FOOD & WINE

Visiting the oldest bakery in Bologna

October 15, 2014
Atti & Figli Bologna
Atti & Figli Bologna

Atti & Figli Bologna

The pastries, breads and pastas of the oldest bakery in Bologna make a perfect take-home gift from a city known for culinary treasures and traditions.

The window displays at Paolo Atti & Figli are hard to resist. But if you aren’t into window-shopping, you’ll likely succumb to the sweet aromas of freshly baked pastries wafting onto the street. I was doomed on both accounts.

Passing the storefront on Via Drapperie (one of the oldest streets in the city), my attention was drawn to the sign reading:

Oggi bomboloni: La dieta domani

[Today bomboloni: Diet tomorrow.]

Bombolones

Bomboloni

And in case you haven’t yet had the pleasure of eating an Italian bombolone (singular for bomboloni), it’s a yeasty, calorific donut filled with cream, chocolate or other fillings that puts Krispy Kreme and Tim Hortons to shame. Yes, it tastes that good.

But that was just the beginning. A changing cast of tempting cookies, pastries, pies—and more, appeared in the windows each morning.

Le paste con L'amore

Le paste con L’amore (filled heart-shaped cookies)

Ravioloni alla crema

Ravioloni alla crema (ravioli shaped with cream)

Fritelle de Riso

Fritelle de Riso (rice fritters)

Fruit tarts

Fruit tarts with local cherries

Seasonal marrons glaces

Seasonal marrons glaces (chestnuts)

Then, with the help of a tour guide, we discovered the mother lode. She was showing us around the old market area of Bologna, called the Quadrilateral. Around the corner from the smaller Atti shop we had been frequenting she introduced us to the big Atti shop, an elegant shop on Via Caprarie, where chandeliers, frescoed ceilings, and art nouveau furnishings are as likely to catch your eye as the yummy breads, pastries and pastas.

Storefront

Storefront

The two shops share a common kitchen. At either one, visitors with a sweet tooth will feel as if they have reached nirvana.

The backstory

Founded in 1880, Paolo Atti & Figli has a lengthy backstory spanning five generations of the same family. A lovely little book by Beatrice Spagnoli (a journalist born and living in Bologna) traces the history of the shop and documents the inspiring recipes she gathered from frayed family notebooks. The Spagnoli book is sold in the shop.

In brief: More than 120 years ago, Paolo Atti and his wife Adele founded the company, living atop the bakery and using its basement to store coal and flour. The business was extremely successful and eventually joined forces with the prestigious Zambelli Pasta Company.

During World War II, however, Bologna faced extraordinary challenges during the time of German occupation. As bakers, Casa Atti had to contend with huge shortages of white flour, and were also forced to provide food to armed soldiers while they hid partisans in the basement. In 1944, an allied bomb devastated the building where they were located, causing the shop to be closed for more than a year.

A female dynasty endures

Over subsequent years, the resilient family gradually rebuilt their business and hired a cadre of shop assistants—young women who later became shop owners in their own right. They also employed elderly prostitutes (who could no longer earn an income on the street) to become their “pasta women.”

One of the lovely women working in the shop today

One of the lovely women working in the shop today with handmade tortelloni (not a prostitute!)

Generation after generation, the recipes of Casa Atti were faithfully handed down from mother to daughter. The current shop owner, Anna Maria Bonaga, and her daughters still follow the cooking traditions of Nonna Margherita and Mamma Paola.

Since 1956, Anna Maria has been married to Romano Banoga, another legendary culinary figure in Bologna. Romano is a descendent of the Tamburini family who owns the famous salumeria on the corner between the two Atti shops.

The formula for success among the Atti family rests on the quality of their products, their entrepreneurial acumen, and their modern approach to marketing. The popular packaging used for cakes and pasta today relies on the same attractive art nouveau designs and lettering that attracted customers a century ago. Cristina told us that many Bolognese bring the beautifully boxed products as house gifts when visiting friends.

Pasta boxes in the window

Pasta boxes in the window (made by hand)

Paolo Atti & Figli has earned the distinction of being one of only four places in Bologna listed by the Association of Historical Places of Italy, a non-profit group that selectively recognizes the oldest hotels, restaurants, cafes and products of historic importance.


IF YOU GO:

Paolo Atti & Figli

Via Caprarie 7 – Bologna – Tel 051-220425

Via Drapperie 6 – Bologna – Tel 051-233349

Emilia Romagna Tourism


This post is part of a Linkup to Noel Morata’s Towers of Bologna.

 

  • Reply
    Johanna
    October 21, 2014 at 7:19 am

    Oh wow! I would have to do lots of exercise because those pastries and sweet treats would be hard to resist. Interesting to hear about the history of the family and that ‘Anna Maria Bonaga, and her daughters still follow the cooking traditions of Nonna Margherita and Mamma Paola.’

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 21, 2014 at 7:25 am

      I was so happy to return home and find despite all the Italian indulgences, walking helped me keep off any extra pounds! 🙂

  • Reply
    Donna Janke
    October 21, 2014 at 9:12 am

    Wow. Those bakery treats look scrumptious. It was interesting to read the history of Paolo Atti & Figli.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 21, 2014 at 5:11 pm

      I’m glad you found the history interesting. I did too!

  • Reply
    Jackie Smith
    October 21, 2014 at 10:28 am

    We absolutely loved Bologna and I can’t believe we missed this place (maybe I was overcome by all the pastas, gelatos and other temptations we couldn’t resist). It will certainly be a must on our next visit — gotta run now, I have a dry old home-made bran muffin waiting for my breakfast (it pales in comparison to these little treats!)

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 21, 2014 at 5:12 pm

      There are so many temptations that it’s hard to cover all the bases!

  • Reply
    Leigh
    October 21, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Bakeries are my downfall and the second photo of the bombolini had me salivating. Hats off to these families that manage to hand a business down through the generations. It would be interesting to see what changes if any they have made to the recipes over the years.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 21, 2014 at 5:12 pm

      It seems like they have added new products but have done a great job of preserving traditions.

  • Reply
    Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru
    October 21, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    there is nothing more intoxicating than the fragrance of a bakery. I couldn’t resist the bomobolone, looks wonderful. I’m off to google the packaging you mentioned.. This company appears to know its presentation, marketing, and product. That’s the recipe for longevity.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 21, 2014 at 4:53 pm

      What a great comment~ Yes, the combination of all these factors is positively irresistible!

  • Reply
    Shelley
    October 21, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    “Oggi bomboloni: La dieta domani” – a great motto!
    Paolo Atti & Figli looks like a tasty place to visit, and its history makes it even more appealing.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 21, 2014 at 4:49 pm

      It makes me wonder whether people are more indulgent about eating sweets when they travel…

  • Reply
    Anita @ No Particular Place To Go
    October 21, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    You had me at P-A-S-T-R-I-E-S! I’m ashamed to admit that I have no stop button when it comes to baked goods and my mouth was watering as I ogled each one of your lovely pictures of the scrumptious goodies! I’ll have to agree with the motto “Today bomboloni: Diet tomorrow.” Life’s too short!

  • Reply
    Marilyn Jones
    October 22, 2014 at 9:48 am

    It all looks so delicious! I enjoyed reading the history of the bakery; very interesting!

  • Reply
    Sue Reddel
    October 22, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    I so love visiting bakeries when we travel. Bologna’s bakeries look marvelous. Now I have the urge to run to the nearest bakery after seeing your terrific photos. Thanks!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 22, 2014 at 4:56 pm

      Not sure where you live, Sue, but they seem to be a dying breed in my neck of the woods:-(

  • Reply
    Michelle
    October 22, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    Oh my these photos bring back memories of staring through all those bakery windows in Italy and trying to exercise self control. It must have been interesting learning about the history of a bakery that has been around a long time. I’m sure it’s a lot of work making those little works of art.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      October 22, 2014 at 8:03 pm

      The tortellinis are really tricky to prepare…I’ve tried:-)

  • Reply
    Carole Terwilliger Meyers
    October 22, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    OMG, would I like an Italian bombolon right now! Your images are mouth-wateringly delicious.

  • Reply
    Muza-chan
    December 9, 2014 at 1:26 am

    Delicious…

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