I take trips to eat. I wrote an article for Eat Drink Travel about the myriad products from Parma, and it’s always got me thinking about why I went there in the first place. To pig out on parmesan and prosciutto.
Travelling to eat is burgeoning in popularity because of social media. I devour my Instagram feed, full of people eating at famous restaurants, taking cooking classes in Vietnam or eating hot dogs at Coney Island. While venturesome travellers have always delved into diverse culinary exploits, until the advent of superstar chefs like Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmerman, food was just part of something you experienced on a trip. Now it’s the catalyst. Culinary tourism is experiencing how food is produced, prepared or consumed in an authentic way — and hell yea it’s good to eat it too!
During the planning stages of our 2014 Eurotrip, I was adamant about visiting the Emilia-Romagna region, the birthplace parmigiano-reggiano, as well as balsamic vinegar, bolognese and tortellini.
Parmesan cheese is so commonplace in North American grocery stores it’s almost boring. But I wanted to see where it was first created, to understand this simple ingredient has infiltrated the stainless steel doors of every fridge in the modern world. Stationed in Bologna, we took several day trips to surrounding communities housing the holiest of ingredients in Italian cooking.
Here is our day in Parma
Parma is an hour train ride from Bologna, the epicentre of all things delectable in the Emilia-Romagna region. It cost us €8 per person. We took a late-morning train, arriving in time to have lunch at Trattoria del Tribunale, a spot I’d read about as the place to have an authentic Parma culinary experience. Keep in mind, you can absolutely go to Parma without having done a stitch research and stumble upon mouthwatering prosciutto hanging from the rafters, so I’ll make it easy for you. Eat the following quintessentials while in Parma: parmigiano-reggiano, prosciutto di parma and tortelli d’erbette.
Upon entering Trattoria del Tribunale, we passed through the deli to the dining room where we were seated by a well-dressed and polite waiter.
The dining room is old-school, with large wooden rafters, dusty tufted banquet seating and stucco walls plastered with black and white photographs of famous patrons. Classic. We started with a bottle of Lambrusco. This fizzy red wine pairs with everything and is ubiquitous in the region. We drank a lot during our time in Emilia-Romagna.
Ten seconds after we ordered the prosciutto di parma (€7.50), the meat slicer was revving it’s engine. Before we knew it, a plate of paper-thin prosciutto was laid before us.
And then a plate of parmiginao-reggiano (€5) was scooped out of a giant wheel. The cheese had a flavour and texture we’d never experienced before. Sharp, rich, crumbly. I had always used it as garnish, shaved or grated, but never on its own. Game changer.
We were in antipasto heaven.
And then we ate pasta, obviously.
Stuffed pastas are synonymous with Parma, so Adam chose a classic tortelli d’erbette (€7.50). Filled with herbs, spinach, ricotta and parm, the green pigments from the leafy greens permeated the pasta and the taste.
I went with the tagliatelle al ragu — a traditional bolognese. Devoured.
I was so excited about the meal (and buzzed from the Lambrusco), we took a bunch of photos outside. This included some of me hugging the front door, but you don’t need to see that.
This gem is tricky to find. It’s set snugly on a side street not far from the main square. Look for this teeny tiny sign and ignore the graffiti to find your way.
We spent a few more hours wandering around this city of 180,000 well-fed people, visiting the square and Parma Cathedral. But we were so satisfied by our giant, cheap lunch, we were happy to go back for a nap. Culinary tourism at it’s most gratifying.