What to eat in Parma - Food Integrity Parma 2017
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What to eat in Parma

Undoubtedly, cuisine is the main reason for the town’s fame abroad; in Parma and Emilia Romagna, the economy has been strongly related to agro-food industry and food tourism for many years. Therefore, foodstuffs are generally regarded with great attention: they are a frequent topic of conversation, not only among chefs and restaurant owners; people like to exchange recipes and cooking advice, and argue about their favourite dishes and restaurants. One may jokingly suggest that Parmesan people are actually obsessed with food; and they would simply answer that they have good reasons to be: famous specialities such as ham and Parmigiano cheese and other local delicacies, tasty and sometimes quite peculiar. A lot of specialities are there to be discovered!


The town is full of restaurants, diners, traditional grocery shops and bakeries where you can find all kinds of local delicacies. If you are interested in some food shopping, the central streets are the place to be: especially Via Farini, Via D’Azeglio, Via Repubblica and the alleys.

A traditional meal in town

In general, Emilian cuisine is considered to be rich, flavourful and prone to slightly fattening ingredients such as butter, cream cheeses, pork and filled pasta; and that is perfectly true. In the region, people tend to regard at pleasure as the main purpose of food, and although many are growing increasingly enthusiastic about experimental and foreign cuisines, almost everyone is still proud and fond of the local traditions.

If you feel like exploring the taste of Parma, here are some examples of the most popular delicacies.


Appetizers should just enhance appetite. Appetizers in Emilia, anyway, are generally so rich and nourishing that replacing a whole meal with them is not unusual. Cured pork, fried wheat dough, ripened cheese and sometimes sauces are the main ingredients of a traditional appetizer row.


Cold cuts:
A big common plate full of cold cuts is usually the main attraction of a Parmesan antipasto misto: usually there is a wide range of choices. Some cuts rarely miss the entrée. Cold cuts are often served as a side dish, as well.


  • Salame di Felino (PGI)
    Despite the common joke about the name of the town in which it is produced (Felino, which also means “feline” in Italian), this ripened sausage is entirely made of minced pork meat, plus salt and black pepper grains. The texture changes in the ripening process (long-ripened salami are harder and thicker).


  • Prosciutto crudo di Parma (DPO) and culatello
    Two kinds of raw, ripened pork ham. Culatello consists mostly in lean meat, while prosciutto includes more than a layer of fat (which is easy and perfectly acceptable to remove). Also, culatello is produced in the western lowlands of the province, while Prosciutto comes from the hills: climate conditions such as temperatures and humidity play a major role into their ripening processes, bringing differences between the flavours.


  • Spalla cotta
    A boiled, slightly spiced cut of pork shoulder. Unlike other cured meats, it is often served warm. Spalla cotta is nourishing, rich in taste and fat layers. It is normally cut into thick slices.


  • Cicciolata
    Probably the most peculiar cold cut. In fact, it is made of chopped spare parts of a recently slaughtered pig’s head, fried and boiled in water with herbs and spices (mostly pepper and laurel leaves, but sometimes even cinnamon and cloves). It has to be said, cicciolata may not be the first food a dietitian would recommend, but its soft, surprisingly delicate taste is certainly worth a try. It is usually served in thin, square slices or little cubes.


Torta fritta
Cold cuts are often served with bits of torta fritta: salty wheat dough, deep fried into oil (or sometimes pig fat). The frying process gives it the typical fluffy texture and golden colour.


Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
The main highlight of the local cuisine (ripened cheese, made out of nothing but cow milk and salt) shows up a lot when you have a meal in Parma: not only served in bites as an appetizer, but also mixed into stuffing, grated and sprinkled on almost every pasta dish that doesn’t include fish, etc.



Filled pasta:


  • Anolini in brodo
    Despite being considered a typically festive dish (traditionally consumed for Christmas), many restaurants serve anolini any time of the year, especially in winter and spring. They consist in bits of egg-pasta floating into meat broth and filled with a soft mixture of Parmigiano, bread crumbs and minced boiled beef.


  • Tortelli
    Unlike anolini, they don’t go with broth: they are usually seasoned with butter sauce and Parmigiano. They are also bigger and square (they look like tiny pillows). The filling can change: there are many possibilities. The most common and appreciated ones, anyhow, are erbetta (minced green beets or spinach and soft curd cheese), sweet pumpkin or mashed potatoes (potatoes-filled tortelli are often covered in mushroom sauce).


Other pasta highlights:


  • Emilian Lasagne
    One of the most famous Emilian dishes in Italy and overseas: it does not really require any introduction. In Parma, it is possible to taste the most traditional version of it: layers of baked green pasta, white sauce and ragu (minced boiled meat with tomato sauce, vegetables and wine, also appreciated as a pasta sauce).


  • Tagliatelle and mushrooms
    The mountains on the west side of the province are renown for the excellent wild mushrooms growing in their woods. That is why so many restaurants in town serve mushroom sauce, especially on tagliatelle and mashed potatoes tortelli.



Boiled beef and chicken (Bollito misto)
They are usually served after anolini: they are nothing but the same meat cuts used to make broth, which have become soft and delicate in flavour. Boiled meat goes well with mostarda di frutta, a strongly spicy condiment made out of candied fruit and mustard flavoured syrup. Just as anolini, bollito misto is a typical winter dish.


Punta al forno
A nourishing, rich and aromatic dish: it consists in roasted calf meat filled with bread crumbs, eggs and Parmigiano cheese seasoned with rosemary, garlic, olive oil and a hint of red wine. It is served warm, with roasted potatoes as a side dish.


La Vecchia
It’s a spicy second dish that consist in sautéed potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers and minced horse meat (see: curiosities). The seasoning includes garlic, parsley and pepper. Its name literally means “the old woman”, but both the reason for it and the origin of the recipe remain a mystery, although La Vecchia is considered to be a basic of popular cuisine in town.




Duchess’ cake
It’s a rich dessert, born in the years of the Habsburg domination and known for being Duchess Maria Luigia’s favourite one. Clearly inspired by Austrian pastries, the cake is made of layers of hazelnut dough, vanilla flavoured custard, zabaione and chocolate. The traditional decoration includes powdered sugar, hazelnut crumbs and candied cherries.


Almost every village in the province has its own kind of recipe for this stuffed cake, so it is hard to describe it properly. The main ingredients of the filling, anyhow, are trail mix (including pine nuts), raisins, candied fruit, candied citrus rinds, nutmeg, cinnamon and white wine. Spongata is the perfect dessert for those who love strong contrasts between different flavours: once bitten, the mild shortcrust on the outside reveals the secret of a rich, spicy stuffing.


Tortelli dolci
In Parma, even dessert is about tortelli. In fact, these stuffed pastries look like a bigger, sweet version of the renown main course. They are made out of shortcrust and filled with jam (mostly apricot or black plum). Not being a typical restaurant dessert, tortelli dolci can be bought and tasted in almost every bakery shop in town, as a cheap and convenient snack for breakfast or tea break.


This is quite a peculiar dessert. It is soft, a bit spongy: at the first bite, you may be unable to tell if you can call it a cake or a pudding. It is made of chestnut flour baked with milk, eggs and sugar. There’s no need to say that the versions of it are almost countless: as usual, people argue a lot about the correct way to cook it. Therefore, when it comes to pattona, you can expect a risen, soft dough as well as a thin slice of cake with a brown crust on the surface, with or without pine nuts. Pattona is easier to find in autumn, but many shops and diners have it for the whole year, since they keep chestnut flour.



A slightly sour, still red wine that has been produced in the province for centuries. It is considered particularly suitable for pork and stuffed pasta dishes;  it is even used to spice up some meats and desserts.


A red, sparkling wine that comes from the province’s lowlands. Its flavour is quite fresh and delicate: it perfectly matches salty cold cuts and cured meats (especially warm spalla cotta).


Many varieties of this white wine are produced in Italy, and Parma has its own. It can be sour or sweet; in both cases, it usually goes well with cured meats and torta fritta.  



How should a special meal end? As in many other areas of Italy, in Parma we like to have a coffee and a small glass of liquor. Some local alcoholic drinks are really worth a try. In fact, brewing infused spirits at home is quite a solid tradition in Parma. Even in restaurants, it is not uncommon to be offered house special liquors.


An aged liquor made by infusing unripe nuts and cloves into alcohol. The result is a dark-coloured, slightly sour spirit that is believed to help the digestive process.


Bergnolino (or Bargnolino)
Dark and aromatic, made out of tiny blackthorn berries, usually hand-picked, then left infusing into alcohol with lemon, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. It is probably the most common digestive liquor in the whole province.


Liquor of Maria Luisa
The main ingredient is lemon verbena, an herb whose Latin name (Aloisia citrodora) was given in honour of the noblewoman Maria Luisa of Parma. Along with mint, lemon slices and basil, lemon verbena makes it one of the most pleasant and aromatic spirits one can taste in town.


Behind the “cheese and ham” façade, Parma holds some food habits that may appear quite weird to foreigners’ eyes. Let’s take a look at them.


Horse sandwiches
Parma is one of the few places in the world where eating horse meat is quite normal. In fact, horse meat is a tradition: many recipes include it (La vecchia, for instance) and people are even used to eat it raw, seasoned with salt and oil. Anyway, hotels and restaurants rarely serve it. Furthermore, horse meat in Parma is never cooked together with other kinds of meat, so it is almost impossible to eat it by accident. But if you happen to be curious, you can just visit one of the many equine butchery shops in town and come out with a little paper packet filled with red, raw minced horse meat; many diners also serve cooked horsemeat sandwiches, especially in the centre.


Fried frog legs
A summer delicacy of the lowlands. they may seem disturbing at a first sight, but they have a delicate, bittersweet flavour that makes them really easy to appreciate. They are quite difficult to find in restaurants, anyhow.


Pig fat fried in pig fat
The word Ciccioli can be roughly translated as “Fatties”, and it perfectly explains what this salty snack is all about: crunchy bits of solid pig fat, fried in liquid pig fat. They are often served as an appetizer, or shattered and sprinkled upon flatbread to enhance the taste. Just as cicciolata and other greasy cured meats, they obviously have to be consumed in small amounts, in order to enjoy the flavour and protect cardiovascular health…