Explore the Vibrant Food Markets of Emilia Romagna: Your Ultimate Guide to Discovering the Best Local Products and Delicacies

By: Sarah Lane / Last updated: November 14, 2023

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

The culinary expertise and delicious recipes of Emilia Romagna are famed the world over, but where do the region’s chefs go to source the very best ingredients? The answer is a simple, timeless one: their local fresh produce market. So join them, along with home cooks and housewives, to discover the many colorful specialties each season has to offer and dig deeper into the real food of the region.

Adriatic Coast

Rimini fish market

In addition to enjoying the priceless spectacle of dawn over the sea, early risers staying on Emilia Romagna’s Adriatic coast can stroll along the fishermen’s quays to see them sell the best of the day’s catch straight off the boat. In Rimini’s historical center, the attractive 18th-century fish market building is surrounded by some of the city’s most popular bars and restaurants, and the marble slabs of the former market are now taken over each evening by reveling locals, who use them as a handy place to put their glass down. Further north on the coast at Comacchio, a charming place laced with canals hosting a celebrated eel festival each autumn, also has a decorative fish market structure dating from the 17th century.

Ravenna

Ravenna’s Mercato Coperto stands on the site of a historic fish market that first opened as a more general market selling a full range of food in 1922. As restructuring work over the years had hidden the beauty and style of the original building, a careful and faithful renovation began in 2017, and the market reopened two years later. It’s run by Molino Spadoni, whose core business is a 100-year-old flour mill. Leonardo Spadoni himself selected furnishings that include eye-catching antiques such as a lagoon fishing boat, 19th-century chandeliers, and an art déco bar. The firm is also behind rediscovering the local Mora Romagnola pig, and specialty pork products make a great buy at the market.

In line with trends throughout Europe and beyond, the markets of Emilia Romagna are no longer just a place to shop – many come to eat fresh and flavorsome dishes and indulge in a spot of people-watching. As a result, the stools, booths, restaurants, and wine bars of the market offer a perfect perch for getting an insight into the city’s fascinating comings and goings of everyday life.

Modena

One colorful market with some good options for a popular lunchtime stop is Mercati Albinelli in central Modena. Among other dishes, you can tuck into tortellini at Antica Bottega, served traditionally with a bit of Lambrusco wine poured into the broth. This is also an ideal place to buy fresh pasta to take away, together with typical salamis and sausages, including the locals’ favorite pork product: cotechino and zampone, the pig’s trotter specialty traditionally served on new year’s Eve. In addition, there are plenty of fresh vegetable and fruit stalls, and a charming statue of a lady carrying fruit stands at the heart of the elegant market, dating from 1931. While here, among other top local chefs, you might find yourself shopping side-by-side with Massimo Bottura, whose triple-Michelin-starred restaurant is close by.

Parma

Along with the covered markets, every city has a farmers’ market day when local producers come into town and set up their stalls overflowing with farm-fresh produce, fragrant bakery goods, and enticing cheeses. In Parma, Mercatiamo is held in central Piazzale San Bartolomeo every Tuesday morning and at other locations a couple of other days a week.

Bologna

Mercato delle Erbe
Mercato delle Erbe

Bologna has more than its fair share of colorful food markets, and the center’s two historic daily markets are a real draw. Mercato delle Erbe is the choice of the locals. It’s been here since 1910 when the building – a former monastery, later transformed into an army barracks under Napoleon – was restructured, and produce stalls were moved in from nearby Piazza San Francesco. Before that, the same stalls had been moved from Piazza Nettuno, where they stood around the landmark Neptune fountain – you can still see the old measures carved into the wall of Palazzo d’Accursio and one of the freshwater fountains installed for market use. One shop not to be missed at Mercato delle Erbe is Formaggeria Barbieri, a historic family-run cheese store specializing in Parmigiano Reggiano from mountain producers and stocking exquisite cheeses from all over Italy and beyond. You can even book a tasting through the website. A few stalls along, the best piadina (local specialty flatbread) in town is served at Sfarinà, a tiny place run by brothers Vincenzo and Giacomo Lo Stuto, who select only the best ingredients and offer enticing traditional and seasonal fillings. Of the market’s several other eateries, Banco 32 is one for fish lovers. It’s opposite the seafood counter, and a new lunch menu is prepared each day with the day’s freshest fish. In Via Belvedere, just behind the market, among the wine bars that come to life each evening, the long-standing Le Sfogline pasta shop is the place to pick up pre-ordered tortellini or other pasta to cook at your apartment.

Also operated by the producers, Bologna’s weekly Saturday morning (Monday evenings in summer) Mercato Ritrovato has a real community feel. Located within central Bologna’s Manifattura delle Arti district, the market hosts events, lessons, and cooking or crafts workshops such as traditional fabric printing, pasta making, or baking at the community oven. In addition, wines from the Colli Bolognesi hills, southwest of the city, are on sale and served to be enjoyed here, as is locally produced craft beer, organic meats and cheeses, seafood, baked goods, and more.

A short stroll away, the Quadrilatero is a grid of narrow streets just off Piazza Maggiore, the city’s main piazza. Since medieval times, the area has been home to shops and stalls selling foodstuffs. The roads, named after what was traditionally sold there, include Drapperie (drapes), Orefici (goldsmiths), and Clavature (locksmiths) as well as Pescherie Vecchie (old fishmongers), the most picturesque of the streets lined with attractive produce stalls, and Ranocchi (frogs) where the city’s most ancient wine bar, Osteria del Sole stands. The bar, here since 1465, serves only wine, but you are welcome to bring your food. Finally, stock up at the market’s best deli, Simoni, where you can buy slices of traditional mortadella and other items they make themselves. Just around the corner, the Atti family has been selling their own baked goods at Paolo Atti since 1868. Try crescente (a kind of focaccia with tiny pieces of ham in the dough), streghe (Bologna’s traditional crackers), raviole (a sweet pastry filled with quince jam called mostarda), and torta di riso – one of over 30 traditional recipes to be registered at the city’s Chamber of Commerce. Also within the Quadrilatero area, Mercato di Mezzo is a covered market converted into a food hall serving delicious bites, including fried tortellini to eat as you stroll. Another store to visit here at the Quadrilatero is Giusti, where you can try and buy authentic traditional balsamic vinegar made by Modena’s oldest producer since 1605.

The indoor Mercato di Porta Galliera is Bologna’s newest farmers’ market. Although it only began in late 2022, it’s already characterized by a genuine atmosphere thanks to the producers who themselves staff the stalls each Saturday and Sunday morning, and Wednesday. As you stroll around the stalls, you’ll be offered tasters of cheese, charcuterie, balsamic vinegar, bakery specialties, wine, and more!

Whether you plan to buy, taste, or discover Emilia Romagna’s specialty produce or even indulge in a delicious snack or meal, the many colorful food markets are the place to go. Be prepared for a unique and authentic full immersion experience into the region’s celebrated food culture, full of color, flavor, and aroma.

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Sarah Lane

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