Gastronomically, Emilia-Romagna – especially my city, Modena – is one of the most influential places in the world. It’s the home of slow food, and the region is so rich and full of flavours.
The best stop in town for coffee is Mon Cafè. Alessandro, one of the owners, worked with me for more than six years and he opened the trendiest coffee place in the city. He is a perfectionist; he has thought about every detail to create a modern, cosy, stylish place. You should order a macchiatone – a double-shot espresso with a little more foam than a macchiato – and then head to San Biagio, a more traditional bakery, to try some of their amaretti biscuits. Mon Cafè, Corso Canalchiaro 128, Modena 41121 (+39059-223 257; mon-cafe.it). Antica Pasticceria San Biagio, Via Emilia Centro 77, Modena 41121 (+39059-217 284; pasticceriasanbiagio.it).
To really understand how important the culture of food is for Emilians, you need to visit the Mercato Albinelli in Modena on a Saturday morning. You’ll find every cut of Parmigiano and every type of ham and mozzarella. Two stalls bring fresh fish from the Adriatic, where they keep their own fishing boats. People eat salty cod frittelle – like fish and chips without the chips – while deciding what to buy. Mercato Albinelli, Via Luigi Albinelli 13, Modena 41121 (+39059-211 218; mercatoalbinelli.it).
For a late-morning snack, I’d suggest Da Panino, owned by Giuseppe Palmieri, my maître d’ at Osteria Francescana. You cannot leave without trying the prosciutto cotto with Gorgonzola, dried walnuts and mostarda – a sweet and spicy condiment made with candied fruit. This wonderful venue has given pride of place back to the sandwich, and it is an amazing thing to rebuild a simple food culture that’s disappearing. Da Panino, Rua Freda 21, Modena 41121 (+39059-875 4382; dapanino.it).
For a traditional Modenese lunch, nothing beats Trattoria Bianca. Giuseppe, the owner, brings out prosciutto and Parmigiano with fresh vegetables, steak tartare and pumpkin tortelloni, and for dessert I’ve had fried dough with a cherry compote. It’s not a light meal, but you can work it off walking around the city afterwards. The restaurant has tables in the garden, which reminds me of my mother’s: lots of colours, full of geraniums, very Emiliano. Trattoria Bianca, Via Giovanni Battista Spaccini 24, Modena 41122 (+39059-311 524; trattoriabianca.it).
As you head south from Modena, stop at the museum of balsamic vinegar – Museo del Balsamico – about 20km out of town. After the tour you should visit the shop and buy a bottle of mine; it’s called Villa Manodori. That’s not a joke. I am really into tradition and I care so much about my balsamic vinegar: it has a long finish with a lot of cherry, plums and toasted almonds. Museo del Balsamico Tradizionale Spilamberto, Via F Roncati 28, Spilamberto 41057 (+39059-781 614; museodelbalsamicotradizionale.org).
The best wine bar in town is Archer, with a beautiful setting near the Piazza Grande and Ghirlandina bell tower, which you can listen to while you are drinking. Marina, the owner, was the one who taught the Modenese how to drink 20 or so years ago. She’ll open your mind beyond the sparkling wines and introduce you to producers like Valentini and Soldera – natural wines that no one was talking about back then. Archer, Via Cesare Battisti 54, Modena 41121 (+39059-237 656).
For a nightcap, an absolute must is Ristretto. Gian, one of the maître d’s, is passionate about wine and has a good selection of Lambrusco. After service ends at Osteria Francescana around midnight, we all go there together and he usually wants us to taste something, so we let him surprise us. Ask him to do the same for you and he happily will. Ristretto, Vicolo Camillo Coccapani 5, Modena 41121 (+39059-839 6497).