“I was in Parma yesterday”. “Oh, really? Did you eat tortelli? And did you buy Parmesan?” The conversation between me and a my Italian friend continues, under the curious eyes of an American friend who looks amused. We are in a little bistro in Milan and we’ve just finished our not-so-good brunch. “Italians are obsessed with food” the American finally says, after I’ve described the lovely restaurant I found in Parma. “Everywhere I go, you keep telling me that I have to eat this and that, but in a specific restaurant, the best in town” she adds, and we laugh, because it’s true. Italians are very demanding as far as food is concerned. Every region has its own tradition, dishes, myths, and we can eat well everywhere. This is especially true in Parma.
Parma in a summer day
It was very hot when we parked the car next to the city center after lunch. We have completely skipped summer here in the North of Italy this year, moving from winter right into a hot summer. I’m definitely not happy with it. I love spring. I like wearing cotton sweaters and feeling the wind on my skin. And I hate waking up in the middle of the night because of the heat, and having to suffer every time I need to go out in the middle of the day.
Anyways, we did reach the city center, which is actually very small but also very nice. The heart of Parma is represented by Piazza Duomo, a cobbled square surrounded by the main historical buildings. The Duomo has an elegant façade and a memorable interior, and its architectural style is both Romanesque and Gothic. Inside you’ll find some beautiful 16th century frescos by Correggio, a renowned local artist, and a marble relief of the Deposition by Benedetto Antelami. Next to the Duomo stands the Baptistery, also designed by Antelami and constructed with pink marble. The interior is decorated with frescos which are well-worth a visit.
When I walked around the Baptistery to admire the four portals, I noticed a small street and a lovely coffee shop with coloured chairs and tables. It almost feels like Provence: warm colours, narrow streets, old lamp posts. This is Parma, a little town in which you can go everywhere by bicycle, a quiet place that can be visited in just one day, ending with a wonderful dinner in one of its typical restaurants.
Tortelli, Parmesan and Sbrisolona
There is a reason why Parma is considered the food capital. If you’re not vegetarian, you might want to taste the prosciutto di Parma (ham) and the beef stew. But the jewel is the renowned Parmigiano Reggiano, parmesan cheese, which is made out of carefully selected milk and sold in caseifici, cheese factories scattered in the countryside. There’s a wonderful smell of fresh milk as you enter one of these factories, and a simple, authentic atmosphere that is typical of some Italian regions such as Tuscany, Umbria and Emilia.
Parma is the birthplace of tortelli, stuffed pasta with ricotta (cottage) cheese and spinach, or potatoes, parmesan and herbs. The restaurant I went for lunch is in the outskirt of Parma and is called I Tri Siochètt. It’s a trattoria, a traditional restaurant which is always crowded, especially during the weekend. Food is simply delicious. I had a vegetable quiche made with caciotta (a particular type of cheese), pumpkin flowers and herbs; tortelli; and their homemade lemon cream pie. And it’s not expensive at all.
There’s also another cake you have to try in Parma, the sbrisolona, made with almonds, butter, corn flour, wheat flour and eggs. It’s a sort of crumble cake, perfect with tea or coffee. I bought one in a bakery in the city center, next to the Duomo. And remember, you do not want to cut sbrisolona with a knife: you need to break it with your hands.
WHAT TO SEE IN PARMA
• The Cathedral (Duomo) and the Baptistery (Battistero). The entrance to the Duomo is free, but there’s an admission charge for visiting the completely renovated interior of the Battistero.
• The renowned Teatro Regio, if you’re a fan of the opera.
• Parco Ducale, the gardens of Palazzo Ducale dating back to the 16th century, and the Orto Botanico di Parma (botanical gardens). Admission is free.
• The National Gallery of Parma, where you’ll find some works by Leonardo da Vinci and Van Dyck among the others.
WHERE TO EAT IN PARMA
• I tri Siochètt, Strada Farnese 74/a, Vigheffio, Parma (see description above)
• Ai due platani, Strada Budellungo 104/a, Coloreto, Parma. Tortelli di zucca (stuffed pumpkin pasta) and sbrisolona with warm zabaione (a cream made with egg yolks)
• TCafè, Vicolo al Battistero. A lovely coffee shop that also houses cultural events. Good coffee, tea and cakes.
Palazzo della Rosa, strada al Duomo 7, Parma