A Food Lover’s Weekend in… Parma
While there are many foodie destinations in this world, there are far fewer that are so deeply rooted in food culture that their name is better known as something to eat than somewhere to go. But don’t just stick to consuming its products via your local deli counter – the city that gives us Parma ham and Parmesan cheese has more than these two wonders up its sleeve.
Ham it up
Whether you’re coming via from the airport or the train station, arrive in time for dinner. Drop off your bags and head straight for priority numero uno: ham.
Make a beeline for the city’s picturesque historic centre, full of tall brick arches and grand squares. On a main street lined with restaurants and outdoor seating whatever the time of year, you’ll find Sorelle Picchi. Simple but sensational, it serves the classic dishes of Parma’s wider Emilia Romagna region, including stuffed pasta, gnocchi and lasagne. Frankly, though, it would be hard to desire anything more than a plate of Parma ham with piles of sweet gnocchi fritti (puffed-up fried pasta), with maybe a few chunks of well-aged Parmesan for good measure.
Drink it in
Just a short walk west of Parma’s epicentre you’ll find the city’s university, and with it a host of bars serving into the early hours on a weekend. Kikko is among the liveliest, but don’t expect too many Jägerbombs – this is Italy after all. Lambrusco, a local and much revered slightly sparkling red wine, is a popular choice, along with beers, spritz and negronis.
A sweet start
Having slept off the wine, head off for breakfast in a leisurely fashion – there really is no other way to be in Parma. Pasticceria Torino serves a range of tempting cakes and pastries, with suitably excellent espressos to match.
It’s set in a street lined with delis and food shops, so spend the morning perusing some produce, quite possibly followed by sourcing some new luggage to get it back home in. As well as Parma’s eponymous ham and cheese offerings, the city sits down the road from Modena, home to the best balsamic vinegar there is.
Wine and dine
Having worked up an appetite browsing all that food, it’s time to tuck in once again. Enoteca Fontana is a longstanding local institution, pouring out regional and other Italian wines in a busy bottle- and barrel-filled space. There are tables outside for when it’s sunny, and cosy space within when it’s not. At lunchtime, the most popular order is for gutsy ham and cheese filled panino, and rest-assured they put anything you’d find in a chain coffee shop on these shores to serious shame. Platters of cured meat, including a number of salamis, a terrine and numerous cuts of ham are also a must. After all, when in Parma…
Stroll off your lunch with a wander to some of Parma’s key sights, all handily close together. The Palazzo della Pilotta and Parma Cathedral are architectural highlights, while the Camera di San Paolo (Chamber of St. Paul) within the former Convent of San Paolo houses fresco work by Antonio Correggio. Whether or not that means a lot to you currently, it’s a masterpiece worth taking in while you’re here.
After your walk, visit Emilia Cremeria as you head back to the centre of town. Here they use the area’s fantastic milk (think of the cheese) to create glorious gelatom, rivalling anything you’ll find elsewhere in this ice cream loving country. Try the zabaione and cuore croccante flavour for crunch and creaminess.
Dinner and drinks
For a decadent dinner, head to La Forchetta. It’s one of the city’s very best restaurants and serves a wide range of local specialities as well as a superb selection of wines at a decent price. What sets it apart from many is its focus on seafood. Yes, there’s meat – and ham, of course – aplenty, but should you be feeling a little pigged-out by this stage, then options such as octopus carpaccio, pasta with clams and seared tuna steak with pickled peppers may be welcome.
Just a short walk away is Oste Magno, a cosy wine bar and deli serving truly excellent local tipples until late. Grab a table or prop up the bar and make a few new friends. It’s one of those places that pulls together people from all walks of life – so long as they enjoy a good drink.
Coffee on the square
The small snack bar called San Pietro that sits on Parma’s main square, Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, is unremarkable-looking – and judging by reviews, not a destination for food – but it is a lovely place to sit and take in the Parma morning with a very decent cappuccino in hand. By now, you’ll be probably be hatching plans to pack up and relocate to Parma, and the view here will only cement that.
Paintings and produce
As your visit nears its end, there’s still time to fit in some culture and some cured meat. Visit the Galleria Nazionale, which houses Italian paintings from the 12th to the 18th centuries, and includes works by Correggio, Fra Angelico, Canaletto and El Greco.
There are a host of delis nearby, including the outstanding Salumeria Garibaldi, so fill your suitcase here.
Long last lunch
Say ciao to Parma in style with a leisurely lunch at Trattoria del Tribunale, a homely restaurant on a central side street which dishes up conviviality as if it was about to go past its sell-by date. Tuck into generous bowls of gnocchi bolognese, cheese-filled tortellini and a final plate of glorious Parma ham, washed down with at least one carafe of the gutsy and ridiculously affordable vino della casa.
Just make sure you save room for some boozy zabaglione to finish – and that you get out in time for your flight.
Feature image credit: hectorlo