Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Milan 2012: Day 11

The weather was wet and chilly, very different from our first week in Milan when it was sunny and cool. We had planned to leave for Bologna early in the morning, but as usual, by the time we checked out, arranged to have our big bags with the hotel, checked our email, and had lunch, it was about 1:30 pm, way past our schedule.

Bar Trattoria Madonnina is just across the street from the office of BB Hotels (also known as Diffuso Navigli Apartments; their rate is cheapest on booking.com) and we were told the food is good but we never had time to check the place out until then.

Yi had the osso buco with polenta. It was good I think. 11 euros.

We had to finish all the food in our fridge for breakfast since we were checking out and I wanted a light lunch. However, this turned out to be the worst thing I ate in Milan. This tortellini in brodo, 6 euros, had the aroma of kibble, dry dog food pellets. Ew ew ew! I should've waited until we got to Bologna, where tortellini originated from.

That's all I saw of Parma. I was told there's nothing much there except food manufacturing factories but I think if I had time, I'd like to spend a day there just eating parma ham.

Bologna is only 200 km from Milan but it took about 3 hours (and 15 euros each) because the train stopped at every station on the way. We arrived at 4:20 pm in a wet and cold Bologna but thankfully, our hotel, the 4 Viale Masini Design Hotel which we had booked on booking.com, was just 5 minutes' walk away. Unlike most hotels located next to train stations, the Design Hotel was clean, modern, comfortable, the friendly staff spoke excellent English, and at 52 euros per night for a twin room, I highly recommend this hotel.

Bologna is small, and the city center from our hotel was only 15 mintues' walk away. We set off straightaway to explore the city but it was rather uncomfortable because of the rain and I was wearing a pair of fabric flats because that was the most comfortable pair of shoes I had. My shoes were wet within minutes and in the cold weather, all I really wanted was to go back to the hotel and sleep. But since we only had a day in Bologna, we had to max our time, frozen toes or not.

The minute we got to the famous Mercato di Mezzo, an area of shopping streets, I fell in love with Bologna! I had wanted to visit Bologna myself when Yi was teaching but she asked me to wait for her because she loves Bologna and wanted to show me the city.






 I went crazy in this shop and bought pecorino, parmesan, speck, lardo and salami which weighed a couple of kilos. The paper bags got wet from the rain and it was a struggle walking around so we gave up shopping. Since we had no idea where to go for dinner, we decided on Trattoria Dal Biassanot (Via Piella, 16, 40126), recommended by our hotel staff. We hopped into a taxi somewhere in Mercato di Mezzo and it took less than a minute to get us to the restaurant. I thought it was rather bad of the driver not to tell us that the restaurant was just around the corner.

The waiter asked if we had reservations and lucky for us, we could have a table provided we leave by 8 pm. That would give us one hour, which was fine for us.



The mixed plate of 5 different kinds of cured pork, 5 euros, was delicious.  

We were undecided between the roast veal with wild mushrooms and balsamic vinegar or the shank of pork with wild mushrooms. The waiter recommended the pork shank which was very tasty (the mushrooms were awesome) but the meat was a little bit too tough, unfortunately. Two guys seated next to us (tables are only a feet apart in Europe, something I find very uncomfortable), who spoke in a language we couldn't place, were oohing and ahhing over their roast veal with wild mushrooms, which made us wished we could have another night in Bologna just to eat that. They called the waiter over and reserved a table for dinner the next day, the last day for them in Bologna, they said. Wow, two nights in the same restaurant in a city famous for food and excellent restaurants!

Tagliatelli al ragu (ragu is Bolognese sauce to the rest of the world) is one of Bologna's most famous and iconic dishes and although I know authentic ragu sauce is not tomatoey, I wished there was just a bit of tomato sauce in it because the sauce was dry. It also had very little meat or flavor. The food was not bad, but tough pork shank, dry ragu sauce--was it bad choice on our part or was this place over-rated? 

Choosing the dessert was very hard because I wanted to try everything but my daughter warned me that she won't be eating any. I teetered between the gelato di crema con aceto balsamico, the panna cotta and the tiramisu. I have never had gelato with balsamic vinegar, but I wanted to try panna cotta in Italy, and I wanted another taste of tiramisu, just to find out if there's always more mascarpone cheese to savaordi (sponge/lady fingers).

Love Tiramisu never fails.

The panna cotta reminded me of what the Italian chef whom I learnt the dessert from had said: the caramel sauce must be slightly burnt to give a slight bitter taste. I loved this, and was glad I ordered it because now I know how the caramel sauce should be.

But then, our neighbor (yes, the one who ooohed at his veal) had the gelato with balsamic vinegar. I was so envious when he oohed again (an expressive man, hard to find), I think I looked like how Mr Bean would--upset and envious--when he finds himself in the same situation as me. Notice the shape of the bottle of the balsamic vinegar--a sign that it is expensive, aged vinegar of at least 12 years old.

On the way out, I took a photo of the panna cotta to remind myself that I don't always have to serve the dessert molded into individual portions or in little glasses.

Tiramisu is like a trifle, usually assembled in a glass dish.


In Italy, balsamic vinegar is not mixed with olive oil and eaten with bread, at least not in the Milan-Bologna region. Yi found this out during her previous trip to Milan when her Italian acquaintances reacted strongly against her pouring EVOO and balsamic vinegar into a bowl and dipping her bread in it. I made it a point to ask every Italian I met on this trip if eating bread with EVOO and balsamic vinegar is authentic and the unanimous answer is NO. It's just so funny that the rest of the world does that, thinking that it is very Italian. We were told that balsamic vinegar, especially the aged ones that come in a big bottom bottle (younger and cheaper balsamic vinegar comes in tall long bottles) and cost over 100 euros per small bottle, is usually eaten with fruits such as strawberries (as our friends Janet and Trevor had taught us just before we left for this trip),   gelato/Italian ice cream, parmesan reggiano and salads. Apparently, Italians do not make a pre-mixed oil and balsamic vinegar dressing to dress their salads; only non-Italians do this! A couple of drops of aged balsamic vinegar is added to salads to flavor but never as a dressing, because the flavor of aged balsamic vinegar is deep and because it is expensive. On every restaurant table in Italy, there will be a rack holding bottles of balsamic vinegar and EVOO and these are drizzled onto the salad yourself. They are definitely not for dipping your bread in. That said, I suppose you can eat your bread with EVOO and balsamic vinegar if that's what you like, just as how some westerners eat fried rice with tomato ketchup or soy sauce. Not authentic, but you can always break the rules.


henryii said...

Mr bean comment made me laugh...i too could visilize Mr Bean envious of an order he missed out on.
always a pleasure reading your blog.
thanks again for sharing and teaching us of other cultures.

Blur Ting said...

LOL, yes, the Mr Bean look on your face! Italian men can be so expressive, they ooh and aah over everything they eat. They can certainly make a person feel so appreciated.

terri@adailyobsession said...

henryii: tt's why i love to travel; get to learn about the wonderful diversity in this world! have u ever seen the clip The Known Universe? check it out on Youtube. It's unsettling yet wonderful at same time. i've always told my family there's other life somewhere in the universe! we cant be the only ones!

blurting: lol, the guys were northern europeans! yes, i agree, europeans have this refineness. I just love their manners!

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