A little over a half an hour by train from Bologna, Modena is a small Italian city that we all know for the delicious vinegar it produces. Besides this essential product that we top our salads with and dunk our bread in, you’ll find here the home of the prancing stallion–Ferrari. If Ferrari isn’t enough super car for you Maserati and Laborghini are located not far away. You’ll also find Osteria Francescana–named the third best restaurant in the world. Unfortunately, like most things in Italy, it is closed during most of August.
Jesse: You’d think that in the birthplace of balsamic vinegar there’d be shops selling the stuff on every corner. That there’d be bottles from any producer you wanted, and of every size, shape, and vintage. Where were the sellers hounding us to check out their products like the guys who sell knock-off Gucci bags in Florence? Modena was definitely not the touristy, shameless promoter of balsamic that I thought it was going to be.
Julian: Unlike in Florence, in Modena they’re actually producing. It’s a working town, rather than a town that sustains itself on its history through tourism. And they know that they should really be exporting the good stuff they make, rather than keeping it in shops in town. So, counter-intuitively, we saw better balsamic vinegar of Modena in Florence than we did in Modena. But so it goes.
Jesse: It was refreshing to experience a town that wasn’t immediately trying to sell us something when we stepped off the train. But wandering through Modena, we had a very similar experience to the one we had in Parma. It had to do with a concept that is very foreign to Americans: siesta (not the right language, but translate that accordingly). When a city functionally shuts down between 1pm/2pm and 5pm/6pm, aimlessly wandering is a bad technique for discovering cool local vendors and restaurants. Instead, you discover the local parks. You discover that there’s a shit ton of turtles living in the ponds at these local parks, you discover that pigeons have cute little mating rituals, and that Italians are good at giving their children fun things to do- like mini go-cart tracks in the park (not to mention giant trampoline play areas). However, for the brief time before siesta, we did get to experience Modena’s main local market.
Julian: And the town’s market was pretty sweet. Through our time walking through all of Modena, we didn’t run across a single supermarket. Instead, the locals just use the green market for their daily foods. Ham, salami, chickens, rabbits, fish, and all kinds of produce from local farmers; in the States people make a big deal about this stuff. And pay a lot of money for it. But in towns like Modena, it is just how everyone lives. It’s not elitist to shop at these markets. And it doesn’t make you a better person to shop there, either. It’s just a given. After walking through the market, we stopped in at Bar Schiavoni, a sandwich counter right outside of the market. Here, they do everything to order–slice the bread, cut the prosciutto, make the dressing, etc. After eating at so many places in Europe that just serve shitty pre-made food, this level of personalization was really appreciated. It was one of those places I could eat at every day for years and never get sick of.
Jesse: After we had eaten out sandwiches, we did something we hadn’t done in a while. We just bought a bunch of different local fruit, and munched on them as we walked–or rather, wandered aimlessly. When you eat out every meal: breakfast, lunch, and dinner (I will admit we’ve had quite a few gelato meals as well- I think, just for the sake of research, I tried 3 different gelaterrias in one day), eating a fresh plum that juices down your chin and leaves a stickiness on your fingers that you don’t want to lick off for fear of what else your hands have touched that day—that’s refreshing. Bread, meat, fat…that had been our diet for quite a while. 2 euros and 6 pieces of fruit later, we were feeling pretty good.
Julian: I’m not used to light snacks like that. So by 8pm (which was the time that the restaurant we wanted to go to opened) I was seriously hangry. Luckily, though, it was a good meal. The place is called Osteria Stallo del Pomodoro, located outside of the center of Modena. We were some of the only customers in the restaurant, and our waitress was no good, so our expectations were pretty low. But it turned out to be our best meal in the Emilia Romagna region. Especially pleasing was the fact that we finally got some good bolognese. Up until this meal the bolognese we’ve had in and around Bologna has sucked. Honestly. But this was good–a nice potato tortelli with a simple but deep ragu, fresh parm, and a good EVO. Served HOT. That was missing from our time around here up until this meal. Once we got that at Osteria Stallo del Pomodoro, I was happy.
it’s so hot
Jesse: Me too. We left Modena content, although our feet were sore. Riding back to Bologna, it felt good to know it was our last night there. In some ways I feel like our feet learned more about the Emilia Romagna region than our mouths, but it was a good learning experience regardless. Ah, and we totally forgot to mention that we went to the Ferrari museum. I’m not a car guy, so I wouldn’t be able to do it justice, and Julian is sleeping, so i’ll leave it at: Italians are good at making fast cars.
good tortelli Bolognese!