gelateria offering non-dairy flavors.
Campi Aperti Markets
My favorite place to shop is at the Campi Aperti organic Farmers’ Markets held at various locations throughout the city, each on a different night of the week. You can find organic produce, cheese, bread and usually ready-to-eat snacks like pizza and focaccia. I go to the Wednesday night market at Labas (via Orfeo 46, 5pm-8:30pm in the winter and 5:30pm-9pm in the summer) where a young couple cooks up and serves at least one hot, vegetarian dish every week (usually a soup and almost always using products you can find at the market).
Veggie Market via Marsala, 20/a – Tel. 348 793 2493 – Open Mon 3pm-7:30pm Tues-Sat 9:30am-1:30pm and 2:30pm-7:30pm Closed Sunday
A small shop right in Centro selling a variety of organic and vegan products.
Erboristerie (herb stores) will also often carry health food items